Restaurant Review: Grand Del Mar’s Amaya is a Feast for the Senses

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Have you ever been to a restaurant that is a feast for the belly AND the eye?  That’s exactly what the Grand Del Mar’s Amaya restaurant offered in a recent visit.

When we arrived at the restaurant to celebrate mom’s birthday, I noticed the hotel and resort was hidden in the Carmel Country area in a large, secluded and wooded area.  We took quite a drive through the front gate to get to the hotel and the restaurant which is on the ground floor.  The place was laden with holiday decorations: ornaments, bells and tinsel lit up the hotel to give it a festive flair.  The hallway was full of sculptures, art and pottery.

One of our servers told us that the restaurant opened in October 07, even though the economy had been terrible, the hotel has done really well!  People from all over the country come to visit.  The name Amaya is the name of the owner’s granddaughter.  Originally, the owner was going to call it “Betsy’s Bistro.” I like Amaya better, a more fitting name for this Mediterranean Bistro.  The dining area was spacious, the booth seats can host a party of six.  The dim light with candle is perfect for a romantic evening or special occasions.

First impression is the most important.  What a first impression we got!  Sous chef Matt Sramek surprised me with a fresh, mouthwatering appetizer: tender roasted beet with sweet & tangy sous vide raspberries, nutty shaved hazelnut, topped with a zesty chive vinaigrette, to whet my appetite!  It tasted superb when eaten with all ingredients together.

I enjoyed all three appetizers:  the roasted baby beet salad, with beets of two different colors.  The watercress, Frisee, and smoked cheddar fondue are fresh and inviting, beautifully presented.  The butternut squash soup was simply delicious with sage crème fraiche, made from blending ground sage and whipped cream together.  The light green-colored cream sat on top of the orange-colored squash, adding lightness to the hearty soup.  The Catalan-style shrimp was highly recommended by our knowledgeable waiter Jason.  Once we tasted it, we understood why.  I put a large, succulent shrimp marinated in the spicy chile and lime broth on top of the grilled baguette, and took a bite.  It was an explosion of flavors: tangy, mildly sweet, and spicy at the same time.  I couldn’t help wanting more, it was heavenly!  (Do remember to keep water within reach to quench your thirst after this dish.)

My favorite entrée was Duo of Lamb.  I loved how the shepherd’s pie’s tender meat from lamb shoulder felt in my mouth, reminding me of pulled pork which has a similar texture.  This contrasted with the creamy mashed potato on top.  The lamb chop was cooked medium by our request, crunchy on the outside, juicy and tender inside.  The saltiness was just right.  The dish also featured a generous stroke of green-colored English pea puree across the long, rectangular plate, with the brown wine sauce on top of the puree.  This entrée looked like a piece of modern abstract art.  My mom found it hard to destroy the artistry by eating it!

The Lobster Pappardelle was quite enjoyable too.  Large chunks of cheesy lobster meat were chewy and went well with the pasta.  The seared sea bass was a nice recommendation.  Parts of it melted in my mouth, coming off like little needles, like scallops.  I noticed that the servers were quick in replacing our used plates and utencils after each dish, so that you won’t be contaminated with leftover tastes of other dishes.

The desserts were one of the best parts!  A special plate of sweet, bite-size delicacies included chewy coconut macaroon, rich and creamy chocolate mint truffle, orange crème macson which was soft and delicate, raspberry pate d’fruit that was refreshing after a big meal.  And they even had “earthquake” cookie that had powdered sugar and semi-baked chocolate cookie dough that melted in my mouth.  Mom ordered a Toffee Cheesecake which has the smooth texture of the cheesecake, contrasted with the crunchy toffee.  The server brought a nice thin slab of white chocolate with the words “Happy Birthday, Mrs. Shen”. That was such a nice touch!

After finishing our food, mom and I got a special tour of the huge kitchen where the chefs work their magic, guided by the nice sous chef Matt Sramek who became interested in cooking as a young boy, working in the family kitchen.  He showed me exotic mushrooms and fruits on the posters.  He and I both love the Pixar animation “Ratatouille!”  This tour was a special treat many food critics don’t even get to enjoy.

I give Amaya restaurant 5 starfish, the first for a restaurant in my three restaurant reviews.  The food was “Perrific” in taste and artistic presentation.  The staff was friendly and knowledgeable with excellent service.  By the time we left the restaurant, I was already wondering when I could come back again!  I told my mom and dad on our drive home that I felt like Templeton the rat from the animation film “Charlotte’s Web,” when he yelled “What a night to remember!”

I hope that parents can bring their kids to Amaya to enjoy the holiday festivities and show them how to appreciate fine food that combines visual artistry and perfect blend of ingredients.  Visit the hotel website for holiday specials: http://www.granddelmar.com

Copyright 2010 by Perry S. Chen


At 10, Perry Chen is the youngest award-winning entertainment critic, TV personality, Annie Awards presenter, filmmaker/animator, and radio host, reviewing movies and entertainment with his trademark kids-friendly starfish from a child’s perspective. Perry became a national sensation on CBS Evening News with Katie Couric and National Public Radio (NPR) with Liane Hansen, and a frequent star on the red carpet at film festivals and premiers. He is the youngest columnist for the San Diego Entertainer Magazine and recently won the San Diego Press Club 2010 Excellence in Journalism Awards. “The Young Icons,” a nationally syndicated TV show featured Perry on Nov 20, 2010. He recently joined Amazing Kids online magazine over 800,000 readers as its first resident film critic, and was also featured on Variety for being one of the leading young film critics: http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118026037.html?categoryid=4137&cs=1

Read all of Perry’s reviews and upcoming events on his website http://www.perryspreviews.com
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