Restaurant Review: Ammata Thai Kitchen
A slice of Thailand is hidden in the middle of a River Vale strip mall.
It takes a lot to get me out of the house on a chilly winter evening, especially on a weeknight. But the promise of a new restaurant, Ammata Thai Kitchen in River Vale, was the incentive I needed to swap my sweats for a nice sweater and make the journey. The restaurant was recently opened by the folks who own Gao in Ramsey and boasts some of the same Asian-inspired offerings. Ammata is situated in an unassuming strip mall, and large front windows reveal its gorgeous interior: Orchids hang from small golden terrariums on the restaurant’s wooden walls, and cream-colored lanterns emanate a warm glow that envelops the room.
While perusing the menu, my eyes were immediately drawn to the fried calamari with grilled pineapple appetizer, and my guest ordered the steamed noodle salad with mushrooms and puffed rice. The rice acted as a crouton of sorts, adding the perfect amount of crunch to the cooked noodles and vegetables. The accompanying sauce had just the right amount of zing and spice without being overpowering. I had my reservations about the pineapple in my dish, but the chefs at Ammata have a fine understanding of which flavors pair well together. I can’t imagine dipping calamari in anything but a zesty lime cilantro sauce from now on. At that moment, I put my trust in the capable hands of the staff and heeded their suggestions.
As our entrees, we decided on the chicken Pad Thai and crab fried rice. For me, the strength of a Thai restaurant lies in its Pad Thai, a popular dish I’ve eaten so many times that all the variations just blur together. But Ammata’s version was a step above the rest, thanks once again to the thoughtful considerations of the restaurant’s chefs. The dish’s bean sprouts were served on the side and the peanuts sprinkled right on top, instead of being mixed altogether and thrown onto the plate. After a sweet, nutty bite of the noodles, I could grab a forkful of the cold bean sprouts and use them as a palate cleanser. There’s nothing worse than wilted beans sprouts in an otherwise fresh dish. The fried rice included a hearty helping of flaky crab with sliced cucumber and cherry tomatoes on the side. Both the crab and rice were perfectly moist, and the side veggies added a nice crunch to every bite.
Ammata was sold out of most of its desserts by dinnertime but luckily did still have the treat my guest and I had been eyeing: sticky coconut rice with palm sugar ice cream and a lotus flower cookie. When the scoop of rice and ice cream connect with your taste buds, you’re immediately hit with a smoky taste, like a deep inhale of wood smoke on a cold winter day. Our hostess later told us how the dessert was made and where it got its smoky undertones. The sticky coconut rice is cooked over a special Thai candle and is then topped with a scoop of the palm sugar ice cream. She explained that in Thailand, it is too hot to make and store ice cream, so coconut milk and ice are brought over together and mixed right at the table, with fruit served on the side. As for the lotus cookie, it reminded us of a boardwalk zeppoli but with more crunch and tang due to the sesame seeds baked into the pastry.
Besides the quality of the food, the best part of our experience was learning more about Thailand’s culture and how Ammata’s dishes are variations on classic Thai street food. Our waiter was extremely kind and attentive, asking patrons around us whether their dishes were too spicy and explaining which peppers and spices are used during the cooking process. The tastiness of Ammata’s offerings is only exceeded by the staff’s hospitality and enthusiasm to share its culture. —Alena Woods