Amare: All You Eat is Love
Love and food? It’s unquestionable, these two are inextricably tied. Whether it’s love for food or food for love —who hasn’t cooked their way into someone’s heart? — everyone can agree that the two live in an emotional, and quite intimate, affair. Which is why Amare (“to love”), with all its coastal Italian charm, is so spot-on. It can romance your senses and, in a snap, leave you smitten.
Good looks and impeccable taste will usually take you a long way, so it’s no wonder this newly-debuted eatery snagged a spot in the coveted South of Fifth district. It’s a buongiorno signora kind of place, where the overall demeanor is both courteous and pleasant, and where the color palette evokes the beauty of the Amalfi coast. Azure, white, and coral hues spill over the dining room décor, while the floor and bar are made up of hand-painted ceramic tiles flown in from Naples. And as I look up at the ceiling, white chiffon waves flow rhythmically. Every detail seems to fit perfectly with the next, creating a smooth harmony.
As I am escorted to my table, I pass by the arched 12-seated bar located in the center of the room. It’s looks quite inviting, maybe I’ll have a drink there later. And just to the left, I almost miss what I soon find out is the Neapolitan espresso bar and Dolci Station. I know I’ll definitely be asking for some of that goodness to top off dinner.
As I’m handed the menu, Jerry, the maître d’, gives us the inside scoop: the what, when and where. Restaurateur Gino Iovino, who also owns award-winning restaurant Girasole in Atlantic City, in partnership with Michelin-starred Chef Cosimo Cassano and Franco Ricatti, created this amazing concept. He goes on to reveal how every dish is made in-house with seasonal ingredients flown in from Italy, including San Marzano tomatoes, olive oils, and pasta di Gragnano from Naples. And, of course, he takes his time to show off the signature dishes and specialties –which are well worth boasting about.
I know we’re in the best of hands, so I just go with it. I’m taking a leap of food-faith (if there’s such a thing), but I suppose you can’t go wrong if the suggestions come from the chef himself. First off, some white wine to get the taste buds going, even though the cocktails sound amazing, especially the Amare. And then, as the menu so wisely states it, The Love Affair Begins with the Melanzane e Zucchine, which is an eggplant lasagna with zucchini, mozzarella, basil and Parmesan cheese; the Carpaccio Amare with artichokes, asparagus, shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and truffle salt; and the Fiori di Zucca e Baccalà, which are zucchini blossoms filled with Atlantic cod and robiola —my own personal favorite. Needless to say, every dish was exquisite in its own way.
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Next, the famed pasta. I’m excited the chef sent us the Pasta Degustazione, because three is always better than one: the Spaghettini Neri, which consists of squid-ink spaghetti, king crab, artichoke, chardonnay, and bottarga di muggine; the Cappellacci di Branzino, which are sea bass-filled ravioli with mascarpone, Sorrento lemon, butter, and sage; and the Casarecce, which is Tuscan kale pesto, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, and toasted almonds —two words: Oh wow. I could feel the purity of the flavors in every bite. But the real treat —and star—of the night is the Branzino al Sale. The fish comes out enveloped in a thick layer of salt, and Jerry, very delicately, goes on to crack it open. It’s a savory sideshow that only makes the sea bass more special, with its buttery texture and unsurpassed taste.
Of course we can’t leave without dessert. We try convincing ourselves that we’ll only have a few bites, but that’s a lie. So here come the Croccantino and the Delizia al Limone. One is chilled Zambaione, caramelized almonds, and dark chocolate chips; the other is Sorrento lemon and vanilla cream. Both are the perfect ending to a very authentic and homey dining experience.
As I’m leaving, I take a moment to acknowledge the relaxed ambience out on the terrace. The cutest tables with hand-painted ceramic tiles surrounded by bougainvillea and lemon trees. I guess if you want to do some South Beach people watching in style, it doesn’t get better than this.
Amare, when people ask about our first date, I’ll say: it was love at first taste.