Food of the Gods
SoHo meets the French RivieraBy Scott Lee
Ambrosia on Huntington
Back Bay, Boston
Prices: Lunch $10-$20. Dinner $22-$38.
SoHo meets the French Riviera,” is chef Anthony Ambrose’s description of his own flagship restaurant on Huntington Avenue. The former refers to the dÉcor and the latter to the food, reinforcing the feeling that fusion is occurring along multiple planes. From the bank-like entrance to the metallic, surreal, post-modern environs, it is as though one is entering a posh spaceship perched in the middle of an urban metropolis.
Once seated in our lunar landing modules, we were in awe of the array of dishes that whizzed past us to other tables. The edible Van Goghs and Matisses on circular frames, proudly carried by their waiters, reached their destinations amidst tables of leaning and staring patrons.
We started with the half lobster over a Breton crÊpe with smoky shiitake vinaigrette. This appetizer, which we agreed was more like a Kandinsky, had required the expertise of a florist, architect, painter, and culinary engineer. The lobster was succulent and the sauce a subtle complement to the natural flavor of the meat. The other appetizer we tried was the lobster sashimi and carrot mousse with vanilla and galangal. This too pleased the palate, yet the concept of lightly cooking the raw lobster with the broth seemed a bit suspect, especially with all the giardia and amoebas circulating these days. The print at the bottom of the menu -- “consuming raw or undercooked seafood may increase your risk of food-borne illness”-- did not deter us from the risks taken in bringing this article to you.
For the main course, we tried the pan-sauteed lamb rack on a layered Yukon celeriac potato cake with a spicy lamb coriander sauce. For all its fancy description, this lamb and potato dish was relatively well prepared. The fusion of a coriander-based sauce with meat and potatoes was novel. There could have been more lamb, as with all these chichi type restaurants, but the cuts were excellent and tender. Again, presentation made the piece all the more appetizing as the entourage of salivating neighbors peered at our table.
The second main course was the Norwegian salmon steak with a nori potato rosette and shiitake mushrooms in an aged sherry glaze. Again, the reduction was atypical with the combination of shiitake mushrooms. This dish, although elegantly prepared, was not as tasty as its presentation. The fusion here could have been improved with a spicier complement to the salmon. Nonetheless, the salmon was fresh, as though caught in Boston Harbor. On the whole, we were more impressed with the complexity of the appetizers and their presentation than the main courses, although the menu was generally thoughtful in construction.
Desserts -- as expected -- were decadent, rich, and prepared in the same post-modern tradition as the dÉcor. A chocolate sculpture of ice cream and long sugar antennae was as fun to eat as it was to admire. The crÈme brÛlÉe was standard. Its hard crust hid a rich vanilla and anise infused sea of sweet cream.
Ambrosia is an outstanding restaurant for a special occasion. The service was among the best we have received in Boston and truly commendable. The staff bent over backwards to please our every culinary whim. The ambience and food make for a surreal post-modern experience that will not be forgotten.