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204 West 55th St., btwn. 7th & Broadway Aves.

TYPE: Mediterranean-American
VIBE: Whimsical opulence
OCCASION: Chichi date or group gathering
DON’T MISS DISH: Roasted sea bass with rock shrimp
DON’T BOTHER DISH: Stuffed ribeye steak
DRINK SPECIALTY: Aperitifs & global wine list
PRICE: $55 & up
HOURS: Dinner, Sun – Mon, 5 PM-10 PM; Tue – Thu, 5PM-11PM, Fri & Sat, 5 PM – 12 AM.  Lunch daily, 11 AM – 3 PM (Start date TBD).
INSIDE SCOOP: Lounge open with a separate 55th St. entrance, Sun – Wed, 5PM – 2AM, Thu-Sat, 5PM- 4AM (Start date TBD).
RESERVATIONS: Reservations accepted.
RESTAURANT GIRL RATES: 5.5 on food, 8 on atmosphere
FINAL WORD: While undeniably posh, this well-heeled newcomer leans on style over substance: the cuisine slightly falters.  When in midtown, drop into Amalia for exotic desserts & handcrafted aperitifs. 

Does restaurateur Greg Brier know something we don’t: Is midtown west set to become the Meatpacking District for 2007?  Highly unlikely.  But with 7000 square feet and 88 seats to fill, someone’s banking on trendy traffic in these parts. 

Amalia is undeniably ambitious: black Murano chandeliers dangle elegantly above an ornate mosaic-tiled staircase as candlelight dances off brick walls and a gold leaf bar.  And that’s just the entrance.  Named after Sigmund Freud’s mother, the restaurant takes a thematic cue from the adjacent Dream Hotel.  It’s simultaneously childlike and sophisticated; sultry and playful; an Alice in Wonderland meets Versailles.  I traveled through a series of wood-paneled enclaves with Baroque-inspired accents to my table, set dramatically below a painting-clad ceiling.  The work of SL design (Marquee & Aspen), nothing about this space is subtle, and yet still manages to elude feeling contrived.


Though chef Ivy Stark most recently occupied two Mexican kitchens (Dos Caminos & Rosa Mexicano), at Amalia she focuses her efforts on Mediterranean-American preparations with liberal applications of Tunisian & Moroccan seasonings:  charmoula crusted salmon, foie gras with ras el hanout, and lamb osso bucco paired with harissa.  The menu’s also studded with fashionable ingredients: vanilla, meyer lemon, lavender and blood oranges.  Freud may have been preoccupied with his mother, Amalia, Ivy Stark seems particularly fixated on pomegranates: pomegranate vinaigrette, sorbet, aperitif, cocktails and even pomegranate walnut butter.

The wine list runs the global gamut: Italy, France, Morocco, Turkey, and even Lebanon.  There’s a noteworthy selection of seasonally altered classic cocktails and house-aged eau de vie (aperitifs).  After failed attempts to order both the dried apricot and the pear-cardamom (both out of stock), I sampled a gentle, but sweet pomegranate, better suited for post-dinner endeavors.  My companion wisely opted for a vibrant rosemary-lemon elixir with earthy currents of thyme.  I highly recommend it.

Upon surveying nearby tables, it seemed par for the course to invest in the trio of spreads served with warm herbed pita, my favorite being a creamy whip of avocado hummus.  While the bitterness of vanilla-pickled red onions proved too overpowering for a mild hamachi crudo, a tender eggplant & goat cheese “lasagnette”, sauced with roasted tomatoes & basil, was a flavorful venture.

As far as entrees go, my advice is to stick with seafood.  I stumbled on a roasted sea bass gem.  Light & firm, the crispy-skinned sea bass was generously crowned with a wonderfully tangy picholine olive salsa verde and well-browned potatoes.  In stark contrast to the fish, the meatier offerings suffered.  A double-cut roasted pork chop, perilously undercooked, warranted an immediate return to the kitchen.  Upon second delivery, it arrived tough and dry, though I did enjoy the side of roasted fuji apples.  Ditto on an uninspired ribeye, an indistinct chewy cut, oddly stuffed with wild mushrooms.  While the menu theoretically conveys creative combinations of seasonings and ingredients, most of the flavors don’t make it to the plate.  Just as the sea bass held great promise, Amalia’s menu will hopefully prove to be a work in progress.

The savory paled in comparison to a spirited and exotic dessert menu, created by John Miele, the former pastry chef at Aureole.  Miele crafts exotic spins on familiar desserts: apple & pecan crisp served with a heated urfa chile ice cream, and a crème brulee trio with rosemary and Tahitian vanilla twists.  My favorite offering was fortuitously added to the menu only that morning: crunchy polenta streusel topping was the perfect foil for this moist cake adrift in a dark pool of chocolate, and accompanied by a fluffy ricotta gelato.  While only an accessory to warm bananas & katafi (reminiscent of shredded wheat), the frozen lemon yogurt struck a perfectly tart and luscious balance, demanding my undivided attention.

Until we eat again,
Restaurant Girl
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