Aamantran and Bookfest

It was a misty, film noir-y night last Saturday. It put me in the mood to write about that night in the style of Raymond Chandler or something. But, out of respect to the late Mr Chandler, I decided to resist the urge.

After a day of enjoying the Bookfest at the Ocean County Library (more on that later) and doing some long-needed clothes shopping, we were ready to grab a bite. Since we were already in Toms River and hadn’t had Indian in a while, we hopped onto Route 9 and made our way to the local Indian restaurant: Aamantran.

Folks who live in our neck of the woods and like Indian food know Aamantran, mainly because it’s pretty much the only Indian restaurant you’re going to find in this part of South Jersey. Having lived in North Jersey for a number of years, I’m still amazed that finding Indian cuisine is such a challenge. Then again, I know that you can find places on the Philly side of South Jersey, which we need to explore more…but, hey, I’m really starting to digress here!

Aamantran, which means ‘invitation’, is a good Indian restaurant – not great, but good. If you’re jonesing for some Indian, like I had been recently, Aamantran fits the need very nicely.

The restaurant itself is nice, simple and without pretense. The decor is Indian without being hit-you-over-the-head Indian. The tandoori oven, which fascinated Julian, is visible behind glass so you can view the bread baking.

We decided to go with our tried and true dishes: murgh (chicken) tikka masala, gosht (lamb) vindaloo and saag paneer (spinach and cubes of fresh Indian cheese). Of course, we had to get flat bread, and we went with just plain naan. We also ordered the spicy pickle condiment for good measure.

Pardon me while I have a somewhat knowledgeable interlude…

It’s interesting to note that two of the more well-known dishes you can order in an Indian restaurant, chicken tikka masala and vindaloo (or vendaloo), may not even be originally from India. There still doesn’t seem to be a consensus about the origins of chicken tikka masala. It was either created in the 1940s in a restaurant in Dehli or by a Bangladesh cook in England in the early 1970s. Vindaloo is a variation of a wine and garlic pork stew (vinha d’alhos) that was brought over by the Portuguese in the 16th Century when they settled in the western coastal region of India now known as Goa. Over time vindaloo was given an Indian makeover, with mustard seed and mustard oil giving it its spicy and pungent flavor.

Now back to your regularly scheduled blog post…

Just let me state for the record that I LOVE chicken tikka masala. Seriously. Love it to bits. Would eat my own foot if it was simmering in that spicy tomato cream sauce. And Aamantran makes a pretty good version of this dish – not the best I’ve ever had, but pretty good. I wish that their version could be a bit more spicy and rich. The vindaloo, however, was excellent, even though we asked to keep the spiciness down a bit for Lisa. The pieces of lamb and potato were so very tender. The saag paneer was also very tasty, with a nice bit of ginger coming out of the flavor. If I had to pick a comfort food that was vegetarian, I would go with saag paneer.

Now about those spicy pickles…

I have to admit: I am still trying to acquire a taste for this particular condiment. The texture can sometimes be very hard, and the flavor is not only spicy but sour and almost bitter. When used to mix in with the dinner, I can find their flavor to still be a bit too overpowering. I haven’t given up on the spicy pickles, but I still need some convincing.

What I appreciate most about Aamantran is that, while they may be the only Indian game in town, they still maintain a good level of quality and consistency in their food. Although I sometimes wish they would aim a bit higher, I left there, like I usually do, satisfied.

Aamantran – 1594 Route 9, Toms River. 732.341.5424.

Well, the rain on Saturday wiped out the Italian Festival in Toms River altogether (cancelled, with no rain date), but we enjoyed ourselves at Bookfest 2008. Julian got to make a tortilla pizza thanks to the Young Chefs’ Academy and a spaghetti and meatball cupcake (it was very clever) thanks to Karen Tack, author of “Hello Cupcake”.

It was so very nice to say hello and chat a bit with “Down The Shore With” Jen Miller. While it would have made for juicy blog reading if Jen had been rude or something, she’s very sweet and friendly – and put up with Julian going on and on about Transformers. It’s always good to see nice people succeeding in something they love like Jen and her writing. And she’s a Phillies fan to boot, which is the good, right and true way to be. We also ran into Deb Smith from Jersey Bites and her boyfriend Peter. Good peeps, those two. And they finally got to meet Lisa as well (yes, she really does exist). Good stuff all around.

– John

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3 thoughts on “Aamantran and Bookfest

  1. John,It was good to see you and Lisa at the bookfest! I didn’t know about Aamantran (kinda new down here) and I’ll have to try it out. I became addicted to Indian from going to England all the time. I was told, over there, that Tikka Masala (love it too) was specifically made for English tastes. Pete

  2. Hey Peter – chicken tikka masala has been called England’s national dish. If you go, make sure you ask them to make the spicy dishes very spicy. – John

  3. See, you didn’t hear what I said about you when you left…Just kidding! Nice meeting you guys and Julian of course. Cute kid!

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