Amarin Thai & Sushi is located in the section of Hyde Park where Cumin, Hap's Irish Pub and Bangkok Bistro line Erie Avenue. Parking was a bit of a challenge, but we managed to squeeze in next to a half-melted snowdrift behind the bank across the street.
Amarin is a small space, and during the chilly weather a makeshift vestibule keeps the cold wind from entering with every customer.
Inside there's ambient blue neon light cleverly hidden in a cornice at the top of the walls. It's chic, if not flattering, and comfortably padded chairs surround the dark, wood tables that line the room.
We were greeted at the door and directed to a table right up front where our server brought us a "special" menu, a regular menu and a sushi menu. So many choices! Alas, there was no drink menu -- Amarin doesn't have a liquor license, but it does encourage you to go next door to Hap's and bring back a beer, which they'll open without a corkage fee. Nice and neighborly.
So while our friend ran off to bag a Bass Ale or two, we started perusing the menus. Nothing on the special menu really grabbed us, although the choices looked good, including a not-too-pricey Chilean Sea Bass at about $18. The regular menu offered a vast array of choices, and they seemed just as interesting.
In fact, any of the dozen appetizer offerings would have been worth a try. It was tough to pass up "Between the Sheets,"($5.95) promising a thin, crispy sheet of chicken, shrimp and garlic, or the Golden Triangles ($4.25) of crispy fried tofu with peanut dipping sauce.
But we opted for the Thai Spring Rolls (3.95), three crisp, thin rolls with very finely minced vegetables. I loved their mushroom flavor, and the accompanying duck sauce was not too sweet.
We also went with a sushi special our server told us about, the Erie roll ($6.95). It took me a minute to appreciate that this was named for the street we were on, and not the lake where the fish were caught. Anyway, it was a big cold roll with salmon, tuna and crabstick, served in a fancy lacquered boat, topped with seaweed salad and drizzled with chili-spiced mayonnaise sauce. While that sounds a bit over the top, it actually worked well -- especially the fatty tuna, which was fresh and delicious.
Our hands-down favorite, though, was a great big Soft-shell Crab, (7.95) tempura fried and then halved with a sweet chili sauce for dipping. The crab was huge -- easy to share between the four of us -- and absolutely delicious. I wish I drove past Amarin more often so I could stop and grab a couple of these for dinner any night.
The salads are also great for sharing. The platter of Yam Silver Noodles ($9.95), a tangle of bean thread atop salad greens, with loads of slivered onions and diced tomatoes, was topped off with at least a dozen big, delicious shrimp in a tangy, rice-vinegar dressing. I was a little surprised that though the dressing was spiked with some red pepper flakes, there wasn't any intense heat to this dish or really to any of the dishes we tried. On my next visit, I'd probably up my choice of spiciness levels a bit.
The Salad Kag ($5.95) had tiny triangles of crisp fried tofu and slivers of fried chicken on a bed of fresh greens that included a peppery green that I'd love to identify and was dressed with a light ginger, peanut, curry vinaigrette.
The servers were ever so attentive, refilling our water glasses, sweeping away the empty plates and managing not to express amazement at the amount of food we ordered. Before our entrées arrived, I began to think I'd tasted my final bite. Not so fast!
The "jade" in Thai Jade Noodle ($10.95) is the spinach noodles, and they were the most flavorful spinach pasta I've ever tasted. It was a heavy dish, easily big enough to share, with loads of onions, vegetables and shrimp, but just a little bland for me. The classic Sweet and Sour Chicken (10.95) was quite sweet, of course, and featured loads of pineapple.
Better choices -- in fact, amazing choices -- were Seafood Madness ($16.95) and Amarin Crispy Duck ($16.95). The Seafood Madness was as pretty and well crafted as any gourmet restaurant. Squid were carefully cut and scored so that they stayed tender. Lovely green mussels were left in their shells to add flavor to the dish. There were loads of shrimp and nice braised scallops, spiced with Thai hot chilis and surrounded by fresh, crisp vegetables, all in the most delicious, rich sauce. Wow, what a good dish -- but not the best.
That honor is saved for the duck, a boneless duck half seasoned and crisp fried, sliced and fanned into a big ceramic bowl and surrounded by fresh green beans and carrots. The tamarind dipping sauce was nice but superfluous. The duck was absolutely delicious, and so easy to eat in this presentation. We kept nibbling away until every last crumb had disappeared.
Amarin is friendly, delicious and a great value. ©
AMARIN THAI & SUSHI Critic's Pick
Go: 3514 Erie Ave., Hyde Park
Hours: Lunch: 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday; dinner: 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5 p.m.-midnight Friday and Saturday, 4-9 p.m. Sunday
Payment: All major credit cards
Red Meat Alternatives: Several