Walking into the intimate, comfortable vibe of the Amber Café, it was immediately apparent that the atmosphere lent itself to every kind of Friday night. We weren’t the only couple on a dinner date, but we also saw several tables of chatting friends and families with children under 10.
Once at the table, two types of bread were offered off of a large wooden breadboard, multigrain or ciabatta, both fresh and oven warm. The table butter is elegantly sprinkled with black salt, adding nice visual interest and an invigorating piquant tint to the taste.
We next moved to grilled bread as the unexpected base layer of their exceptional and unusual Brussels Sprouts presentation. This dish, off of the Share portion of their menu, is the smoky cousin of Italian bruschetta.
It consists of a thick slice of crisp grilled bread slathered with melted burrata cheese—a word which means buttery in Italian, colloquially known at our table as Mmmmmm—chunks of savory pancetta bacon, tomato, lemon vinaigrette, and a tangy balsamic reduction. That slab of deliciousness is then covered in grilled, blackened Brussels sprouts, and it all comes together in a heady combination of smoky, creamy, and tangy decadence. It was only the first course and we already had our main reason for a return visit.
The Roasted Squash Salad served as a perfect palate cleanser before we dove into the entrees. It’s awash with autumnal flavors from squash, strips of apple, cranberries, pumpkin seeds, and apple cider vinaigrette, all grounded in the robustness of arugula. Although the elements all have that harvest season timbre, it’s an excellent dish for any time of year. As a side benefit, we were so busy enjoying the fresh, crisp taste that we completely forgot how healthy it was. Take advantage of the offer of fresh ground pepper, it’s wonderful with the cranberries and the meaty pumpkin seeds.
Our first entrée was their mouthwatering Short Ribs. No knife necessary, as the braised meat is tender and juicy, surrounded by a dark, flavorful sauce. The sauce also elevated everything else that came on the plate as well, from the pillowy ricotta gnocchi to the delicious, al dente peas and green beans. If you’re looking for something to satisfy a rich, red meat craving, this really does the trick. Pair it with a generous glass of cabernet sauvignon to really round out the dimension of the dish. The wine pours at Amber Café come to the table in a carafe, so you feel like you’re getting a second glass.
At the opposite end of the dinner spectrum is the light Lake Superior
Whitefish, crisp at the edges and perfectly flaky inside. A tangy lemon buerre blanc sauce brings a buttery aspect that perfectly complements the fish and all that surrounds it, including a creamy bed of fergola sarda, a couscous-like pasta; earthy mushrooms and spinach; and delightfully tart charred tomatoes. A glass of sauvignon blanc lends extra complexity to this entrée.
Though we were already stuffed, they really went all in for dessert. Five little words, one big impression: White Chocolate Cranberry Bread Pudding.
Let’s tackle this from the plate up, a pool of caramel sauce sprinkled with powdered sugar, alternating layers of thick, warm cinnamon bread and warm egg custard, topped with a scoop of melting vanilla ice cream. The cinnamon, caramel, and vanilla combine to create everything dessert should be: sweet, filling, and unforgettable.
Amber Café is located at 13 N. Cass Avenue in Westmont, 630-515-8080, ambercafe.net.