Amani’s BYOB, Downingtown, PA – A Review

by artfuldiner on March 5, 2018

in Artful Diner Review, Breaking News, Pennsylvania, Review, Wining and Dining

Amani’s BYOB

105 East Lancaster Avenue

Downingtown, Pennsylvania

(484) 237-8179

When Amani’s opened its doors in 2009, the debut went largely unnoticed… people were too busy gushing over the much-hyped Firecreek just down the street – this writer included. Perched on the banks of the Brandywine River in a beautifully restored paper mill, Firecreek was dressed to impress; and the cuisine – American fare with southwestern flair – was every bit the equal of the décor. Well, nine years later, guess what… Firecreek is long gone and Amani’s, in its own quiet way, is still packing them in.

Amani - InteriorOwned and operated by husband & wife Jonathan and Jeanine Amann, Amani’s doesn’t look like much from the outside. The interior, however, replete with open kitchen, has its own unique rustic farmhouse charm. The drawing card, however, is the couple’s commitment to the farm-to-table movement, utilizing only local farm-fresh, seasonal ingredients in the preparation of Chef Amann’s New American cuisine.

The farm-to-table philosophy is highly commendable… Unfortunately, locally sourced ingredients are no guarantee that what eventually ends up on the plate will be pleasing to the palate. That all depends upon the kitchen. As a friend recently remarked, who has been a semi-regular at the establishment over the years, Amani’s has gone from being a “destination” restaurant to a “local” restaurant. And that comment, I think, speaks volumes. There have been changes over the years, she went on to say – in both the food and the service – and not for the better.

And, after two evening sojourns, I would tend to agree with this assessment. Dining at Amani’s is, in my opinion, something of a hit or miss proposition. On one occasion, all is well; on another, the food unaccountably develops a strange case of culinary ennui.

Amani - Grilled SwordfishOn my first visit, for example, both entrées sampled were right on target. My dining partner’s pristinely crunchy Gulf Shrimp arrived swimming in a dashi broth spiced up with an infusion of golden cayenne pepper companioned by rice noodles, peanuts, and an assortment of veggies; while my Grilled Swordfish (pictured) was surrounded by a sea of lemon basil pesto and crowned with tomato olive tapenade. Swordfish is a particularly difficult proposition; because, like certain other species, it should never be undercooked. And I give credit where credit is due…Chef Amann prepares it to perfection. The interior is just as it should be: opaque (rather than translucent) yet moist and flaky.

Amani - Long Island Duck BreastThe main courses encountered on a second visit, however, seemed like they had been prepared in a kitchen in some strange parallel universe. The Veal Strip Steak garnished with lemon caper butter was merely ok but hardly transcendent. The Long Island Duck Breast (pictured), on the other hand, was definitely wrong. The flesh had an offputtingly chewy texture and the accompanying fig cabernet demi-glace did little to ameliorate the conspicuous lack of flavor. Not the kitchen’s finest hour.

Starters fared a good deal better than the uneven entrées. The Crispy Point Judith Calamari, for example, are quite tender to the bite and combo-ed with shishito peppers, peanuts, soy mushrooms, scallions, and a zippy chili garlic aioli. And the Prince Edward Island Mussels, particularly plump and at the peak of good health, are bathed in an enticing lemongrass coconut curry broth with scallions and a dash of red pepper.

Amani - Bibb LettuceThe salads are something of a mixed bag. I very much enjoyed the Bibb Lettuce (pictured) adorned with toasted cashews, pickled onion, crispy bacon, heirloom tomatoes, and scallions. The pièce de résistance, however, was provided by a surfeit of smoked blue cheese ramp vinaigrette. The dressing had flavor to spare… but the flood was almost too much of a good thing. On the other hand, the problem with the Baby Arugula was quite the opposite. The honey chervil dressing simply lacked punch; and the accompanying figs stuffed with goat cheese and wrapped in grilled prosciutto added a rather odd textural counterpoint.

Amani - Cheesecake with Strawberry SauceAmani’s desserts are first-rate. The Cheesecake is delightfully rich & creamy and smothered in a luscious strawberry sauce. On the other hand, whenever Key lime is available in any form, I can’t resist giving it a try. And the Key Lime Tart proffered here was right on the money. The color (yellow rather than green) and texture were just right; and the flavor had just enough pucker power to keep your taste buds standing at attention.

I must confess that I very much enjoy dining at Amani’s. When the restaurant is going full tilt, it has a lively bistro-like atmosphere. There’s just enough background buzz to be invigorating without becoming bothersome. My only regret is that the food isn’t more consistent.

I wouldn’t set out on a special gastronomic pilgrimage… but if you happen to be in the area, Amani’s is certainly worth a look-see. My advice is to stick with the seafood dishes and you probably can’t go wrong… Just don’t forget to BYOB.

Bon Appétit!


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