The hosts graciously took us off the street and gave us a nice table in the back room to enjoy our first meal at this ultra-hyped Spanish restaurant. Executive Chef Jose Garces has to be one of the most decorated food wizards in Philadelphia (if not the country) thanks his efforts here, as well as his new venture – Tinto – which, conveniently enough, is right around the corner from my apartment.
Stylistically, the place was certainly hip. Unfortunately, in cultivating such an inviting ambiance, someone overlooked a bit of the practical. For example, I was seated in a booth whose cushion I almost drowned in. Even the addition of an extra pillow under the tuchus barely got me up to the table.
But enough with the environment, how was the food?
All of Amada’s specialty drinks are named after Pedro Almodovar movies, which is a nice touch for a film geek such as myself. My wife thoroughly enjoyed her Talk to Her (a margarita-like concoction) but thought it a little skimpy.
My “red” sangria (one of three kinds offered) was excellent. It had a little more spice than I was used to, but it worked.
Since all the plates are small, Amada doesn’t serve an appetizer course, but we did enjoy a Spanish version of bread and butter. It featured long, elegant pieces of crisped tortilla with a tuna/olive dip. While it was tasty, it didn’t really deviate far enough from regular tuna salad for me to truly recommend it.
We ordered five, which was more than enough food. The PIQUILLOS RELLENOS / Crab-Stuffed Peppers was the first to arrive. Again, while these were good, they seemed only to be a richer, more creamy version of something I’ve tasted elsewhere and were not all that impressive.
Next to arrive were the GAMBAS AL AJILLO /Garlic Shrimp. While these were tasty, they were also super-buttery, arousing my suspicions that the cooks were hiding something. Once again, we were not impressed.
The next two dishes came simultaneously: TORTILLA ESPAÑOLA / Spanish Tortilla, Saffron Aioli and ALCACHOFAS Y SETAS /Artichoke & Wild Mushrooms, Black Truffles, Manchego. The first (pictured above) was especially disappointing. Having been to Spain once in my life, but subsisting on tortilla espanola sandwiches for that entire short time, I did not know what to make of the thick slab of potato pie that was put in front of me. Both my wife and I agreed that the spuds were too mealy and the presentation was just not delicate enough.
The flatbread dish, however, was fantastic. Though a bit heavy on the cheese, this mini-pizza had some wonderful funghi flavor, highlighted by the black truffle bits. It was very rich and salty, but nicely prepared.
Finally, we ended with ARROZ DE LANGOSTA / Lobster Bomba Rice with Clams, Lemon Zest & Golden Pea Shoots. This paella cousin was the highlight of the meal. While still succulent in flavor, the dish was not at all heavy, and had an amazing mix of flavors that danced on both our plates and palettes. It was unfortunate that this exuberant dish only came at the end of the meal, and could not save us from the buttery onslaught it had followed.
Like most heavily hyped restaurants, Amada fell quite short of great. Of course, in its defense, this was only our first experience and we did not try any of the meat dishes – usually standouts in Spanish cuisine.
That being said, what we tasted was just too rich and heavy, relying on the salty/fatty tastes that haughty French places usually peddle. I would stop short of saying I’d never go back, but I won’t rush out to eat there again as a couple, especially with the delicious tapas and more intimate experience that Tinto provides a mere hundred feet away.