In my past couple of Indian restaurant reviews, everyone suggested Shaan as my next stop on my Indian Tour of Cincinnati (which I have now dubbed my current craving for Indian food).
And I totally ignored you guys. Sorry. Shaan will be next, but my coworker Tim and his partner Richard had been begging me for months to go to Amma’s Kitchen in Roselawn for dinner. Terry was supposed to go as well, but he had rehearsal, so it was just the three of us for an Indian feast. And I mean it– the amount of food we ordered was like an Indian thanksgiving. We had more than enough left for Terry to eat for dinner after his rehearsal.
Amma’s is located in Roselawn, on Reading Road. It is, as far as I know, one of the few totally vegetarian (and, on Wednesdays, vegan) Indian restaurants in Cincinnati. Tim swore to me I wouldn’t miss the meat– and when I eat vegetarian, if it’s good, I generally don’t miss it a bit.
The restaurant is unpretentious, sparse, yet welcoming. We went on a Monday night, and there were 3-4 other tables– families and other groups– and service was efficient and friendly. For vegans, dishes are marked “D” for dairy, and Wednesday’s dinner buffet is entirely vegan. It’s also certified Kosher by the Vaad Hoier of Cincinnati.
I insisted that Tim and Richard order, as they’d been there many times. They’d tried a bunch of things on the menu, and chose very, very well.
We started off with an order of podi idli– little flat rice cakes, in a hot but not overpowering spice mix. I’d never had them before, and they were delicious and different. They were served with a coconut chutney and sambar, which is a vegetable stew.
Next, we had samosas– they were huge (one was more than enough for one person, and we got 2 orders), and looked vaguely like deep-fried, wonton-wrapped gnomes. You can’t quite tell this from the picture, but we had a good chuckle. Their spice was moderate, and the accompanying sauces– one cilantro based and just a bit spicy, the other tangy tamarind sauce– were excellent.
Next up? A masala dosa, which is a large, flat crepe, rolled like a cigar around a filling (in this case, curried potatoes). It was also served with the same coconut sauce, sambal, and a lime pickle that is very, very tart. It’s a pretty impressive presentation– nearly falling off the plate.
With our main courses, we ordered batura, which Richard referred to as “brain bread”, because it puffs up like.. well, you get the idea. Unfortunately, the one disappointment of the evening was the batura, as it had fallen before we got it at the table, and was a bit greasy and flat, not puffy and crispy in the center as it is supposed to be. I’ve seen batura at other Indian restaurants, and Tim and Richard had ordered it at Ammas before and it was definitely a big puff of bread when it arrived at the table, so I’m not sure why we were served this subpar product. We probably should have sent it back, and if I order it again and it comes out flat, I will.
Our first main, which was my choice, was paneer butter masala– also known as paneer makhani. Makhani is one of the more popular Indian dishes in America, but I usually see it done with chicken. I actually like it better with paneer (a soft, fresh Indian cheese). It’s sort of a heart attack in a dish– lots of cream, butter and cheese– but with a complex flavor profile from the masala (spice mix) that is used to season the dish. Even though the batura was a bit flat, I used it to soak up some of the sauce. Decadent.
Our other main was kofta in a curry sauce. Kofta are balls of cheese and potatoes, and the sauce was a creamy, mild curry. There were three kofta– one for each of us– and they had the texture of a meatball.
We skipped dessert, as we were so full (and we had four (!) takeout boxes left, quite ridiculous). For all of that food, our bill hovered around $50, which for four people (essentially), is a good deal. That also included our beverages– Mango shakes for Tim and Richard, and a rich, dark Madras coffee for me.
I will try Shaan– as you all have spoken so highly of it– but Ammas has edged out Ambar as my favorite Indian restaurant in town. Complex flavors, low prices and an entirely vegetarian menu make it a great choice for just about anyone.