Date Night

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Date Night: Amma

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Bombay bhel puri [Photographs: Garrett Ziegler]

If you've been to India, or seen pictures of the Taj Mahal, then you know that it's a country that values grandeur. Over the top is nowhere near high enough. Amma seeks to capture that attitude via attentive service, flowing tableclothes, multiple changes of flatware. The color scheme ranges from the orange of a roaring fire (as on the dining room's creatively shaped chandelier) to the soft fur of a ginger cat (as on the walls). Your meal won't start with a basket of papadums, but with a spinach-and-potato cake amuse-bouche shaped like teardrops. Amma is a restaurant with ambitions.

The Bombay bhel puri ($6) arrived in a perfect beige mound. We broke it apart and beheld the chaat's motley ingredients. (Half the fun of eating chaat is trying to figure out what's in it.) Perhaps the puffed rice could have been puffier, the crunchy bits known as sev crunchier, and perhaps the dish's uniformity obscures its populist, snack-on-the-go roots, but the pleasingly prickly spicing was more generous than one might expect in the surroundings.

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Paneer tikka

Wafts of charcoal emanated from the paneer tikka ($11), our second appetizer. Firm chunks of cheese had been marinated, then grilled with onions, peppers, and tomatoes in the tandoor. This paneer had been salted, so it gave off an almost feta or queso fresco vibe.

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Manchurian cauliflower

India and China share a border, which helps explain the presence of dishes like Manchurian cauliflower ($14) on so many North Indian restaurants. Marinated in garlic and dipped in batter, the fried florets lolled in a sauce that echoed barbecue, in both color and cornstarch-thickened consistency. And, as sometimes happens with barbecue sauce, this one's sweetness became cloying after a time, and not even the presence of garam masala could combat it.

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Apricot-stuffed lamb

Stuffed lamb can be risky. If it's tender, the innards will spill out everywhere. Too tough, and you'll spend hours sawing through the meat only to spend a few more trying to chew it. Amma's apricot-stuffed lamb fillets ($25) steered unerringly between that particular Scylla and Charybdis, with just the right amount of give in the meat. The fruit and the fennel lent the dish a lovely aromatic element, and savory-sweet brooks few rivals as a combination.

As in many fancy Indian restaurants, rice is extra. We supplemented our mains with an order of garlic naan ($5) and basmati rice ($4). The sides add up quick. Obviously there are plenty of cheaper, more casual Indian options in the city. So Save Amma for a splurge, a special night of curry 'n' cuddle or samosas 'n' smooching. Orange is considered a lucky color, after all. Amma is best for: an auspicious date.

Amma

246 East 51st Street, New York NY 10022 (map)
(212) 644-8330
ammanyc.com

About the authors: Jessica Allen and Garrett Ziegler have been eating out together since 2002 and writing We Heart New York since 2006.

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