By Anna Ing
New York City is a mecca of good eats and a hub for a wide range of cuisines from all around the world. Recently while in Manhattan’s East Side in search of a now-defunct ramen shop, we stumbled upon ‘Amma‘.
We thanked our lucky stars we went there and though our wallets were a bit lighter it was worth it. Amma (or mother) is a 40-seat, upscale Pan Indian restaurant with ochre splashed walls and lovely antique decorations located on 246 East 51st Street [between 2nd and 3rd] New York, NY 10022 (212) 644-8330. One of the owners, Anju Sharma, wanted a relaxed and cozy atmosphere while serving food reminiscent of what her mom would make. ‘Amma‘ is her homage to her mother and mother-in-law’s great cooking with a twist fit for a restaurant.
To start our meal, an amuse bouche (literally amusement for the mouth aka small bite of food) of fried lentil fritters came out courtesy of the chef. They were small, compact triangles that were not overcooked but their flavors were further accentuated by the same two accompanying chutneys we saw alot of (the two sauces were versatile and could be wet or dry, spicy or sweet but usually had a spice, fruit, herb or vegetable in it). For our appetizers, we opted for the Paneer Tikka ($6) and Trio of Vegetarian Samosas ($9). The paneer (a simple fresh cheese made of milk & acid) was cooked in the tandoor (cylindrical clay oven) after being marinated with aromatic spices and yogurt. It was simple but delicious, and its’ texture reminded me of fresh mozzarella but the mild cheese complemented the lovely spices and yogurt. The samosas (stuffed pastry and a popular snack) were stuffed with potato, lentil and paneer. The chutney sauces enhanced these vegetarian samosas and though they were a bit on the dry side, were still flavorful.
Next came our rice and entrees which were served individually onto our plates. Indian food tends to be rich and creamy but very delicious. The Saag Paneer ($14) [any green leaf vegetable but here it is spinach with paneer] is a common Punjab food (The Punjab state is located in the Northwest region of the Republic of India and close to Pakistan. This region is known as Indian’s Breadbasket and is the producer of 1% of the world’s rice). The combination of the paneer with the lovely spinach mixture with spices, chilies and ghee (traditional Indian clarified butter) tasted similar but comforting in its sameness. The Chicken Xacuti – Roasted Coconut Sauce (spicy) ($22) caught our attention as something new to try. Xacuti is a Goan region curry that utilizes fresh and dry coconut, chilies, white poppy seeds along with other spices and it is usually cooked with chicken or lamb. Easily our spiciest dish of the night, but still the coconut and Indian spices melded well together in this dish.
Indian food tends to be served in smaller portions, but they are rather filling due to the rich sauces. Our final entree selection was recommended to us by our server. He suggested the ubiquitous Chicken Tikka Masala ($18) or Butter Chicken on their menu. Definitely an influence from during the time Britain colonized India, Chicken Tikka Masala was created specifically for the British palate. In fact in Britain, Chicken Tikka Masala was hailed by former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook to be “a true British national dish.” There are many variations of this orange colored dish but there is always the masala (mixture of spices), cream and tomatoes combined with the tandoor baked, spices and yogurt marinated chicken. A survey found there were at least 48 different recipes for this one dish! For us, by far the BEST sauce of all the dishes! When we heard this dish initially suggested to us, we were a bit apprehensive. The velvety creamy sauce coupled with the spices and tomatoes complimented each other well. We ordered more Onion Kulch that had 4 pieces per order ($6) [a Punjab bread baked in the tandoor oven and it is similar to Naan] and rice to make sure we did not miss any of the sauces.
Regretfully, we had to pass on dessert after eating such a wonderful meal. It is my experience that a person either really falls in love or avoids Indian food. Fortunately, one person at our table never had Indian food before and became smitten with the flavors, spicy and creamy sauces. Also note that the restaurant offers a five course regular and vegetarian tasting menu as an alternative for $50 or paired with wine for $85.
Our servers were knowledgeable, courteous, and helpful. We are still dreaming about wanting more of that great chicken tikka masala! My New York buddy has now added this restaurant as a must go to place on her list. For a night of fine Indian Food dining, be sure to check them out when in New York City.