First Look: Amara

In Inman Park, chef Bhavesh Patel takes inspiration from Indian cuisine but eschews tradition

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Amara is easy to spot, thanks to its electric blue and white sign. A Persian rug welcomes diners into the spacious, modern-industrial interior with pendant lights dangling from a high vaulted ceiling. A glass-backed bar with yellow chairs is central to the space, where one can watch people stopping by after work, or even a workout, to grab a drink and a bite with a soundtrack of international jazz, rap, and techno beats. The sleek sunken dining area leads to a semi-open kitchen where executive chef Bhavesh Patel (Spice Market, Table 1280, Morningside Kitchen) is hard at work creating a singular array of Indian-inspired American cuisine.

Located just past Inman Quarter at the intersection of N. Highland Avenue and Inman Village Parkway, Amara is the first collaboration between Patel and restaurant owner Sandeep Kothari, the man behind Midtown’s sleek Indian eatery, Tabla. Amara is like Tabla’s equally modern but more casual and capricious little sister. “We want people to be able to walk to Amara and stop by for cocktails and sharable plates before they move on to the next place for the night,” Patel says.Growing up in England, Patel would watch his grandmother slowly simmer traditional Indian dishes while hiding under the kitchen table. His culinary curiosity carried him through Indian, American, and international restaurant kitchens. “I wanted to elevate international cuisine to a higher concept by adding spices and using modern cooking techniques,” he says, noting that the idea behind Amara was to make Indian food more approachable.
No value assignedAmara’s menu is familiar yet original, offering generously portioned tapas and entrees. It’s fusion, but not in the derogatory sense. Patel presents bold flavors, merging French, Italian, and Indian cooking techniques with a passion for experimentation — derived, perhaps, from his three science degrees. He incorporates a variety of proteins typically eschewed by Indian chefs, such as pig ear, foie gras, mussels, and pork belly, and fearlessly blends ingredients from the East and West. Think jaggery-tamarind glazed hangar steak, sweetbreads in sambal sauce, or idli (steamed rice cakes) stuffed with wild mushrooms.

Brussels sprouts "bhel" ($7), a twist on the classic Mumbai street food, becomes in Patel’s hands a vibrant slaw of fried Brussels, sweet potatoes, black chickpeas, yogurt, and tamarind sauce. Traditionally a sweet or savory vegetarian dish from the state of Gujarat in India, the pulled goat ghugra ($9) at Amara is a crispy empanada stuffed with tender shredded goat meat and served with house-made mint chutney.

The beet and coconut samosa ($8) resembles a phyllo-wrapped Greek spanakopita, but instead presents delicately flavored diced beets seasoned with black mustard and curry leaf. Grilled octopus tentacles ($14) are soft and succulent, served with a salad of cucumber and tomatoes (typically referred to as kachumber in Hindi). Gnocchi ($18), a popular Italian pasta dish, finds itself blended with Indian paneer into light and fluffy rectangles that pair exceptionally well with a Thai-style curry of coconut milk and lemongrass.

No value assignedThe blending of cultures can be found in all sections of the menu. Warm Indian naan ($5) is topped with fragrant truffle oil instead of the usual butter or ghee. Unusual flavors of ice cream ($8) are prepared in partnership with neighboring shop Queen of Cream and include gulab jamun (fried doughnuts), tooti frooti (mixed candied fruit), Parle G (a nostalgic Indian cookie brand), and Ovaltine. Chocolate chai pot de creme ($8) is a full-on mouth party with its intriguing combination of salty popcorn, sweet caramel, buttery nankhatai cookie crunch, and rich creamy molten chocolate.

House cocktails pair well with Patel’s eclectic dishes. The Smoking Gun ($10) contrasts strong mezcal against sweet pineapple and spicy bitters, while the East India ($8) eases cognac into smooth dark rum. From German Riesling and Napa Valley chardonnay to Argentinian Malbec, the half page wine selection spans the globe. Beer lovers can choose from more than a dozen local and imported brews, including Indian Kingfisher, SweetWater, and Second Self ($5 each). There’s also a good selection of international nonalcoholic beverages that follow the restaurant’s theme, including homemade lemonade mixed with berries, a Cucumber Derby with ginger and soda, Mexican Coke, and the beloved Indian cola Thums Up.

No value assigned

Purists, beware: Amara is not another Indian restaurant serving traditional Indian fare. Instead, it’s a place where there are no set rules. But it works. Patel has carved a new niche for himself in his fearless synthesis of ingredients, spices, and cooking methods from all over the world.

While there, I overheard an Indian family at an adjacent table. The younger diners were trying to persuade their elderly parents to keep an open mind. “It’s not Indian food, but try it,” they said. “You will like it!”

Amara. 870 Inman Village Parkway N.E. 470-305-7405. www.amaraatlanta.com.

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