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We love heat, we love curries and other spices, we love meat cooked until it's falling off the bone. So we love Indian food. And we have always found something to like at every Indian restaurant we've been to.
So it was with Amruth Authentic Indian Cuisine, which opened last month in an unprepossessing storefront in the Market Place Shopping Center (right next to one of Little Rock's best Asian cuisine restaurants, Lilly's Dim Sum Then Some). The narrow room can accommodate about 20 tables and is hung with pictures of beautiful Indian women in diaphanous harem garb.
We ate lunch on a Wednesday, which means we ordered from a limited menu that featured chicken in many disguises and vegetarian dishes. (A buffet is offered Friday, Saturday and Sunday and there's a full menu at night.) A limited menu was just right, in that it limited the questions we needed to ask. The bottom line: The main dishes and the samosas were quite good and served in Indian continent-sized proportions. We were unimpressed, however, with some of the offerings, largely because we had something to compare them to — dishes at Star of India, which has shone for some time.
The chicken biryani, while a little shy on chicken, earned our applause with its Himalayan-sized mound of rice seasoned with turmeric and other spices and threaded with strands of fried onion and saffron. This yellow and orange concoction included bite-sized portions of dark chicken meat, bones in. With the hot came cool: yogurt raitha, yogurt crunched up with chopped cucumber, onion and tomato. The samosa on the side — a dumpling filled with potatoes and pureed peas — was delicious. We preferred it to the other appetizer option, the pakora, a deep-fried vegetable fritter stuffed with a lentil paste and flavored, we believe, with a hint of anise.
Detectives eat chicken tikka at some point in every British mystery novel, so we've always wanted to taste it, and fortunately it was our companion's choice. Chicken marinated in yogurt and garam masala — a complex combination of spices sometimes akin to barbecue — didn't quite pack the heat punch that the biryani did, but the chicken was tender, the flavor good. The presentation — white rice piled high with the tikka in a bowl beside it — was a bit spare, and there weren't any other goodies on the side like raisins you see in other Indian restaurants. But this was the lunch special, after all.
The aloo saag — spinach with potatoes — was a letdown, until we got it home. It got spicier and more interesting as it cooled off; maybe this isn't news to Indian food pros but it took this neophyte by surprise.
The gulab jamun — flour and milk rolled into a ball, cooked and drenched in a sweet syrup — wasn't anything to write home about, unfortunately. (Perhaps it never is.) The naan was fine, but as we said earlier, Star of India has spoiled us on certain things, naan among them.
An accommodating woman appeared from the kitchen to kindly answer our questions about ingredients. Even friendlier was the tab: $6.48 for the special, from naan to sweet, and we had leftovers to boot.
Amruth Authentic Indian Cuisine
11121 N. Rodney Parham Road
If you're an Indian food maven, you might be able to expand on the offerings; we noticed that another table had a meal that was off the menu. The dinner menu includes more than 30 entrees featuring chicken, lamb and shrimp.
Lunch is 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Dinner is 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.