Both places present the flavors of India in strikingly contemporary settings. But while the menu at Tabla offers familiar samosas, curries, and kababs, the small plate offerings at Amara unsettle expectations with the likes of chicken wings with shishito peppers, sous vide grilled octopus, and crispy pork belly with jaggery caramel.
Bhavesh Patel, who has worked at Table 1280, Spice Market, and most recently Morningside Kitchen, is the executive chef at Amara.
“We felt Indian food needed to take a different direction, rather than just chicken tikka masala or tandoori chicken,” Patel said one recent afternoon. “We took a lot of familiar foods and gave them some traditional Indian ingredients and spice.
“Then we’re also using things that are outside the box for an Indian restaurant, like pork belly and beef cheeks and pig ears. So when a dish arrives at your table, it may not look Indian. But when you taste it, it’s definitely Indian.”
A good example of Patel’s sort of fusion at Amara is crispy Brussels sprouts ‘bhel’ with garbanzo beans, sweet potato, tomato, tamarind dressing, and boondi, a crunchy-fried, Indian chickpea snack.
“It’s sort of mishmash, street food thing,” Patel said. “We threw in some Brussels spouts, and the flavors come through as Indian, but the other ingredients are not as common.”
There are larger plates that follow suit, too, including fried chicken with a Pondicherry pepper waffle and maple syrup, and paneer gnocchi with lemongrass, curry leaf, coconut milk, and olive khichdi.
“We didn’t want to do the same paneer you see in every Indian restaurant, and we wanted to have a vegetarian entree,” Kothary said. “So we make our own house paneer and we use that paneer to make gnocchi. It’s a pretty unique dish.”
Along with the food, Kothary wanted to create an atmosphere that defied notions of Indian dining. You enter from street level, at the corner of Inman Village Parkway, where a clubby bar area overlooks a sunken dining room and open kitchen.
On the cocktail list, you’ll find the Smoking Gun with mezcal, pineapple and bitters, and the Jaggery Old Fashioned with bourbon, bitters and muddled fruit.
The beer and wine lists include lots of spicy food-friendly choices, from Austrian Gruner Veltliner and Australian dry Riesling to Indian lager and American pale ale.
“We definitely didn’t want it to be stuffy,” Kothary said. “We wanted to make it a fun place with a great cocktail program. The way the neighborhood is, with people going from place-to-place and drinking and trying different things, fits that.
“Of course, you can have a proper meal here, if you feel like having a full dinner. But if you want to come in with a group and have a bunch of small plates and a variety of cocktails, you can do that, as well. You’re not stuck in one thing.”
870 Inman Village Parkway, Atlanta. 470-305-7405.
More images from a First Look at Amara in Inman Park.