AME is undeniably one of the sexiest dining adventures in Toronto. Hidden on Mercer Street, in the space that used to be home to uber pricey Rain, it's an emporium of neo Japanese chic and eastern exoticism.
Upon entry, we leave the outside world behind and step into a completely different universe with no windows. Inside, the restaurant is a harmonic balance of wood, stone and concrete. The decor is undeniably zen, but the architectural elements and antique-inspired touches make for a sleek, contemporary space.
We are seated in their intimate dining area. Tucked away behind a maze of lace-work wooden screens, we get a peek-a-boo perspective on our fellow diners. The dimly lit space is the ideal setting for an intimate soiree for two or a chic get together with friends.
A small battalion of chefs stand on guard at the sushi counter. Tuna sashimi ($16) served on top of a nori-dashi sauce with a mound of powdered miso-tapioca powder ushers in sensory overload. Delicately marinated and pierced with bits of pickled gobo root, it makes for a remarkably tasty piece of fish.
Sea Bream ($22) is presented head-on, seared on a strip of cedar on AME's authentic Robata grill. A wonderfully crisp, smokey exterior provides nice contrast to the fragrant, juicy white meat. A twist from the grilled lime and a koji-miso prove to be perfect accompaniments to the mild fish.
Assorted Nigiri ($36 for 12 pieces) comes fresh and glistening. The ebi is mildly sweet, while the salmon topped with bonito flakes makes me re-delight in this common sushi item.
The wedges of Kabocha squash delicately balanced on a plank of wood pierced with industrial nails seems like it's straight out of some karate action movie. The squash tempura is light, crunchy and packs a flavourful punch -- instantly reminding me of how tempura ought to be. The miso dip is a tad salty, but the squash is sublime.
A Wagyu flat-iron steak is paired with braised oxtail stuffed in bone marrow ($28). The steak is nicely marbled, juicy and charred to perfection, while the braised oxtail is tender and well-seasoned.
To round off the meal, AME's dessert chef expertly defies tradition with his duo of chocolate mousse/molten chocolate cakes. I'm amazed by the complexity of this decadent dessert. The banana sorbet wrapped in sesame ice cream is equally refined.
Captivated by the cascading waterfalls, we are drawn to try some cocktails at the wooden bar sweeping across the far side of the restaurant.
Budou cocktail ($14), a grape infused vodka with ginger (and much more) is flawless and beautifully feminine.
Hot & Sour ($14) is a daring concoction of bourbon, spiracha, wasabi, maple syrup, and wakame sea weed. Several sips of the sour, sweet, spicy drink reveal it to be surprisingly refreshing, though the bits of tobiko could have been skipped.
Gin Kimchi ($14) is equally good. A playful and tangy play on Korea's national dish, it comes with chopsticks used to fish out diced daikon and cucumber slices.
Service at AME is beyond compare. Servers are courteous, knowledgeable and diligent at every level. Our water glasses were never beyond half-empty. Every dish was served with an in depth presentation of ingredients and cooking methods.
We're told that there are some intriguing plans for AME in the new year. A cocktail school is in the works, while a lineup of celebrity chefs (including Iron Chef Morimoto) will also grace AME's kitchen.
Editor's note: For those concerned with overfishing and the sustainability of the ocean's blue fin tuna population you might want to give this restaurant a pass. For more information, see The End of The Line.
Photos by Francis Jonas Yap