Friday, January 7, 2011

Ambrosia Fine Dining (Johnstown, PA)

A new addition to Johnstown’s restaurant scene, Ambrosia Fine Dining is located in the Rosewood Inn on Scalp Avenue in Richland. As is customary for the region, Ambrosia apparently eschews the Series of Tubes in favor of other methods of promotion. I learned of the restaurant from crookedly photocopied menus that showed up at my workplace.

While the appearance of the menus was unimpressive, the content was exciting—a wide array of Mediterranean dishes, with descriptions that suggested attention to ingredients and creative preparation. I’ve scanned the menu for your convenience.

Ambrosia Fine Dining menu (January 2011) [PDF]

The Spousal Unit and I arrived at about 7:00 on a Friday, on a cold and snowy evening. We were warmly greeted, and offered a table near the window, or across the room. Wary of the cold outside, we chose the interior option. The dining room is large and open, and appears to have been recently decorated and furnished. The walls are painted in warm tones of burgundy and gold, and the black and red tablecloths provide a modern touch.

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Although the room holds about 30 tables, few of them were occupied and the atmosphere was quiet. I don’t believe the restaurant is well-known yet in the community, and the poor weather may have dissuaded people from venturing out.

We saw a liquor license application notice in the window, so we asked the hostess if a wine list was available. She said that they were still waiting on the license, which was anticipated any day. In the meantime, they had been pouring complimentary wine, but no longer had any available. Our server took our soft drink order, and he was very attentive to our needs throughout the meal.

The Spousal Unit and I were excited about a couple of appetizers, the Beer Cheese Fondue and the Spicy Roasted Red Pepper Hummus, so we ordered them both. We selected two pasta dishes as our main courses, which included a salad.

Soon after ordering, we were presented with warm slices of bread, with herb- and garlic-infused olive oil. It was a nice start to the meal; the oil was flavorful, with plenty of garlic, and a smooth finish.

IMG_0027[1]The first appetizer to arrive was the hummus. It was served in an unusual presentation, with large scoops of hummus placed on a bed of warm pita bread, and carrot and celery sticks on the side. My initial impression was that it looked like a plate of Buffalo wings. The hummus had a very good flavor, with a nice kick from the Sriracha. The hummus was served quite cold, and the texture was somewhat coarse. I would prefer that they take a bit of the chill off the hummus before serving. The pita chips varied in texture, with some soft and puffy (which I preferred) and others well browned and crispy. The portion size was very generous, and it was a successful start to the meal.

IMG_0029[1]Shortly after the hummus arrived, our server presented the fondue, and lit a tea light under the vessel with instructions to wait a couple of minutes before eating. The fondue warmed as we enjoyed the hummus. From the first bite, the fondue was a great success, with a powerful cheddar cheese flavor, and a complex background of garlic and beer. The texture of the fondue was excellent—silky smooth. The ample vessel of fondue was served with a substantial assortment of cubed bread. It was a really excellent appetizer, and I think it could only be improved by including a greater variety of dippable comestibles. Kielbasa or summer sausage would be excellent with this fondue, as would apple slices.

As we stuffed ourselves on the appetizers, our salads arrived. Neatly presented on small square plates, the salads were fine, but, frankly, it’s hard to get excited about a green salad when there’s a bubbling vat of flavorful cheese on the table.

The portions thus far had been so ample that we could have called it a night, but we still had the pasta dishes coming. My wife’s Shrimp Caroline, shown below at left, was described by our waiter as a specialty of the house, with a wine and cream sauce, Boursin cheese, and angel hair pasta. My Spaghetti alla Chitara con Salsiccia was a dish of pasta with fennel sausage, bell peppers, and fresh tomato sauce.

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The Shrimp Caroline was a complete success, with a delicious, well-balanced sauce and exquisitely creamy cheese. My spaghetti had, at its core, the concept of a good dish, but did not rise to the same standard as my wife’s pasta. It lacked the intensity of flavor that I expected from the description and the appearance of the dish. Even the sausage was very mildly seasoned. I think that a spicier sausage, and maybe some hot peppers mixed with the sweet peppers, would dramatically improve the dish. I would also like to see the spaghetti served more al dente, as it seemed a touch overcooked. With a few tweaks this could be a very successful dish.

Having ordered rather too much food, we ate only a bit of the pasta and packaged it up for tomorrow’s lunch. As we lingered over some very good coffee, we gave in to the Spousal Unit’s New Jersey heritage, and ordered cannoli, served by the pair. We boxed up one cannolo to take home, and split the other. The mascarpone and chocolate filling was sweet but not too sweet, encased in a very crunchy shell and drizzled with vanilla crème anglaise. We’ve had trouble finding cannoli in Johnstown, so we were pleased by this well-executed and tasty offering.

Ambrosia’s food offerings are fairly priced; our check was $66, but we ordered too much food for the two of us. Even if we had ordered only a single appetizer with our entrées, we would have left with plenty of leftovers, and our dessert was necessary only to appease my wife’s inner Jersey Girl. I look forward to seeing the wine list and pricing once the restaurant receives its liquor license.

When I read Ambrosia’s menu, I was excited by the possibilities of the restaurant, but fearful that I was developing false hope. To my relief, Ambrosia is the most promising new restaurant I’ve seen in Johnstown in a while, with a large menu of appealing dishes, and a genuine enthusiasm to provide a quality experience. I plan to return to Ambrosia soon, probably to try one of their promising sandwiches for lunch, and I’m excited to have a new destination in town for fine dining.

3 comments:

  1. Yay, another gourmet addition to J-town's culinary scene. Great post! The Shrimp Caroline looks fantastic. The boyfriend unit and I will have to go here. Glad to hear your wife is a Jersey girl, lol.

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  2. Your parental units decided to try Ambrosia this evening for Valentine's Day. Because we don't have any 9-5 jobs anymore we went to a matinee and made reservations for 6:00. When we arrived there were about 5 or 6 other tables already occupied and by the time we left the restaurant it was about 3/4 filled. We started with the artichoke dip with pita chips. We liked the taste and the consistency of the dip but felt it should have been served warm. It had melted cheese over it, but the dip was not heated. It was plentiful and we brought half of it home. I chose the Applewood Bacon Wrapped Scallops with two sides - pasta and asparagus. I was served six huge scallops; three were wrapped in the doggie bag to bring home. I felt the bacon could have been cooked a bit more. The side of pasta was very good (and again half was brought home), but the asparagus was overcooked and shriveled up. I had a glass of Toasted Head Chardonnay with my meal. The paternal unit chose Veal Oscar, but was disappointed. It was served in a very light sauce, not the rich Hollandaise sauce that he has enjoyed when he's had it previously. He also had to remind the waitress that the asparagus was missing, which she then brought to him on a separate plate. Even though I was pleasantfully full I still had to try the chocolate fondue, which was excellent. I had a glass of Ravenswood (I think) Pinot Noir with dessert. We were embarrassed at the big bag of "leftovers" we left the restaurant with, including half of the fondue. I couldn't leave that! Although the Veal Oscar didn't live up to expectations we will definitely be back to try many of the other items on the menu.

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  3. We ate at Ambrosia this evening, and while the service was very good, we found the food presentation awful at best (it was visually boring, Ruby Tuesday's food presentation is more visually appealing) and honestly the majority of the food was bland. I had (questionably, it was more like poached, I say this because there wasn't even a "crust" on it) broiled Mahi Mahi which might as well have been insert whatever bland no flavor no seasoned fish here with an over-microwaved portabello crab cake thing. With a sorry excuse for a puttanesca. There was not even a hint of garlic or any italian seasonings on my food. My husband's hangar steak was phenomenial, but again the presentation was visually bland. It was a piece of meat slapped on a plate with a scoop of bland mashed potatoes. For $28, It should LOOK as good as it tastes. I am a little food-snobby being from NY, but seriously- this was possibly one of the blandest most expensive meals I've eaten in Jtown.

    They have potential- their chefs need to go over to Nykos to learn how to present food & season it!

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