I used to live around the corner from this place, so I went there often. This weekend was my first visit in over a year.
In general, I say this is decent Indian food if you get the right dishes, but not worth the premium prices (i.e., the Michael Bauer Best Indian in the Bay Area Surcharge).
The vegetable samosas and accompanying tamarind sauce were pretty good, though I found the filling a little too mushy. I prefer chunks of potato and whole peas. The Shami Kabob (patties of minced lamb, lentils, onions, and spices) sounded promising but was awful. The four patties were covered in a smooth breadcrumb crust that looked factory made, and the lamb inside was raw, flavorless, and very sticky.
We had a number of main courses. None of them had any detectable spice. Perhaps they assumed that a party of 8, none of whom were Indian, didn't want anything spicy. They assumed wrong. If my descriptions seem lacking, it's because the flavors were lacking.
BANJARA TIKKA, $16 (Chunks of chicken in a spicy marinating of spinach and a hint of mint) - juicy pieces of breast meat, strong mint flavor.
MALWANI SHRIMP CURRY, $16 (Stir-fried prawns tossed in a spicy coconut curry-from the southern coast of India) - dry, chewy prawns (that has always been the case at Amber) in a lifeless, watery curry.
CHICKEN VINDALOO, $14 (Classic chicken curry in hot spicy sauce) - More sweet than spicy.
MIRCH KA GOSHT, $16, (Lamb cooked with peppercorns, green chillies, ginger & saffron -- spicy hot) - Meat had the texture of beef pot roast, little flavor, not "spicy hot."
PALAK PANEER, $10 (Spinach and farmer's cheese and spices) - I love this Indian dish, but this one was hard to swallow. There were just a couple of large hunks of cheese in an otherwise tired spinach puree.
BUTTER CHICKEN, $15, (Shredded tandoori chicken in a tomato, butter and fenugreek sauce) - Amber's signature dish was the best of the bunch, very rich and satisfying.
There was another lamb dish, but I don't know which one it was. It was the worst of the bunch, the same braised meat from the mirch ka gosht in a sticky, white, flavorless gravy.
Naan (plain and garlic) and rice were satisfactory.
Total bill came to $30/pp, which did not include dessert or wine (we paid $10 total to bring our own wine). For half that price you can get three courses at Ajanta in Berkeley, which is several tiers higher in food quality and is my vote so far for best Indian in the bay area (an opinion that I shared with my dining companions loud enough for the staff to overhear).
Have they declined, or was it a bad night? I don't know. Most of the dishes I had on this visit that I have had before were pretty much the same except for lack of heat. The palak paneer was always good before this trip. All the new dishes were poor. Given the high prices at Amber, I say leave it to Bauer's minions and go elsewhere.
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