Ama’s

Don’t read this, please
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  December 16, 2009

I'm in a quandary. I want to tell you about Ama's, but it's a tiny place with very few seats, and I really don't want to see a line outside the next time I show up. How about you read everything below with the squinty-eyed suspicion you direct at restaurant reviewers you usually disagree with?

An ama is a Japanese pearl diver, and the most eye-catching details inside are three paintings of the namesakes, clothed fetchingly by only the Sea of Japan. The sea theme continues in rough contrast, with a canopy of thick hemp hawsers drooping above us, their dangling ends knotted decoratively. The striking look is thanks to Providence designer Kyla Coburn, who has also fashioned the striking looks at other places established by Mike Sears, from the Avery Bar across the street from Ama's to the Lili Marlene bar and the restaurant Loie Fuller's. If we get a petition going, maybe Mayor Cicilline will give her the whole city to make over.

There is a counter at the bar when you enter — a raw bar as well as one for libations. But the only tables are three two-tops along the wall under the paintings, and three tables twice their size at a long, padded booth. Ama's is not a place for private chats, but for getting into a conversation with the stranger at your elbow. That would likely get you suggestions about the menu, since this is the sort of place that earns loyal regulars. We came with such a couple, and before we were through were joined by another pair of mutual acquaintances. You gotta love that about Providence — it's one-big-neighborhood.

We got there around six on a Sunday night — they are open Wednesday through Sunday — and the only customers were at the bar. Things pick up late at night, after theater or performances around town, when people drop in for a nightcap or a snack, since they serve oysters until midnight. Little, inexpensive tapas-like offerings are the specialty. The only large-ish portion is a Japanese noodle bowl ($12.50), which had a tasty broth, fortified as it was with shrimp, pork confit, and wakame seaweed. And for a middling appetite, there's the modestly portioned fish and chips ($8.50), a half-dozen smelt-size breaded pieces of flounder filet, accompanied by fried lotus root. Some of the chips were almost burnt, but that was OK by Elaine.

Your best bet, if you come in with an entrée-size appetite, is a Bento box ($15). You get to pick one of three or four possibilities in each of your four compartments, sometimes smaller portions than the items in their à la carte versions.

Since there were eventually a half dozen of us, we ended up ordering most of the 16 selections, even with some overlap. What an array. Besides the enjoyed items mentioned above, we had, in general order of appreciation:

Three fat grilled sea scallops ($8), pronounced "absolutely perfect" by Barnaby, for their freshness and sweet teriyaki glaze. The sauteed shiitake mushrooms ($4), delicious little strips redolent of toasted sesame oil. The Moonstone oysters on the half-shell ($2) that, compared to the Connecticut bluepoints also available that night, were so much sweeter. The chilled chasoba noodles ($4), so-named for their green tea and buckwheat components, with a tasty soy-fish dipping sauce. The tofu pouches ($4) were two plump portions of olive-flecked rice, fried in tofu skin wrappers.

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