First Look: Amba From Doug Katz, Opening May 24th in Ohio City

click to enlarge Doug Katz' Amba will open in Ohio City in late May. - DOUGLAS TRATTNER
Douglas Trattner
Doug Katz' Amba will open in Ohio City in late May.

The first thing guests will experience when entering Amba is a temporary state of near blindness. Amba is so dimly lit that little comes into view. But as our eyes adjust to the environment, the space begins to reveal itself in a million little ways. There’s the ever-shifting play of shadow and light, the earthy color of the distressed steel bar, the texture of the charred-wood walls, the trippy twisted-rope ceiling, the wild and oversized rattan pendant lights. Add lively house music and intoxicating aromas from the kitchen and you have the makings of another one-of-a-kind experience from chef Doug Katz.

“When you see it on paper, you’re like, that’s really cool,” Katz says. “But when it’s done, it’s so exciting and unimaginable. To see that tiger mural on the building and what [designer] Kelly [Shaffer] created inside, you’re transported. Every detail has a story and every fixture has a purpose.”

Katz and business partner Todd Thompson announced last April that they were closing the Amba ghost kitchen in Cleveland Heights so that they could begin work on a brick-and-mortar version in the Hingetown neighborhood of Ohio City. They staked a claim on a former printing press shop known locally as the Tiger Building thanks to the colorful mural on the exterior. It would take the next 13 months to transform the nearly 5,000-square-foot industrial shell into Amba.

The building is divided into two connected but distinct spaces, the main Amba dining room and the smaller Bar Amba. There is room for 80 guests in the main area and another 40 in the barroom. If entering Amba is cocoon-like, entering Bar Amba is even more so thanks to lower light and cozy nooks separated from one another by discreet privacy screens. Amba and Bar Amba each have its own entrance.

click to enlarge Doug Katz' Amba will open in Ohio City in late May. - DOUGLAS TRATTNER
Douglas Trattner
Doug Katz' Amba will open in Ohio City in late May.

As at Zhug in Cleveland Heights, the aim is to foster an energetic, lively and informal atmosphere where diners can feel comfortable standing, talking and visiting with nearby tables. And while nobody is going to be able to push together the hefty concrete tables to accommodate extras, the restaurant does have on hand stacks of chairs for such additions and larger parties.

Also reminiscent of Zhug, the menu at Amba is loaded with small plates built for sharing. There are two dozen items that range from small, zesty condiments to composed meat and fish dishes. While there will be some familiarity to fans of the ghost kitchen version of Amba, Katz says that the two ventures are so very different as to eliminate much comparison.

“When we do these things we learn so much about what people are interested in and how to make these foods, so the Amba ghost or test kitchen was an opportunity for us to really explore the public’s interest in this,” Katz explains. “There might be a few things here that you had from the ghost kitchen, but I don’t know if the foods here will be recognizable from that experience.”

click to enlarge Doug Katz' Amba will open in Ohio City in late May. - DOUGLAS TRATTNER
Douglas Trattner
Doug Katz' Amba will open in Ohio City in late May.

More than simply the ghost kitchen, many of these “Indian-inspired” street foods have a clear through line all the way back to the tandoor oven at Fire. There are options for vegans, gluten-free diners, seafood- and meat-eaters. New for this menu, notes Katz, are suggested course pairings. Chef Cameron Pishnery will be overseeing the kitchen.

“Because the menu has more unfamiliar items than Zhug – people are more used to those Middle Eastern foods now – there will be suggested menus for two, four or vegan, so you can just order one of those,” he offers.

Bar manager Noah Biddle will oversee the restaurant’s two bars.

“Having two separate bars, I get to reach in two different directions, but bring them all together,” he says.

The restaurant bar menu will be loaded with creative, original cocktails, while Bar Amba will be more of a neighborhood craft cocktail bar serving classic and signature cocktails.

“When the chefs are creative and reaching for bigger and more interesting flavors, I can do the same with the cocktails,” Biddle adds. “It makes my job more fun; I don’t feel as limited.”

When Amba opens its doors in late May, it will join a neighborhood already rich with distinctive, independent and inclusive businesses. To better fit in with the vibe down there, Katz says he is eschewing reservations, valet parking and other trappings of the suburban fine-dining arena.

“We want to be part of this neighborhood and to bring valet, it doesn’t really fit what’s happening here,” he says, adding that guests might want to consider walking, scooting, hitching a ride on RTA or hiring rideshare services if parking is a chief concern.

click to enlarge Doug Katz' Amba will open in Ohio City in late May. - DOUGLAS TRATTNER
Douglas Trattner
Doug Katz' Amba will open in Ohio City in late May.
click to enlarge Doug Katz' Amba will open in Ohio City in late May. - DOUGLAS TRATTNER
Douglas Trattner
Doug Katz' Amba will open in Ohio City in late May.
click to enlarge Doug Katz' Amba will open in Ohio City in late May. - DOUGLAS TRATTNER
Douglas Trattner
Doug Katz' Amba will open in Ohio City in late May.

About The Author

Douglas Trattner

For 20 years, Douglas Trattner has worked as a full-time freelance writer, editor and author. His work on Michael Symon's "Carnivore," "5 in 5" and “Fix it With Food” have earned him three New York Times Best-Selling Author honors, while his longstanding role as Scene dining editor garnered the award of “Best...
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