Amuse Bouche

Written by Mike Meyer Category: Food Reviews Issue: June 2009

Don’t let any of this dissuade you.

The cuisine in this humble bistro far outshines most places in town – I dare say, even those headed by top-name chefs. Lucky for us that husband-and-wife chef/owners Kierstin and Snir Mor ditched their earlier careers (he was in technology with the Israeli Navy; she was working for a software company) to follow their passion for food.

They met at culinary school in Paris and landed in the West Valley after Kierstin’s parents moved there and told of affordable homes and fast growth. Looking to start a business and a family, the area seemed ideal.

In 2005, they started working as private chefs, but the gig escalated into catering for bigger and bigger parties. Word of mouth spread, and customers asked if they could get their food more often than just on special occasions.

Amuse Bouche was meant to offer only take-out in addition to catering, but, Snir says, “in the first two weeks people just started sitting at the tables and demanding food.”

What we have now is a neighborhood bistro on Bell Road just west of the 303 that’s becoming a foodie destination. Even better for wine lovers, it’s one of the state’s few BYOBs, no thanks to inane liquor laws, so bag up that Burgundy or Bordeaux you’ve been saving. There’s a meager $2 fee per glass used.

Because the inside only seats a couple dozen (there are a few patio tables, but you can’t drink alcohol outside), make reservations or arrive early. If you do have to wait, don’t worry; although the restaurant closes at 8 p.m., its staff won’t kick you out on the dot. If you’re seated by then, it’s fine.

The dinner menu is brief, but the items, sauces and preparations change often, so you won’t get bored on repeat visits. That said, there was nothing I ordered that I wouldn’t gladly eat again… and again.

Soups and appetizers are stupendous; don’t skip them. French onion soup ($8) was the real deal, topped with Gruyère and Emmentaler. Cream of green chili ($5 cup; $7 bowl) sounded unusual and tasted phenomenal, almost like cream of asparagus with more zip. Exquisite house-made chicken liver pâté ($8) was silky, peppery and not too rich.

Everything is fresh and never frozen (the only thing in their tiny freezer is bread and ice cream, Kierstin says), so seafood is first-rate.

Mussels in a white wine cream sauce ($10) that begs for bread-dipping were a tender delight – no musty or rubbery bivalves here. Two seared scallops ($12) in light artichoke cream sauce are worth the price, and halibut in tangy ponzu sauce ($25) over a potato corn pancake was exquisite. I loved the zesty olive tapenade atop crispy skinned, flaky sea bass ($22) in tomato vinaigrette.

You can’t go wrong with meat, either. I overheard a waiter say they have no steak knives in the place because they’re not necessary. A bold boast but true. Their secret: a combination steam/convection oven, which uses both steam and dry heat to brown and char the meat without giving up moisture or flavor. It works. Velvety duck breast ($28) ranked among the best I’ve had, with demi-glace, figs, wilted spinach and couscous working together in a sweet and savory success. Beef tenderloin ($24) with a sweet yet subtle carrot butter sauce is another must-try.

Rack of lamb ($27) rivaled the one I’ve had at Kai – it wasn’t fatty or salty and had a stunning chartreuse herb crust and pomegranate and demi-glace reduction. Luscious goat cheese potato gratin came in a small crock on the side. Pork tenderloin ($20) was complemented, not overpowered, by a rich vanilla sauce.

The meatloaf ($15), which the Mors say takes hours to prepare, was to die for. No wonder they go through 60 or 70 pounds a week. With expertly fluffy mashed potatoes on the side, this is one of the best comfort food dishes in town.

Being French-trained, they do desserts ($6) like no one’s business. Strawberry clafouti (a French butter cake) burst with a fresh berry taste. Pecan pie is usually so sugary it makes my teeth hurt, but here it hit the spot. Coffee panna cotta was a prime example of how dreamy it can be when done right, and the caramely coffee topping was decadent. Blueberry bread pudding was the best of all, with ripe, sweet berries embedded in a dense but not too heavy pudding topped with a spectacular caramel sauce.

Lunch here is also a treat – it’s a smattering of soups, salads, quiche and sandwiches, but not your same old selections.

Goat cheese salad on field greens ($12.95) features the cheese baked atop baguette slices with thick-cut bacon, hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes and a feather-light Dijon dressing with no hint of tartness.  The Cabernet burger ($11.95), soaked in red wine and topped with sweet caramelized onion, bacon and Swiss and served with a side of crispy fries, was outstanding.

Roasted pork tenderloin panini ($9.95) on grilled ciabatta with caramelized onions, tomato, Swiss and garlic aioli made my heart flutter, and the Parisian baguette sandwich ($10.95) with Serrano ham, brie, eggs, tomatoes and Dijon aioli recalled fond memories of eating street food in one of the world’s finest cities. The side of greens topped with crisp, sweet candied pecans just spoils customers rotten.

The talent extends to the front of the house. Our waiter, Bobby (the same on all three visits; what good fortune), was efficient and intense, proudly describing each dish as if it were his own creation.

Despite the lack of amuses-bouche at Amuse Bouche, the name, which translates into “it entertains the mouth,” couldn’t be more apropos.

Amuse Bouche
Cuisine: French/International
Address: 17058 W. Bell Road, Ste. 104, Surprise
Phone: 623-322-8881
Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday; 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday; 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sunday
Highlights: Goat cheese salad ($12.95); French onion soup ($8); cream of green chili soup ($5 cup); beef tenderloin with carrot butter sauce ($24); duck breast with demi-glace, figs, wilted spinach and couscous ($28); meatloaf ($15); blueberry bread pudding ($6); coffee panna cotta ($6)