Chez Ami, the restaurant on the ground floor of the Curtiss Hotel, hasn’t changed its décor much since the death of its visionary, developer Mark Croce, in 2020.
The bar surrounded by a ring of slowly rotating seats, the space-alien-pollen lighting fixtures and unexpectedly entertaining bathroom décor remain. The exterior dining room Croce installed along West Huron Street still offers dinner with a dynamic downtown streetscape as wallpaper.
What has changed is the quality of cooking. Bruce Wieszala, a chef whose craft with cured meat and pastas has earned him his own following, has taken over the Chez Ami kitchen. The result is that one of Buffalo’s premier "swanky boutique” hotels, as the Google map describes it, finally offers dining fine enough to go with its headliner profile.
At Tabree (2013), Bourbon & Butter (2015), Thin Man Brewery (2017) and The Terrace (2019), Wieszala’s cooking drew fans, and my public praise. But I’ve never gotten to review him twice in one place. So I’d suggest you enjoy Wieszala season at Chez Ami while you can.
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He’s a full-spectrum salumi ninja, turning pigs from Always Something Farm in Darien into a cornucopia of charcuterie. During a recent visit, that meant our table could debate the relative qualities of lonza, cured loin; finnochiona, with fennel; smoky Spanish-style chorizo, and spicy sopressata salami. If you’re interested, ask your server what’s available, as this is a limited-edition number.
The octopus ($18) suckered us in with crispy-tipped tentacle, but it was the meatiness of the finished seafood that sold me. Ennobled with the fruity red pepper and tang of romesco sauce, with green olive and fried chickpeas, the overall effect is barbecue, but on a beach in Portugal.
Watching long-maligned Brussels sprouts proliferate across menus as a vegetable-of-the-year candidate fills me with satisfaction, especially when that diversity includes examples like Chez Ami’s ($17).
Here, sliced brassican nuggets are deep-fried to a frizzled crunch, tossed with honey-lime dressing, then sprinkled with crisp fried shallots and togarishi, a Japanese chile-sesame-seaweed spice mixture. If you like, you can stir in the gently poached egg, whose yielding yolk contributes to a glossy sauce. At this point, if you still believe Brussels sprouts are beyond redemption, I submit that you’re not paying attention.
I’m always rooting for carrots, and Wieszala makes it easy, gilding carrots roasted to the point of becoming dirt candy ($16) with smoked pistachio butter, herbed ricotta, fresh tarragon and orange blossom honey.
A robust stew of braised greens, white beans and pearl onions supports housemade Calabrian pork sausage ($32), a moderately spicy link flecked with herbs and spices, dusted with pecorino romano and toasted breadcrumbs.
Housemade pastas on our visit included shellfish bucatini ($28/$42), the fat spaghetti-like pasta tubes tangled with a boatload of lobster and jumbo shrimp, judiciously glossed with tomato-confit-based cream sauce, brightened with citrus and fresh herbs.
Despite its sea-borne glories, it was the earthy tagliatelle ($29) that was the premier pasta for me. Dressed with shreds of confit duck, melted leeks and mushrooms amid springy-fresh al dente noodles, it was comfortably homey, yet delicately refined.
Korean fried chicken is another notion sweeping through Buffalo’s menus, from the fried chicken sandwiches at myriad outlets to finer precincts, like The Dapper Goose. Wieszala’s version ($34) is distinct in tempura-frying the bone-in chicken before sauce is applied – in this case a glaze that’s sweet and tangy, not fiery, leaning more torwards hoisin than the gochujang fermented chile paste favored by other cooks.
The bottom line is that it’s delicious. Crisp skin over lush meat, forked up with fried rice studded with peas and corn. There’s also housemade XO sauce to dab on bites. The intensely flavorful umami relish is a chunky paste of cured ham, dried shellfish and chile.
Big-time beef hunger called for the 18-ounce Certified Black Angus ribeye ($69), which arrived chargrilled accurately to medium-rare, a dollop of herbed butter melting to mix with the steak nectar. It would be accurate to describe this as a large format dish, since it provided four people with as much beef as they wanted, and the haystack of truffle Parmesan French fries accommodated all comers.
Among this sort of highfalutin’ menu of handmade delicacies rendered with precision, a dessert named like an accident stood out. Strawberry cheesecake soup ($10) was a delightful harbinger of the season, a downmarket way to describe creamy cheesecake, streusel, crunchy meringue and fresh strawberries, anointed tableside by the server with a ramekin of strawberry coulis.
Our server, David, was a seasoned professional, who worked nimbly with his assistant to keep us fed and watered and to meet our cutlery needs of the moment. As we chased the last spoonfuls of sweets, watching the lights of downtown shine through the lowering dusk, the evening’s lesson landed, clear as consommé.
Instead of a rotating bar, Chez Ami should be known for dishes that turn heads.
210 Franklin St., 716-842-6800, curtisshotel.com/chez-ami
Hours: lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. daily. Sunday brunch is 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Prices: small plates, $9-$18; entrees, $28-$69.
Atmosphere: night on the town
Parking: valet, street
Wheelchair accessible: yes
Gluten-free: numerous options
Outdoor dining: no
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