As promised, chef Doug Katz will be rolling out a second restaurant concept from his existing ghost kitchen in Cleveland Heights. Come Friday, November 6, Amba will share commissary space with Chimi, providing area diners with an entirely different roster of dishes for pick-up and delivery. Whereas Chimi
(216-932-3333), which opened in June, is a South American-inspired virtual restaurant, Amba
(216-650-9620) will offer the chef’s take on Indian-themed flavors, spices and dishes.
Fans of Katz’ recently closed restaurant Fire already have some experience with the chef’s fondness for Indian cookery. The restaurant was one of only a handful in town to be equipped with a tandoor oven, Indian-style items often appeared on the menu, and multi-course Indian dinners were a beloved and recurring staple at the restaurant. Handcrafted spice blends like Indian Ground Lamb and Tomato Masala are sold through Fire Spice Co
“When we launched Chimi, we were actually debating between South American and Indian, but in the end we thought we needed to work a little bit more on the Indian concept,” Katz explains. “I had a great friend from India who lived in Cleveland who taught me how to make some amazing dishes. My love of the spices and exploring those flavors with Fire Spice Co. really came from those experiences cooking with my friend.”
Like chutney, chimichurri and zhug, amba is a ubiquitous condiment, in this case a pickled mango condiment popular in many different cultures. Katz thought the name (and the condiment) fit seamlessly into a portfolio that includes the Middle Eastern-themed Zhug, South American-inspired Chimi and cross-cultural Chutney B.
Katz points out that while the vision and inspiration come from his personal experiences, the menu and execution are the handiwork of longtime chef Cameron Pishnery. Just like the menus of Zhug and Chimi, Amba offers numerous dishes of various sizes that are meant to be mixed, matched and scooped up with flatbread.
There’s a creamy spinach-infused raita topped with gingered chickpeas, a mixed vegetable pickle with mango, chile and mustard, and crispy chickpea fritters served with spicy plum amba and papaya-kumquat slaw.
Larger dishes include fried onion topped biryani with saffron, peas, golden raisins and almonds, whole roasted eggplant with quinoa and peanut chutney, and chicken masala with chiles, cucumber and cilantro. The grilled chicken kofta features ground chicken quenelles in chickpea korma sauce while the keema stars simmered ground Ohio lamb flavored with garlic, lemon and scallion. Many of the dishes are vegetarian and/or vegan. In place of steamed basmati rice, most dishes come with naan.
For dessert there’s a sticky yogurt cake topped with strawberry preserves and yogurt or fried doughnuts soaked in green cardamom and rose water syrup.
Katz states that he and Pishnery are not attempting with Amba to create a so-called “authentic Indian restaurant,” but rather a delicious and exciting outlet for their creative culinary whims.
“We are not pretending to be experts in Indian cooking or to pretend that we are bringing authentic Indian into the community,” Katz stresses. “We are bringing a fun take on Indian and using the flavors that are inspired by my travels and my experience with Indian cooking.”
Diners should know that because Zhug, Chimi and Amba are separate entities, dishes from more than one cannot be combined into a single order. That said, customers can place orders from different restaurants and schedule them to be picked up at (or near) the same time.
As is the case with Chimi, this ghost kitchen roll-out gives Katz the opportunity to test out a concept in hopes of developing it into a full-service brick-and-mortar restaurant.
“In the back of my mind, I always wanted to create sort of an Indian cocktail lounge and hopefully this will become that one day, but for now it’s a ghost kitchen in Cleveland Heights,” Katz says. “This is a chance for us to do our research and development to see what people like and don’t like.”