Restaurant Review - Bon Ami

A promising new friend settles into Midtown

By the time he started describing how the marrow from the bones of the New Zealand lamb shank seeps into the cranberry beans after simmering more than three hours in a crock, our server's tone had changed from informative to reverent. That is the prevailing state of affairs at Amí, a promising month-old restaurant that needs what most promising new restaurants need: time to refine its food.

That should not be a problem. There is so much condo construction going on in the vicinity of West Peachtree and Cypress streets at 6th Street that by the time potential patrons find the restaurant, the kitchen should be more practiced than it is at the moment.?

One thing that is assured right now, though, is the view. Not the one out the expansive windows, where one is more likely to behold a builder's Dumpster at the moment, but inside, where the hard surfaces gleam against the mottled floor at night.?

It's a stunning display. Pinpoint lights dot a slender track curving down the center of the dining room's oh-so-high industrial ceiling. Brilliant stainless steel flatware feels silky and substantial in the hand. Simple but striking tumblers and stems hold Italian mineral water or a selection from the nice (and nicely priced) wine list. California reds are chosen with particular intelligence.?

Eighteen dark wood tables glow, complementing black cloth napkins. The tables' visual and actual heaviness is offset by burnt sienna leather Italian chairs with flexible steel wire backs are much more comfortable than they appear they would be. A massive wine rack wall separates the dining room from the plating and kitchen area.?

From an aesthetic perspective, then, Amí is more than ready for prime time. And if the food that owner Derron Deraney describes as "New American with a Mediterranean flair" is not quite there yet, it is at least improving by the week.?

Consider, as a example, the homemade gnocchi with bolognese and Parmigiano-Reggiano ($7), which appears on both the lunch and dinner menus. Opening week, it was a mess, literally, having dissolved into the consistency of mashed potatoes while waiting to be boiled. A month later, the plump gnocchi hold together nicely, and what is more, they are not heavy. (This is under the starter section, but could do nicely as a light meal.)?

The sauce, meanwhile, is not the usual bolognese by any means. Skirt steak, pork loin and pancetta in a veal broth reduction touched with cream comprise a sauce of texture and depth.?

Of course, the complexity of such an unexpected treatment makes one hope for more from the kitchen's other endeavors. Generally speaking, however, there is scarcely a dish on the menu that couldn't stand a pinch of coarse salt. And main ingredients in certain other dishes are on the watery side. I refer to the chunks of white fish, salmon, mussels, clams and a few shrimp in the bouillabaisse ($20) — although I love the lemon-scented broth — and the double chicken breast ($16.50), which is roasted and plopped on an unappealing barley thyme risotto. (That was easily pushed aside in favor of the very appealing wild mushrooms, pearl onions and fresh green beans.) ?

Happily, the aforementioned braised lamb shank ($19.50) does not suffer a similar watery fate. The contrasts here are between the meat's tenderness and the crunchiness of the cranberry beans and the zing of the mustard greens, so tangy they become barbecue-sweet.?

Other dinner entrees on the opening menu juxtapose mild flavors with spikes of piquancy: grilled Atlantic salmon served with sundried tomato aioli and toasted walnuts ($17.50); grilled French-cut pork chop paired with warm hazelnut cabbage salad, garlic mashed potatoes and whole grain mustard cream ($17); penne pasta with wild mushrooms, broccoli and Parmigiano-Reggiano ($15.50); or frilled beef tenderloin with celery root gratin, braised escarole with rosemary and a beet-blue cheese butter ($22).?

Dinner starters and the lunch menu, however, are simpler compositions. Evening openers include white bean soup with garlic crouton ($5); mixed greens salad with pears, blue cheese and red wine vinaigrette ($5.50); Caesar salad made with hearts of romaine ($6); Belgian endive and baby beet salad with shaved fennel, toasted pecans and caramelized onion vinaigrette ($6.50); and griddled polenta, blue cheese cream, grilled pears and toasted pine nuts ($6.50).?

In addition to some salads (a Caesar and a salad of grilled shrimp and beans with shaved fennel and toasted pecans in caramelized onion vinaigrette) and sandwiches at lunch, Amí offers a handful of entrees: grilled zucchini, scallion, Parmesan and sundried tomato frittata on mixed greens ($8); penne pasta with broccoli, wild mushrooms and Parmigiano-Reggiano in porcini cream ($10.50); and grilled salmon with French lentil root vegetable ragout ($12.50).?

If all of this seems like too much, there is the Amí burger (with chive aioli, balsamic roasted onions, tomato and pancetta and blue, cheddar or gruyere cheese ($9)); a grilled portabella mushroom sandwich with roasted red peppers, grilled onions and goat cheese ($7.50); beef tenderloin hash with rosemary, gruyere, roasted tomatoes and horseradish on sourdough ($9.50); and a baked chicken breast sandwich with slow-roasted Roma tomatoes, roasted onions and pancetta dressed with aioli on focaccia ($8.50).?

On the off chance you can handle dessert afterward, your choices are three changing sorbets in an almond cup ($6); a dark chocolate truffle cake ($6); a two-chocolate bread pudding ($6); and a warm winter pear gratin with nutmeg and cranberry ice cream ($6). ?