What are we to think about a place named Amaze Fusion and Lounge?
Its Web site says that “Amaze’s atmosphere, which complements and attracts a fashion, music and entertainment clientele, takes you off the busy streets of Manhattan and transcends you to the middle of the Asian culture.”
But that doesn’t really seem to be the case.
Typically, “fusion,” when applied to food or to a restaurant, means a blending of different cooking traditions or ethnicities into something new and different. But this establishment on Third Avenue, between 43rd and 44th Streets, is trying to market itself instead as a place whose kitchen can turn out dishes from different Asian nations, each with a strikingly different cuisine. Among them: Japan, China, Thailand, Indonesia, Mongolia, Malaysia and Vietnam.
General Tso’s chicken? We’ve got it. Sushi, sashimi and bento boxes? Check! Pad thai? Bien sûr. Mongolian beef? Done. Not to mention Scotch salmon, buffalo wings, Caesar salad and clam chowder.
O.K., so it isn’t fusion but multinational. And it would be amazing if a single restaurant kitchen could churn out great food from so many different traditions. But if you thought that, you would be wrong, because much of the food cranked out by the Amaze kitchen is actually pretty ordinary.
That is not to say that you can’t get a decent meal here. The lunch specials, at $6.50 to $9, are generous and competently prepared, ranging from Japanese udon noodle soup and Malaysian chicken curry to Thai red curry and shrimp with garlic sauce. Each is accompanied by rice and a choice of soup (hot and sour, wonton or miso) or salad.
On the rest of the menu, the place’s dominant cuisine appears to be Japanese, and these dishes are also generally well prepared and well priced. For as little as $10, you can get a maki combo of any three rolls or a combination of six pieces of sushi and a maki roll. A bento box — a sampling of various dishes served in a wooden tray — featuring sushi or sashimi goes for just $11 at lunch.
But the cooking rarely stands out, regardless of the tradition or country of origin. An order of Young Ginger Shrimp had no discernible taste of ginger. Vietnamese spring rolls were soggy and bland. An “Indonesia Bali sambal” bore no resemblance to a genuine sambal, its ingredients simply refusing to come together. There were odd touches like raisins in a Japanese-style ginger-dressed salad and browned bits of onion floating in a Chinese-style wonton soup.
Then there’s the “lounge” aspect of Amaze’s formula. The place doubles as a bar, with cutting-edge but somewhat unnerving pastel-colored LED lighting and TVs throughout the main floor (although there is a very pleasant full-service dining room on the second floor with far less sensory overload).
While the TV sound is turned off and the background music is not too loud to prevent conversation, the effect is still reminiscent of an airport restaurant. Maybe the interior decorator was given just a bit too much of a free hand.
Finally, there’s the service. It is quite speedy, for which we should be grateful. But it seems the wait-staff at Amaze has never been trained in human-to-human contact.
Waiters hand you a menu wordlessly and take your order with no verbal exchange or eye contact. If you ask a question about the menu, the waiter seems extremely uncomfortable about answering.
Appetizers are delivered quite quickly, but the main courses arrive just moments afterward, and no one asks later if you liked the dish you asked about, enjoyed your meal or want to order anything else. No one waits until you ask for the check before bringing it to you, making you feel rushed to leave although the restaurant may be only half empty.
Worse, as you eat, you may be obliged to listen to the automated voice issuing from the computer at the front of the restaurant, shouting over and over, “New Seamless order! New Seamless order!” — a reference to the seamless.com Internet carry-out system.
On one visit, it took the staff a minute or two to respond to each new order as it arrived, condemning those of us within earshot to listen to the repeated message with no means of escape. Similarly, there was often no one to greet customers as they walked in the door, making them track down someone who could seat them or take their to-go order.
Getting up to leave the restaurant after each visit, I looked for someone to notice I was standing who would thank me for coming. No such luck.
Amaze Fusion and Lounge is open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday from 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., Saturday from noon to 11:30 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 11 p.m. It is at 694 Third Avenue between 43rd and 44th Streets. (212) 986-5555.
Irwin Arieff is a veteran writer and editor with extensive experience writing about international diplomacy and food, cooking and restaurants. Before leaving daily journalism in 2007, he was a Reuters correspondent for 23 years, serving in senior posts in Washington, Paris and New York as well as at the United Nations (where he covered five of the 10 years that Sergey Lavrov spent in New York as Russia’s senior UN ambassador). Arieff also wrote restaurant reviews for The Washington Post and Washington City Paper in the 1980s and 1990s with his wife, Deborah Baldwin.