Amar India’s legacy continues to impress

Photo: Tandoori Chicken

By Paula Johnson

Coriander, fenugreek, cumin, cardamom, cayenne, cilantro, ginger, garlic. I love saying the words, and I love what happens when the wonderful things they are marry together to create what may just be my favorite cuisine. If I consider the question “If you could only eat one type of food for the rest of your life?” my answer would be Indian. The complex flavor profiles, the deeply satisfying umami rich sauces (or gravies as they are known), the tasty charred surfaces a tandoor produces, delicate rosewater scented desserts, and don’t get me started on the nans. Turns out there’s science to back me on my choice, and to explain why Indian food is different than almost all other cuisines, certainly all western ones.

The not so Wild West

It’s a given in western cuisines that foods with similar flavorings will taste good together, and consequently are frequently paired. There’s actually a dizzyingly huge chart showing lines connecting foods that have components in common, illustrating that chefs do tend to pair ingredients with shared flavor compounds—but only in western cuisine. The more overlap two ingredients have in flavor, the less likely they are to appear in the same Indian dish. For instance, many Indian recipes contain cayenne, the basis of curry powder that’s in just about any Indian curry. And when a dish contains cayenne, it’s unlikely to have other ingredients that share similar flavors. OK, science lesson over. Now let’s talk about what I ate at one of my favorite Indian restaurants, Amar India.

Amar has two locations, north on Miller Lane, and the one we visited on Miamisburg Centerville Road near the Dayton Mall. Tucked away in a building behind those that front the road, it’s an attractive space with cloth napkins and tablecloths and a full bar. I was introduced to Amar by an Indian friend as one of the best in the area, and I agree. I’ve always been impressed by the overall quality of the food, and very much like the “fine dining” feel of the decor.

Service without a smile

So this wasn’t my first visit, and I’m glad of that because there was one major detracting issue that night: the service. It was unfriendly and aggressively insistent. We planned a leisurely dinner with several courses, and informed our waiter that we wouldn’t be in a hurry. In spite of our repeated statements to that effect, he appeared several times practically demanding that we order. Additionally, when we did order our appetizers, he made no attempt to advise us. For instance, we ordered a mixed platter appetizer, chicken tikka, samosas, and papadam. He never mentioned that samosas and papadam were included in the mixed platter, and perhaps we might consider something else. I’ve dined at Amar before and have experienced fairly good service, so hopefully this night was an aberration.

In any case, the food, as always, was in sharp contrast to the night’s service debacle. My favorite dish is Chicken Makhani ($12.99), a dish that was created by mixing the leftover chicken in a buttery tomato gravy at a restaurant in Delhi in the 1950’s. Amar’s was rich and velvety and delicious with wonderful depth of flavor. Another particularly aromatic and tasty dish we sampled was the table favorite Shahi Paneer ($12.99), homemade cheese cooked in a tomato sauce with cream, nuts, raisins, and spices. We mopped up the gravy goodness with two kinds of breads, Bhatura ($1.95) and Hot and Spicy Naan ($2.95). The Bhatura is deep fried and light and crusty in contrast to the more chewy traditonal naan, both perfect for the job of making sure no sauce is left clinging to the dish.

Tandoori talk

For those new to the Indian game and its rich gravies like my PIP (Palate In Progress), Tandoori Chicken ($10.99) is a great suggestion. Akin to a Fajita, Tandoori Chicken is presented on a sizzling platter with onions, peppers, and lemon wedges. What is Tandoori cooking? Contrary to common belief, many people think that the word “tandoori” refers to a recipe, bit it’s actually a method of cooking with an intense charcoal fire in a clay oven called a tandoor. The meat being cooked is marinated in yogurt with spices such as ginger, garlic, coriander powder, garam masala, and cayenne pepper, giving it its signature bright coral hue.

I’m very fond of Indian desserts and Amar had good versions of two of my favorites, Gulab Jamun ($3.50) and Ras Malai ($3.00). Gulab Jamum loos like doughnut holes, but they’re actually milk solids kneaded into a dough, and shaped into small deep fried balls. They’re served soaked in a sugary cardamom and rose water syrup. The Ras Malai is a creamy cheesy treat swimming in cardamom scented milk syrup topped with crunchy pistachios. We all left feeling full and satisfied, and with the notable exception of the service, looking forward to exploring more of Amar’s menu very soon.

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Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at

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