As authentic as it gets
If you’ve recently attended an Indian wedding, hospital-sponsored banquet or been shopping around the Dayton Mall, chances are you’ve experienced Amar India. Amar brings higher-level Indian dining to Dayton, and is owned and operated by Surjit Singh, a tall, moustached gentleman you may see in the restaurant or accompanying his staff at high-profile catered events. I’ve been to the restaurant many times, and have actually attended more than one wedding for which he’s provided food. Amar seems to be the standard bearer for Indian food in Dayton, simply based on the quality of food and service relative to others in town. Following a couple of recent visits, including one with two novice Indian food eaters, I’d say the saga continues.
Entering their location in a shopping center across from the Dayton Mall, you walk past their bar and into their dining room and buffet area. Continuing on, you walk down a few steps into the second dining area, which at this time of year is festively lit for the holidays. After being greeted warmly and seated by a very helpful server, we got around to looking at their extensive menu, offering vegetarian, chicken, lamb, fish and a bit of beef, which is unique for most Indian restaurants I’ve visited. The cuisine is North Indian in style, and their full bar and wine list round out the experience. Both of my most recent visits were at dinner; however they do offer the requisite lunch buffet seven days a week. I like their buffet, as it ensures a good spread for meat eaters and vegetarians alike, and as a former vegetarian I can say that Indian food presents many opportunities for the meatless. Offering four vegetarian options and three meat options each day in addition to rice, bread, chutneys, dessert and other accompaniments, it’s a great way to get acquainted without marrying oneself to an unfamiliar dish. The menus at lunch and dinner are the same, however pricing increases a bit for dinner. Service is professional and adequate, with servers wearing white button-down shirts and black ties and working as a collective to ensure you’re taken care of.
Start with an appetizer, but go for something a bit different and try the Special Aloo Tikki ($5.50). This street vendor-style app features fried potato covered with chickpeas, yogurt, onions, cilantro and a bit of sev, a small crispy noodle garnish. Throw in a little chutney (I add both the cilantro/mint and the hot red onion varieties – in some places they put a little sweet tamarind chutney in the mix at inception) and you’re good to go. If you like the spicy – their spice levels range from one to five on all dishes –and you’re starting to sweat, you should get yourself a yogurt-based lassi ($3.50), sweet or mango, to tame the flame. During the colder months we usually opt for some Special Tea ($2). However, it’s probably our least favorite item on the menu. As opposed to other places around town, theirs is unsweetened and begs for more of the cardamom and spice that characterizes this usually satisfying beverage.
Despite my somewhat recent return to the dark, occasional meat-eating side of the force, I eat a predominantly vegetarian diet and so Indian food suits me. Standbys such as Malai Kofta ($10.50), Saag Paneer ($10.50) and Vegetable Biryani ($11) are good bets for the herbivores, however I prefer biryani with a bit of paneer – the firm, fresh Indian cheese. Speaking of paneer, we recently tried the Basant Paneer ($14) for the first time. Chunks of the mild cheese are nestled in a creamy sauce with what appeared to be ground nuts and chunks of tomatoes. Saag is normally my go to, but this has made my list going forward, although it’s a tick pricey. I also enjoy the Bhindi Masala ($12.50) – a sauté of onions, peppers, tomatoes and chopped okra. The crispy bits along with the spices they use result in a smoky flavor that reminds me of wok-charred dishes. As always, I feel that you must order a bit of bread with which to gather any remaining sauce on the plate, and some skip the cutlery altogether. My usual, the Garlic Nan ($3), is solid, however I actually prefer their Paratha ($2.75), a simple whole-wheat flat bread, also a fitting delivery method. Our novice guests accompanying us on our most recent visit went for chicken dishes, and even though the Chicken Mushroom and Chicken Dal (both $13) are some of the least risky items on the menu, they were both very good. The Chicken Dal – featuring sizable chunks of white meat in an aromatic lentil sauce – was far better than I had expected. Both of our guests made several comments throughout the evening, and used the word “excellent” on more than one occasion.
Everyone has a favorite Indian restaurant, and I certainly have mine. Regardless of where you normally go, however, I think most recognize that Amar emerges as the central character in the story of Dayton’s Indian dining experience. If you’re looking for good food and service in a more upscale environment, Amar should be at or near the top of your list.
Amar India Restaurant is located at 2751 Miamisburg-Centerville Road. For more information, call 937.439.9005 or visit www.amarindiadayton.com.
Reach DCP food critic Tom Baker at TomBaker@DaytonCityPaper.com.