In local restaurant math, two big closings now equal one grand opening.
Panama Hatties, a landmark at this address, turned off the burners earlier this year. So did Woodmere's Soigné, easily the best dining room in the Five Towns.
These major departures, however, lead to Amicale, which arrives as impressively as both.
Under Soigné's management, Panama Hatties has been overhauled, expanded and handsomely remade. The new restaurant carefully balances the traditional and the contemporary, in looks and on the plate. The result is one of the top spots in a very competitive year.
Credit George Echeverria, co-owner and chef. He made Soigné into a little jewel box. Amicale is more like the treasure chest: large, ambitious, aimed at a broader audience. It's a restaurant, a wine-and-martini bar, a caterer, a party in waiting.
Echeverria covers a lot of territory, from a Gruyère-capped Black Angus burger and mini lobster and crabmeat rolls to lobster Thermidor and thick steaks.
There are dewy, refreshing crabmeat and shrimp cocktails; major plateaus of shellfish; and an outstanding grilled octopus-and-jumbo lump crabmeat combo finished with grilled chorizo and crisp tostones. A special of plump, sauteed frog legs in a tangy mustard sauce effortlessly crosses the decades. The duck confit-and-wild mushroom quesadilla also stands out, with a trace of crème fraîche. Aromatic apple-and-parsnip soup brings in a taste of fall. Pistachio-dusted St. Peter's fish with a hint of passion fruit vies with the filet of striped bass paired with blue-potato hash. Hot cherry peppers and Bermuda onions spark the rosy, bone-in pork loin. Black Angus filet mignon au poivre with pommes frites, hanger steak in red wine sauce dotted with Gorgonzola, mustard-crusted rack of lamb with garlic-mashed potatoes: excellent. And several new surf-and-turf additions are promising. Likewise, the five- and seven-course tasting menus. Order the goat cheese-and-potato soufflé on the side with any main course.
The artfully arranged desserts taste as good as they look.
Uneven pastas, from lobster ravioli to fettuccine with anchovies and spinach; bland branzino, despite toasted quinoa and Moroccan olives; dry Thai shrimp salad and oven-roasted tomato-and-goat cheese salad.
THE BOTTOM LINE