Our food writer heads over to check out the VMFA’s new restaurant, Amuse. While the food was good, the servers struggled. Find out more…
I headed to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts this Thursday to see the Tiffany exhibit and planned to check out their fine dining, small-plates restaurant, Amuse. Then I realized it would be Jumpin’, their Thursday night music event, and was worried about being able to access the whole museum. Since the event is normally held outside in the still sculpture-less, sculpture garden, and Amuse overlooks the garden, I wasn’t sure if it would be open to the public.
A source told me that if you didn’t have a Jumpin’ ticket, then you couldn’t enter the cafe areas. Well, the impending storm moved the music event inside, so I was even more worried.
However, after seeing the Tiffany show, we easily walked through Jumpin’ and upstairs to Amuse.
At 7:15 pm, it was pretty busy, but there were still several empty tables and an empty 6-person bar, so we opted for the bar.
The staff was moving at a frenzied pace, and our bartender seemed especially frantic, so we didn’t mind when he didn’t greet us right away, despite having no other bar patrons. After about five minutes of no acknowledgment, I started watching the clock. Ten minutes after that, we finally got a hello. It took another five to be asked for our drink order, and then after 30 minutes from the time we sat down, we had drinks in hand. Several times in mid-conversation with us, the bartender turned away to say or do something else; it was pretty disconcerting. I had to flag down another staff member to get a food menu. We were there to wait out the rain, so we remained patient. There appeared to be only one person making drinks and pouring wine for the entire restaurant, which at this point probably had about 50 people in it, not including the packed separate private dining room.
The food menu was small, but that was expected. Starters were $6 to $10, and entrees were $10 to $19. Amuse had only a handful of wines by the glass, at the steeper end: $9-$13. Their liquor selection was limited and there was no beer list, but I saw bottled beers in the refrigerator, including Charlottesville’s Starr Hill Brewery. I was also surprised they didn’t have a real espresso machine, instead opting for more of an automated kind that you’d find at the new McDonald’s McCafés.
We ordered the Manakintown salad, which had mixed greens, goat cheese, and candied cherries and pecans. For $6, I was delighted at how big it was, perfect for sharing. Despite feeling like it was upside down (i.e., all the little bits were hidden on the bottom), we loved it.
The room was a good mix of well-dressed grey-hairs and hip, younger folk, and I was pleased to see Pam Reynolds, dressed in colorful mixed floral patterns. Ironically, given its location, there’s no art in the actual restaurant. The décor is pretty sparse, but with an entire wall of windows, the view of the sunset is spectacular and the third-story height felt like being high above the rest of the world.
After an hour or so, the bartender seemed to calm down a bit and actually talked to us. I said to my companion that it felt like everyone who worked there had only one day of experience. Then we realized that was pretty close to the truth–because the museum is only open until 9pm on Thursdays, Amuse has only had four chances to work out their dinner service issues.
With four mixed drinks and our salad, we still got out for under $30, so despite the service problems, I’ll be back for the location, the view, and the price. But next time, the staff better not Windex the bar around me while I’m still drinking.