Butter Sweet Chicken, Lamb with Almond Cream Sauce, Chicken Masala and Potato-Cheese Dumplings in Tomato Cream
Location: Menlo Park
Favorite Restaurant: Amber India
Reviewed Amber India: Saturday, August 19, 2006
Usually when I go to Amber India, I order the butter chicken (which I have described in a previous review and absolutely adore). So this time, for a different experience, I ordered a lamb dish called Chandani Gosht. It was tender pieces of stewed lamb cooked in a wonderful Indian white sauce with cardamom and a hint of butter and almond. I scooped up the sauce with the Frontier Naan, which was like a sweet pita bread but with nuts and raisin paste. I could have just eaten the bread and the sauce. I enjoy all of the breads here; another favorite is the lamb-stuffed bread.
Dishes were brought to the table family-style and elegantly assembled by the waiter over a bed of rice. My husband had a scallop dish, which was a spicy scallop curry with coconut milk and peppercorn sauce with tamarind. I tasted a bit of it, but the scallops, though fresh, did not seem to have much flavor. I stuck mostly to the lamb, which I really, really enjoyed. I am not sure that fish dishes are Amber India’s strongest suit. The lassi drink I had at the start of the meal and finished during the meal was refreshing and cooling -- a great combination with the hot spicy food. (There is also a great wine list and a wide selection of Indian beers.)
Lassi drinks are thinner than smoothies or other blender drinks but still have some froth, and the cool yogurt with both a bit of sugar and salt really cooled and cleansed the palate. They are a perfect drink on a warm day, with or without a food accompaniment. The restaurant also has a sweeter fruitier lassi with mango, but I prefer the one with a bit of salt.
Service, as always, was attentive, elegant, and swift, and the setting with fine china, wall tapestries, golden wall ornaments and paintings provided a respite on a busy work week and a ride to the restaurant on El Camino Real. Apparently, lots of other Silicon Valley folks feel the same way -- there were lots of guys stopping in after work in tech company logo shirts. Weekend nights appear to be reserved more for couples. Three different serving people asked us if we wanted a dessert. That is the first time this has ever happened to us at Amber India, we did not even know there was a dessert menu. But we were full and turned it down.
Portions were large enough that we had leftover food. The waiters asked if we wanted to take it with us, but we declined, knowing that it would cause us to binge on breads again the next day -- using them to scoop up the sauce!
Occupation: Business Consultant
Favorite Restaurant: Doña Tomás
Reviewed Amber India: Sunday, August 27, 2006
This restaurant was decent…but not worth the drive from Berkeley, where there are many more sophisticated and all around better Indian restaurants. If I worked near Amber India, I would consider it for lunch. The menu was overpriced, not a great bang for the buck. Dishes that can be ordered in Berkeley for $8-10 were closer to $15. The atmosphere was not all that great either, again, it wasn’t bad, just not great. Average comes to mind as an accurate descriptor.
The food was pretty good. The lamb dish was probably the best item; nice flavors, tender meat. The samosas were good, but again, not great. I have had better, I have had worse. The pastry was good, buttery, and tender, but the filling was rather flat.
The other dishes were good, but again, nothing made me feel like I would return. The desserts were pretty bad. The pistachio ice cream was awful! It takes a lot for me to say that, but in this case it is justified. It tasted like cleaning supplies. We did not touch it after the initial attempt. This brings me to the service aspect of our dining experience: it was not very good. Our server did not seem to notice or care that we did not eat our desserts. The hostess was self-absorbed and indifferent to our arrival.
So in a nutshell, I would say that decent food is not worth all of the other more negative aspects of the experience -- the long drive, the low-level service, and the high prices.
Occupation: Special Effects Artist
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Scala's Bistro
Reviewed Amber India: Saturday, August 19, 2006
Tucked into the corner of a small strip mall in Mountain View is Amber India Restaurant. From the outside, it did not even look open. I decided to go with a friend who lives down there, and who has eaten more Indian food than I. As it was lunchtime, we were presented with the daily lunch buffet. The restaurant was actually very busy, but we were seated promptly. The decor was modest and unassuming and, in general, the facility was clean. The waitstaff was attentive and courteous and promptly removed plates before you returned to your table with another helping. The noise level was fine, and there was a good family atmosphere.
It was a good thing I went with a friend who has eaten more Indian food than myself. When you get to the rather small selection of dishes in the self-serving line, most of them were not labeled as to what they were or what was in them. The meat dishes were labeled, which was good, since I’m allergic to chicken. If you don’t eat meat, be prepared to eat a lot of potato-based dishes. The "fire" level of the vegetarian dishes I had were very acceptable. The flavors, for example, of the panir and vegetable pakora didn’t bowl me over. Although they were not bad, they didn’t blow wind up my skirt.
They did have a dessert-type table, but since everything was not labeled, I did not want to venture there.
It's easier for those who know what to look for in the specific flavors than for those of us who are pretty new to Indian cuisine. Without some help on the buffet line, I don’t feel I had a good experience. When I asked what each dish was on the serving line, I was just presented with a paper copy of their evening menu. Unless there are pictures to go with this menu, it is of no help.
My friend who went with me said there is a much better Indian restaurant just down the road that is very popular. It's called Passage to India. He said it has comparable prices, a wider selection of dishes, and a good variety of naan. At Amber India, we were served naan in a basket that I felt was just too soggy and reminded me of a poor flat bread.
Would I return to Amber India? No. There are much better Indian restaurants in San Francisco with no need to schlep down to Mountain View. Perhaps next time I’m down there with my friend I’ll try his other suggestion of Passage to India.