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Atame: Sexy Tapas?

Posted by Bryan / October 9, 2013

2013-10-03 18.05.39.jpgCurious as to what that sleek-looking new restaurant is that just opened on Duluth and Drolet? Atame is a new restaurant that serves up "aphrodisiac" tapas and cocktails. Read on for our review....

Atame is Spanish for "tie me up". The concept is interesting; tapas and cocktails that are tasty as well as sexy in a sleek, romantic environment. They bill themselves as Montreal's "only aphrodisiac restaurant". Midnight Poutine was invited to the restaurant's opening launch event for media last Friday evening.

cinnamon lighting.jpgDespite the initial feel of a supperclub, we warmed up to the atmosphere thanks to some delicious cocktails such as the Maca Sour (a pisco sour with maca root), and the Red Potion (a spicy-sweet amaretto-based concoction). The real star of the night, however, was the bartender's special: an autumnal drink made with burnt cinnamon smoke, chai tea spices, orange bitters and Hendricks' Gin. I had never thought of combining warm spiced flavours with Gin and this cocktail was a revelation (you can see the cinnamon being burned on the left). Among the delicacies we sampled were some classic aphrodisiac foods (Raspberry pointe oysters with a passion fruit gelée and litchi mignonette - below, right), and some others that left us wondering what element of the dish was supposed to be a turn-on. The next appetizer of veal meatballs on lettuce with spicy mayo and a sesame-vinegar dipping sauce was quite nice. The umami flavours of the veal were complimented by the fatty flavour of the mayo while the rice vinegar base of the dipping sauce cut through both flavours remarkably well. The same cannot be said for the next dish: pieces of smoked salmon on apple slices with spicy mayo (again) and some lumpfish roe.oyster.jpg Once again, the idea of combining a fatty flavour with an acid was an admirable attempt, though the dish failed in execution since the apples used were not nearly tart enough. Such a dish would work well with Granny Smith or another tart variety. Instead, these apple slices were overly sweet and mealy (if I had to guess, I'd say they were Gala apples past their prime). These two dishes one after the other left our table asking "Is spicy mayo an aphrodisiac ingredient or did they just have too much of it in the kitchen?" The final appetizer was a tasty beef tartare on toast which the staff described as having notes of vanilla and chocolate. In actual fact, the tartare tasted as if tourtière spices had been mixed into it and it was a very pleasant surprise since we often associate beef tartare with strong flavours of dijon and tabasco.

2013-10-03 20.42.26.jpgOnto the main courses! We first got to sample some small pieces of pita with lamb sausage, baba ghanoush and a mint cream sauce which, like the crabcakes that followed them were unremarkable and rather bland. The scallop we tasted afterwards showed some real talent (left). It was not only perfectly cooked with a nice brown sear that climbed up the sides, it was also incredibly tender and not rubbery in the least. The sauce of coconut milk, saffron and kombaba fruit was interesting, though the kombaba was far too subtle. Lemongrass might have been a better and more pungent flavour to aim for as the dish was missing something citrusy. What followed were quail legs done with some kind of truffle glaze. These were well-prepared, though the truffle flavour was lost among the other spices used in the sauce. Some pieces of duck that were mercilessly overcooked and rubbery came by in a fig sauce, accompanied with a lovely quinoa salad with hazelnuts and chestnuts. The red snapper that followed was cooked with some pineapple and fragrant kaffir lime leaves. (below, right) super gross looking fish.jpgThis was nice, though like the scallop it felt as if it were a Thai dish missing a few key ingredients to fully round out the flavours. The filet mignon was nothing to write home about either, though it was marinated for 24 hours in pomegranate juice the flavour was nearly undetectable (a drizzle of pomegranate molasses would have helped). The meat was, however, quite tender, though not as succulent as it would have been cooked sous-vide. Dinner finished with a piece of lobster and some tagliatelle pasta with lemon and parmesan. The lobster was unadorned, no dipping sauce or spices, while the tagliatelle was simple and scrumptious with bright lemon notes bouncing off the salty parmesan.

For dessert, we had small brownies with salted caramel along with a kalhua-cream dip (below). These were a nice rich end to the meal, though nothing about them seemed incredibly original (some chili flakes in the brownies or some kosher salt sprinkled on top might have helped liven up the dish).
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The experience of Atame could best be described as awkward. The white atmosphere with dim lights feels more like a supperclub turned wedding venue than a romantic restaurant (especially considering the many intimate spots available in Montreal, not to mention on Duluth street itself). Our table was comprised of eight people that were crammed uncomfortably into a table for six. The spatial setup was poorly planned; although there was going to be a "sexy reading", a burlesque show and some live jazz, only 40% of the restaurant's tables were able to see the stage. This made for awkward initial silences when performers began, though people began to talk again soon after (and through the performance) as most of the restaurant was unable to see what was happening.

The service requires a paragraph to itself. Though the bartenders were very amicable, they were incredibly slow at pumping out cocktails which led to a long line for the bar. On a full night, this would translate to drinks taking a very long time to reach customers at their tables. Despite this being a tasting night, the portions were not well planned out, often a plate with four single-serve bites on it would be brought to our table of 8. This wouldn't have been a problem except for the fact that our table was made up of a number of different media outlets. When this was gently pointed out to waitstaff, they told us rather rudely that this was simply how the meal was setup. The actual service of the food was incredibly uneven; the appetizers were spaced with nearly 20-30 minutes in between each dish, yet once the main courses began, service sped up to a nearly uncomfortable pace with new plates being brought before the table had finished the previous few. The waitstaff themselves were often uninformed about the dishes they were serving and couldn't describe them more than by the kind of meat that was on the dish (no information about preparation, sauces, spices, etc...). It was only by insisting that they were able to go and find out the information.

To be fair, food writers are divided on the issue of how to evaluate new restaurants. Some believe that one should wait six months after a new restaurant opens to let it iron out all the "kinks" that are to be expected from new staff with a new menu. Others, (and I include myself in this camp) believe that a restaurant should be honestly reviewed regardless of how long it has been open since such commentary can help the restaurant improve on weak points in its early months. Atame, along with many of its dishes, has a lot of potential, though the execution is lacking. If they are going for a romantic atmosphere, some candles and a better-trained, more professional and informed waitstaff might help to offset the supperclub feel of the restaurant. Unless, that is, the owners are looking for that kind of vibe. Sadly, the competitive and inexpensive byow restaurant alley on Duluth is far from an ideal location for such a place which would be more at home on Crescent street or St. Laurent and Sherbrooke. As far as the food is concerned, Chef Barcelo might want to consider adding some bolder flavours to the menu and perhaps returning to some simpler classics, well-prepared. If you're looking for an original cocktail and maybe a fun snack on a date, Atame is worth stopping in at. If you're looking to impress someone, to go out for a special occasion or sexy night, Atame might not be the right place.... yet. It would be worth checking back on the place in six months or so to see if they've managed to pull their socks up and create a truly aphrodisiacal restaurant.

(Photography by Shelagh Hartford)
351 Rue Duluth E, (Corner Drolet)
Open Wednesday through Saturday nights from 6pm-12am

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