"I have the simplest tastes. I am simply satisfied with the best." - Oscar Wilde

"I came, I saw, I ate." - Au Gourmand

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Amma - March 5, 2011

As a firm believer in the deadliness of high temperature (100 degree Celsius) and my very own gastric acid, I am willing to close one eye toward bacteria and germs in relation to the quality of the food: Tastier food, higher tolerance. However, at the same time, I abhor vehemently the excess oil from culinary and wellness perspective: I refuse to suffer the consequence caused by someone else’ lack of thought or concern whether in the form of a stomach ache or more hours in the gym – the latter is a torture for someone who considers even one minute spent in the collegiate environment among the happily sweaty, or odorously joyful, is too long. Good cooking is made of one part good skill and one part good ingredients, with the former occupying heavier weight. Doubtlessly, some dishes require large amount of oil, but moderation and reservation are equally important concepts as indulgence and luxury, however, much more often neglected.
* I will qualify since I do not know what true Indian food is like in India; just like Chinese is bad in New York, the food in India may have almost no resemblance to what they serve in New York.

Beets Croquette

Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned – William Congreve. My personal corollary to this famous line is: Hell has no fury like a diner denied free food. The customary and complimentary papadum somehow skipped our table to turn up at the next; my quick temper was incensed by such unforgivable neglect, regardless of the intention of the diner (no particular interest in the papadum). However, the unprofessional oversight was quickly forgotten – for this diner with an insectile attention span (a.k.a. attention deficit in humans) – by the timely arrival of beet croquette (Did I hear the server correctly? Beets and beetles seemed equally possible, coming from the rolling foreign tongue, while the latter candidate posed a slighter more provocative option). A tentative bite released the hot earthy steam for the petite beets croquette and revealed the beet’s characteristic burned magenta. Perfectly crispy and light, the first offering passed the threshold of non-greasy.

Konkan Prawn Masala (Kalvan)

Our professional waiter with a firm opinion – a good thing when you actually want them, instead of noncommittal or commitment-phobic “Everything on the menu is good” – said this was his favorite dish. Several large prawns were nestled in a light but spicy curry. The sweet and tangy flavor that might have come from tamarind worked well with the heat, while restrained use of coconut further mellowed out the fire without bringing heaviness to the plate. The prawns could have been a little fresher – as most seafood can in general in New York – but that might be asking too much.
From the left: Kalvan, Sea bass, Mint Rice
Tandoori Grilled Sea Bass with Mint Rice

How Amma’s chef grilled this impossibly flaky and delicate fish on a skewer in the tandoor oven without the fish falling off into the flame will perhaps deserve a whole chapter, and I would like to know how. The multi-layered flavor was powerful and intoxicating: The mild and buttery fish was accentuated by the acidic tomato and pungent cumin and coriander, while the slight char from the tandoor made the dish even more savory. As for its minty companion, despite leaning dangerously toward being greasy on my intolerance scale, the mint rice pulled through mainly by its refreshing scent and by its small ration. There were probably enough herbs and spices in this special of the day to open up a corner store, but the rice and the fish collaborated surprisingly amicably on the plate, while they did not necessarily augment the flavors by the presence of each other.

Bagharey Baingan - stuffed baby eggplant, spicy peanut-curry leaf sauce

Stuffed with what I have no idea, but the plump baby eggplants were cooked in a thick curry to the exact point where they were soft and yet still firm, instead of falling into a sorry soggy mush. The curry had an unusual twist, which I attributed to the mysterious curry leaf.
Left: Baby Eggplant, Right: Okra
Kararee Bhindi - crispy tangy okra, tomatoes and red onions

An innovative and interesting concept, but I am not sure if the time and energy exerted in slicing up the okras would be justified. Despite my abhorrence toward excessive use of oil, which was strongly communicated to our waiter, he recommended this signature dish: It was oily, which did not surprise anyone because shredded and battered vegetables were meant to absorb frying oil (unless one is willing to apprentice oneself to those monkish Japanese tempura masters for a good part of their youth to learn how to fry in oil but not to be fried in oil). The vinegar and red onions all tried to help and did their very best, but the more I ate the more oil congealed at the bottom of my stomach.

Lachha Paratha

Fluffy and layered bread is my choice of Indian bread nowadays, over my previous allegiance toward nan. Amma’s paratha was lean, light and fluffy; however, for layered bread, I do like my fat in order to achieve the truly distinct and separate layers.

Basmati Rice - spiced with whole garam masala

Simply flavored with garam masala without any other unnecessary embellishments – e.g. carrots, raisins or ghee – the aromatic simple rice served all the dishes as an unobtrusive but amiable and able companion.

Gulab Jamun - fried cheese balls in honey syrup

Two elongated balls were fried to attain a nice shell on the outside – undiminished even by the syrup – and melting hot burst of fragrant milkiness inside. Although I did not taste the honey, the sweetness of the syrup was reined in, for which I was grateful, several steps before reaching the customary deathly liquid sugar. All in all, it was not a dessert that you would remember next year, yet it was a nice enough way to sweeten the mouth at the end of a pleasant meal.


Appallingly vacant and devoid of spices, the watery, runny, luke-warm and murky brown liquid shocked us from a spicy daydream filled with maharajas and glittering jewels into the harsh reality of East 51st Street, New York.

Address: 246 E 51st Street, New York, NY 10022
Phone:  (212) 644-8330

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