Amruth is in a west Little Rock strip mall, and the décor is dark and uninspired. Don’t be dissuaded. In fact, if you’re vegan you should be particularly optimistic. The menu is massive, and there are over a dozen options that contain absolutely no animal products of any feather, spot or stripe. (Obviously, avoid the words “paneer” or “with cream sauce.”) According to Amruth’s owner, Ramesh Veluvolu, this is because his wife does the cooking and many Indians are “strict vegetarians,” including his parents. What it means for you, dear vegan, is freedom of choice!
We’ve been to Amruth twice. The first time, we split Vegetable Kuma (described on the menu as “mixed veggies in a blend of creamy sauce and spices”). We mistakenly asked Mr. Veluvolu to “make it the way you would have it yourself.” We’d like to tell you what was in the Kuma, but we can’t. Our eyes teared, blurring the food beyond recognition. Taste? What taste? Our little ‘buds were too seared to taste for hours.
Our second trip was much more successful. We started with the trio of complementary chutneys (very fresh), as well as the Chili Panner[sic] and Spinach Naan.
A moment for Amruth’s breads: they don’t disappoint, and the stuffed breads are actually all you’d need for a snack-of-a-meal. Last time we had the Garlic Naan. It was standard—garlicky, doughy, warm. But it seemed dependable, you know? This visit, the Spinach Naan—a true treat. It was layered and fluffy, with a faint oily glaze. The spinach was bright, and it tasted like spinach. Overall: subtle flavor, comforting texture, filling but not heavy.
The Chili Paneer is cubed and lightly fried cheese, sautéed with green chilis, onions and soy sauce. The cheese had a firm, satisfying texture, and there was a clean cilantro kick. We also liked the crunch and sweetness of the onions. This app could be deceiving, though. Both the heat and the flavor developed slowly. We thought it was all about the way it felt in our mouths, but be prepared for a spicy aftershock.
Now, the main events: Aloo Baigham and Thadaka Dal. This time, we ordered them mild. We have to say, we actually think medium (third time!) will be the charm.
The Thadaka Dal is a thick yellow lentil mash, cooked with tomato and those bitter, painstakingly-tempered mustard and onion chilis that often find their way into Southeast Asian cuisine. It had a solid, smoky flavor and a rib-sticking heartiness, with the teensiest hint of something sweet — the tomato, maybe? The dish is heavy on the lentil, not so much on the tomato. We expected something more, um, red, we guess. But for a veg dish, it was pretty meaty. We were pleased with the end result.
The Aloo Baingam contains big chunks of potato and eggplant in a sweet, creamy (but still vegan, we think) tomato base. This dish was a bit cloying. It could definitely have used more fire to balance things out, but c’mon, whose fault is that, really? We were the saps who ordered mild! The eggplant was garlicky and super oily, but in a great way. The oil was part of the eggplant, rather than floating about the dish at large. We could tell the eggplant was cooked in the oil separately, before being cooked in the sauce. This gave the oil the dignity of an actual ingredient — something that purposefully flavored the dish, rather than just an icky but unavoidable byproduct. We realize this all sounds strange, but if it helps, we were into the dish — think Chinese garlic eggplant, but in a runny tomato gravy
For dessert there was Mango Kulfi, or mango ice cream (not vegan). Except that kulfi (or at least, this kulfi) is more icy than creamy and more fruity than sugary. It was like sorbet with a spot of milk in the mix. The portion was tiny, but it was clean and delicious — the perfect finish to a spicy (although not so much this time) Indian meal.
Amruth is at 11121 N. Rodney Parham Road. Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon.-Thu.; 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Fri.-Sun.; 5 p.m.-9 p.m. Sun.-Thu., 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Fri. & Sat.