The definition of an amuse-bouche is “something to please the mouth” – it is a bite-sized hors d’oeuvre, a small savoury appetizer served before a starter.
It is like a greeting from the chef!
Amuse-bouches (plural) are not part of the menu, you can’t order from them from a list, they are the chef’s choice and are given free of charge.
In France you’ll hear the term amuse gueule which is the same thing, but the expression amuse guele is what is commonly used in speaking or writing more than amuse-bouche.
Amuse-bouches or amuse gueules can range from soup, a dollop of fresh cream with a single delicious sun-dried tomato with herbs, a small pastry, meat, fish or vegetable often served in a small glass, on a desert sized spoon or in a tiny dish. They are a chance for the chef de cuisine to show off his or her skill with both taste and presentation and should offer a hint of the great things to come.
An amuse-bouche used to be something that only top restaurants would serve but they are quite common these days in gourmet style restaurants as well and a pleasant and unexpected bonus for diners.
One of the easiest amuse-bouche dishes is soup – simply spoon a little into a small shot glass, cold soups in particularly are popular as they can be prepared well in advance. A little bread can be served but not much as it really is just a taster appetizer.
Smart restaurants may also serve a complimentary glass of wine, designed to perfectly enhance the taste of the amuse-bouche.