Chez Ami, the restaurant on the ground floor of the Curtiss Hotel, hasn’t changed much since the death of its visionary, promoter Mark Croce, in 2020.
The bar surrounded by a ring of slowly rotating seats, the alien pollen light fixtures, and the surprisingly entertaining bathroom decor remain. The Croce Outdoor Dining Hall set along West Huron Street always offers dinner with a vibrant downtown streetscape as your backdrop.
What has changed is the quality of the cuisine. Bruce Wieszala, a chef whose craft of charcuterie and pasta has earned him his own clientele, has taken over the Chez Ami kitchen. The result is that one of Buffalo’s top “boutique chic” hotels, as the Google map describes it, finally has fine enough dining to go with its headlining profile.
At Tabree (2013), Bourbon & Butter (2015), Thin Man Brewery (2017), and The Terrace (2019), Wieszala’s cuisine has drawn fans and my audiences’ praise. But I never had the opportunity to see him twice in the same place. So I suggest you take advantage of the Wieszala season at Chez Ami while you can.
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He’s a full-spectrum salumi ninja, turning the pigs of Always Something Farm in Darien into a cornucopia of deli meats. On a recent visit, this meant our table could debate the relative qualities of lonza, dried loin; finnochiona, with fennel; Spanish-style smoked chorizo and spicy sopressata salami. If you’re interested, ask your server what’s available, as this is a limited edition issue.
The octopus ($18) sucked us in with a crispy-tipped tentacle, but it was the flesh of the finished seafood that sold me. Ennobled with fruity red pepper and the flavor of romesco sauce, along with green olives and fried chickpeas, the overall effect is barbecue, but on a beach in Portugal.
Watching the long-maligned Brussels sprouts proliferate menus as the vegetable of the year candidate fills me with satisfaction, especially when that diversity includes examples like Chez Ami ($17).
Here, sliced brassican nuggets are fried to a curly crisp, tossed with a honey-lime vinaigrette, then sprinkled with crispy fried shallots and togarishi, a Japanese chili-sesame-seaweed spice blend. If you wish, you can incorporate the lightly poached egg, the yolk of which gives a shiny sauce. At this point, if you still believe Brussels sprouts are unsalvageable, I’m guessing you’re not paying attention.
I’m always on the hunt for carrots, and Wieszala makes it easy by browning roasted carrots to earthy candies ($16) with smoked pistachio butter, herb ricotta, tarragon fresh and orange blossom honey.
A robust stew of braised greens, white beans and pearl onions backs the homemade Calabrian Pork Sausage ($32), a moderately spicy tie-in laced with herbs and spices, dusted with pecorino romano and toasted breadcrumbs.
Homemade pasta during our visit included shellfish bucatini ($28/$42), the tubes of greasy spaghetti-like pasta tangled with a load of lobster and jumbo shrimp, aptly glazed with cream sauce to base of candied tomatoes, brightened up with citrus fruits and fresh herbs.
Despite its sea glories, it was the earthy tagliatelle ($29) that was the first pasta for me. Dressed in shredded duck confit, melted leeks and mushrooms amid fresh, spring-like al dente noodles, it was comfortably warm, yet delicately refined.
Korean fried chicken is another notion that crosses Buffalo’s menus, from fried chicken sandwiches at myriad outlets to more refined neighborhoods, like The Dapper Goose. Wieszala’s version ($34) stands out for tempura-frying the bone-in chicken before the sauce is applied — in this case, a sweet, tangy, not fiery glaze, leaning more towards hoisin than fermented chili paste. gochujang favorite of other cooks.
The main thing is that it is delicious. Crispy skin on lush meat, stuffed with fried rice sprinkled with peas and corn. There’s also homemade XO sauce to dab on the bites. Intensely flavorful umami relish is a thick paste of cured ham, dried shellfish and chili.
A big beef hunger called for the 18-ounce Certified Black Angus Rib Eye ($69), which arrived precision-grilled to medium-rare, a dollop of melting herb butter to mix with the steak nectar. It would be accurate to describe this as a large format dish, as it provided four people with as much beef as they wanted, and the haystack of truffle and parmesan fries accommodated all comers.
Among this kind of high-end menu of precisely rendered handmade delicacies, a dessert named as an accident stood out. Strawberry Cheesecake Soup ($10) was a delicious harbinger of the season, a cheap way to describe creamy cheesecake, streusel, crunchy meringue and fresh strawberries, anointed at the table by the server with a ramekin of strawberry coulis.
Our server, David, was a seasoned professional, who worked nimbly with his assistant to feed and water us and to meet our cutlery needs at the time. As we chased away the last spoonfuls of candy, watching the downtown lights shine through the descending twilight, the evening lesson landed, clear as consommé.
Instead of a revolving bar, Chez Ami should be known for its head-turning dishes.
210 Franklin St., 716-842-6800, curtisshotel.com/chez-ami
Opening hours: lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday to Friday, dinner from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. every day. Sunday brunch is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Price: small plates, $9 to $18; entrees, $28 to $69.
Mood: night in town
Wheelchair accessible: yes
Gluten-free: many options
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