I finally tried Amber India in Mountain View a week ago. My friends that I ate there with asked if I was going to review it on Chowhound. Initially, I said no since Chowhound has enough Amber India reports. But then I realized it would give me an excuse to use Amber Alert in the title. And besides, my feelings about Amber India seem to differ markedly with all the other posts Ive read.
The four of us started with two orders of aloo tikki ($5.75). This was the most disappointing dish of the night. While the appearance of these crispy potato patties had our mouths watering, they were bland, bland, bland. The boyfriend and I had to keep piling tamarind and mint sauces onto them for some flavor. This is the worst rendition Ive ever had of this dish. The most positive thing I can say about them is that the middles were hot many places simply reheat this dish so Ive had a lot of cold centers. But at least those had flavor.
We shared four entrees. We debated between the famous butter chicken and the chicken tikka masala (CTM). Our friends (who are big fans of Amber India and eat there often) told us that their server once told them that their butter chicken and CTM are identical except that the butter chicken uses dark meat, and the CTM uses white (and oddly enough is a dollar less). We prefer white tandoori meat so we ordered the chicken tikka masala ($15.95). To the displeasure of my boyfriend and me their chicken tikka wasnt made with tandoori-ized chicken. It looked like irregular chicken chunks, and not super tender, large chicken chunks dyed orange from a marinade. Ive realized that CTM sauce can go two ways one is creamy and neon orange (my preference) and the other is a thicker, more tomato-based sauce (now-extinct Kurry Klub, Café Raj, and Curry Corner make this kind). Amber Indias is between these two extremes, which sounds good, but was oddly spiced to me. My friends literally ate it up, so I concede that it might be an acquired taste (though the boyfriend didnt care for it either).
One of my favorite dishes was the Hyderabadi Dum Ki Chicken Biryani ($15.95). This wasnt amazing, but rather a tasty, competent rendition. I wish I could say more about it, but apparently it wasnt very memorable.
The favorite dish of the night was the Dum Aloo Bukhara ($11.50) in which balls of potatoes are stuffed with mint and apricot chutney and served in a sauce. The dish was interesting and different something I like about Amber Indias menu. They carry the standards but they also have some unique dishes. The fruity chutney was definitely discernable, and this dish was night and day flavor-wise compared to dum aloo Ive had elsewhere. Ill say this though four small potato balls for $11.50 seems like an inflated price. Since there is no meat or more expensive ingredient in this dish (that Im aware of anyway), there should be a lot more balls o tato.
Im a huge fan of chole, so we chose the interesting sounding Pindi Chole ($10.50) since it consists of the usual chickpeas, but cooked with mango powder. This was the least popular of the entrees ordered, and we had the most left over of it by far. The chickpeas were much, much darker than Ive seen before (I may have referred to this color as what happens to your um output after you drink pepto bismol). Unfortunately, the spices and mango powder werent a good thing in this dish; our chickpeas werent nearly as tasty as in their standard presentation as chole or channa masala.
Despite Amber Indias shortcomings in the food, it easily has the best atmosphere and service of any Indian restaurant Ive ever been to. Thatch-covered awnings protrude into the main dining area, and artworks abound including the lovely Oriental rug in the foyer. The service is excellent, though almost excessively formal. For instance, outfitting the servers with crumb scrapers (especially when most of the mess at the end of the meal comes from sauces) seems too fussy.
The atmosphere and service are so good, in fact, that it makes me wonder if these elements have clouded peoples judgment about the food. For better Indian food at slightly lower prices Id rather eat at Marigold in Palo Alto or Nawab in San Mateo, not to mention Passage to Indias amazing dinner buffet (their regular menu is also excellent) in Mountain View, or chaat nirvana at Viks in Berkeley.
One of my dinner companions often comes to Amber India with her co-workers to partake in their lunch buffet. It is $11.95 on weekdays, and $12.95 on weekends (which includes chaat). She thinks its quite good. However, we often dont see eye to eye on Indian food (she doesnt like Passage to India?! Or Viks?!), so Im not sure how soon Ill go out of the way to try their lunch buffet. Besides, $11.95 is the highest Ive ever seen charged for a lunch buffet, so it better be damn good.
In case youre on the edge of your seat wondering if we ordered naan and rice and how they were, we did. They were fine.
2290 El Camino Real #9 (near Rengstorff)
Mountain View, CA 94040
Cocktails, beer, and wine
Lunch Buffet: 11:30 a.m. 2:30 p.m. daily
$11.95 M-F; $12.95 weekends (includes chaat items)
Dinner: 5 p.m. 10 p.m. daily