When Rain closed its doors in early January, it was supposed to be for modest renovations. The co-owning Rubino brothers (Guy and Michael, of Zoom and Luce fame) were planning a sushi and sashimi bar to add some new flavour to the restaurant as it approached its 10th anniversary. But club king and visionary Charles Khabouth arrived on the scene with another idea. “It’s all Charles’s fault,” explains executive chef Guy Rubino. “He said, ‘It’s not enough. Come to my office.’ So I did.” Now, after massive changes to the concept, space, name and menu, the souped-up supper club Ame is slated to open at the end of June, featuring an Obama shout-out, a more relaxed ambience and a brand new menu. Says Guy, “It will be completely unrecognizable.”
As per Khabouth’s trademark MO, the haute cuisine establishment is shedding its special-occasion demeanour in favour of today’s preference for more democratic dining. “Change is the word right now. À la Obama,” says Guy, who sees a shift in the city’s dining culture toward more low-key restaurants that let diners choose the temper—and price tag—of the night. “You’re not committed to walking in and spending $200,” says Khabouth of the new joint. “You can go in, have a drink, spend $10 and leave.”
The refurbished space is high-function, open and inviting. The signature water walls are all that remain from the original design. Additions include such features as an eat-in sake bar, so that noncommittal guests can dine and dash (after paying the cheque, preferably). A luxurious lounge allows for a more casual eating and drinking experience, but the dining area (and adjacent 24-seat private room) can still accommodate marathon meals.
Around the open-concept kitchen are 12 front row-seats; observers can watch the heated drama at Guy’s traditional Japanese robata grill—a cooking tool that he found while filming Made to Order in Asia. The gadget uses oak-based Bichotan coals, which imbue foods with the smoky charcoal quality of classic barbecue.
The overhauled menu (with triple the selection of the old one) is closer to authentic Japanese cuisine than Rain’s fusion concept ever was. In addition to hot-off-the-robata-grill items, new options include sushi, sashimi and tempura, along with noodle and rice dishes. The increase in options also means a more varied (read: egalitarian) price point. Quality is still Guy’s ultimate priority, but “simplicity” is his new watchword. “I built my career on doing everything three ways. That will change. Now I’m going to do things one way.” Tipplers rejoice: front-of-house man Michael Rubino is planning a Japan-inspired cocktail list, so expect playful pairings.
Ame is still mid-transformation (the opening date is eight to 12 weeks off), but the trio are already planning two other restaurants together, including one in the States. We like the sound of that—as long as the Rubinos don’t pull a Susur on us.