Aman’s Indian Bistro
277 Schuylkill Road
Tucked away in the Kimberton Square Shopping Center, playing kneesies with a rather salty looking billiard parlor and a dry cleaning emporium, , younger sibling of the Chalfont establishment bearing the same moniker, inhabits the space formerly occupied by Thai L’Elephant prior to its move to downtown Phoenixville.
Once across the threshold, the generic strip mall façade gives way to an attractively appointed, squeaky clean interior. But there is infinitely more to Aman’s than just the pleasant décor. After sampling the cuisine on three separate visits, there is no question in my mind that this restaurant makes a welcome addition to the Phoenixville ethnic dining scene.
Indian cuisine, which emphasizes aromatics – the artful preparation and blending of herbs, spices, and seasonings – isn’t as popular as Thai, which also melds flavors, colors, and textures; nor is it likely to surpass the preeminence of Mexican and Italian foods any time in the near future… but it is beginning to make significant inroads among American diners.
The reason for this, I believe, is twofold: First of all, Indian chefs are gaining a reputation as connoisseurs in their own right, serving up ingredient-driven cuisine with bold flavors without the heaviness of traditional food, while, at the same time, experimenting with different versions & fusions of these flavors; and, secondly, the American palate is growing more adventurous and becoming accustomed to different ethnic combinations of exotic spices and textures.
No one would consider Aman’s on the cutting edge of the new Indian cuisine, but the restaurant does do a first-rate job of preparing and presenting traditional dishes, as well throwing in a few interesting culinary curves and flavorful fusions.
To start things off, the vegetable samosas – deep-fried triangular turnovers – are far from standard issue. These savory pastries are appetizingly crisp and filled with spicy potatoes and peas. The menu reads “mildly spicy,” but there’s a good deal of heat here; more than enough to keep your taste buds standing at attention. For a variation on the theme, you might also consider the vegetable pakoras, assorted diced vegetables dipped in a chickpea & rice batter and deep fried.
The gobi Manchurian is an Indian Chinese fusion. Breaded & deep fried cauliflower florets are stir fried with a sweet and tangy sauce composed of chili sauce, soy sauce, and a host of seasonings. Not the kitchen’s best effort, as the florets were too heavily breaded and rather soggy, and the sweet & tangy sauce more sweet than tangy.
Infinitely better, in my opinion, is the alu tikki chole, marvelously zippy potato pancakes topped with curried garbanzo beans and an array of herbs & spices. Equally up to the mark is the seekh kabab, ground lamb roasted in a tandoor (clay) oven and served with onion, green pepper, and slices of lemon. Beautifully seasoned… marvelously textured… and absolutely delicious.
As you may have noticed, many Indian appetizers are breaded/battered, deep fried, and/or somewhat on the heavy side. If you’re looking for a prelude that’s lighter on the palate (and the innards), you might want to give the papri chaat a try. A northern Indian street food favorite, chaat is a type of salad comprised of chunks of seasoned potatoes, chickpeas, and crisp wafers tossed in a yogurt dressing and crowned with splashes of sweet tamarind chutney. A cool & refreshing starter.
When it comes to the entrées, most diners – including my wife – generally head for the most popular Indian dish served in America: chicken tikka masala. And there’s a good reason for its popularity. When properly prepared, as it is here, the dish is velvety smooth on the palate and downright addictive.
The recipe begins with breast of chicken cubes that are marinated in yogurt and spices. They are then briefly broiled in a tandoor oven … Finally they are finished in a mildly spicy tomato & onion cream sauce that generates just enough heat to gently invigorate – rather than incinerate – your delicate nether regions. Aman’s version is one of the best I have sampled anywhere.
Just be forewarned… that addictive silkiness comes at a price – a great deal of heavy cream. Northern India, in particular, is known for its elaborate meat preparations, silky sauces, and dishes cooked in oil… and these can be quite rich, indeed. Southern Indian recipes, on the other hand, which major in vegetables, lentils, and seafood and are generally steamed, are infinitely kinder to your cholesterol count.
As an alternative to the fiercely rich chicken tikka masala, you might consider the chicken jalfrezi. This is a type of curry that involves frying marinated pieces of chicken in oil and spices to produce a dry, thick sauce. A bit more heat but sans heavy cream. Good… but not AS good as that fabulous masala.
Another highly recommended main course possibility is the lamb saag. Cubes of lamb are prepared in a spinach sauce buttressed by coriander and fresh herbs. This is a marvelous dish…The cubes of lamb are so tender they melt in your mouth, and the sauce is beautifully seasoned and slightly on the creamy side.
Among the vegetarian entrées, there are several standouts. My absolute favorite is the baingan bharta, grilled pureed eggplant cooked with peas, tomatoes, onions, and spices. It doesn’t look like much just sitting there in the dish, but the magic is in the seasonings. Light on its feet and light on your palate. Excellent in every respect.
Other recommended main courses include: daal tadka, yellow lentils cooked with onions, ginger, and garlic; alu gobi (pictured), fresh cauliflower florets prepared with sautéed potatoes and spices; and kaju mutter, fresh green peas prepared with cashew nuts, herbs and spices. This latter dish is particularly delicious… but very, very rich.
One final entrée deserves special mention: the hakka noodles, one of the Indo Chinese specialties. Indian Chinese cuisine is the adaptation of Chinese seasoning and cooking techniques to Indian tastes. This cuisine is thought to have developed by a small Chinese community that has lived in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) for over a century. Today, Chinese food has become an integral part of the Indian culinary scene. It is also enjoyed by Indian and Chinese communities in Malaysia, Singapore, and North America.
Hakka noodles are thin, flat rice noodles that are named after the Hakka people of China… but the recipe is purely Indian. The noodles are stir fried with julienne vegetables, ginger, garlic, and green onions. The result is a superbly seasoned, absolutely delicious presentation. Worth, as they say, the price of admission. Simply not to be missed.
When it comes to dessert, go straight for the kulfi, Indian ice cream. It is similar to regular ice cream in appearance, but denser and creamier. Here it is homemade – recently sampled was the orange kulfi, which was excellent – so be sure to ask for the chef’s special.
Just one or two closing notes. With regard to spicing, your server will inquire if you prefer mild, medium, or hot… and, from my experience, these designations are pretty much on target. If you enjoy Indian spices, medium is a good bet; other than that, I’d stick to mild, which still generates a bit of heat.
Aman’s Indian Bistro is open every day but Monday and serves a lunch buffet and an à la carte dinner Tuesday – Sunday. This restaurant is definitely worth a visit… Just don’t forget to BYOB.
The Artful Diner
Diner is an independent, freelance food writer. His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.
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