Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Amber India Santana Row

Amber India usually makes the San Francisco Chronicle Top 100 list. I could never figure out why when I worked in Palo Alto, but that's because I only went for lunch. They had contracted the dreaded Indian Steam-Table Lunch Buffet disease, and I could never convince my co-workers to stay around long enough to order off the menu. As buffets go, it wasn't bad, but still, I try to avoid them. So recently I went to dinner at the Amber India branch in Santana Row, an upscale mall/mixed use development (fashioned as a "street" sort of like Downtown Disney or Citywalk) in San Jose. The space is very pleasant, with a ceiling of twinkling and shooting stars in the front of the room, a high ceiling, and generally tasteful decor and comfortable seating.

The food at dinnertime is interesting, sometimes innovative, and quite good. I've been by twice in the last few weeks. The first time was a couple of hours after I found out that my mother-in-law had died, so I had to cut my trip short and fly home the next day. I was kind of distracted, and one of my co-workers who came along started talking manically about work and office politics, so I barely noticed dinner, aside from noticing that it was tasty. Our meal included Goat Cheese Aloo Kebabs as an appetizer, some Malai Boti Kebabs (tandoori hunks of lamb), a very well made Vegetable Biryani, and a Duck dish that was really interesting.

Last night I went back myself, and had an appetizer of Tandoori Duck Rice Paper Rolls, which included strips of Tandoori Duck, carrots, and some other veggies rolled in a kind of rice paper with which I was unfamiliar--it was quite a bit thicker than the Vietnamese rice paper that we all know and love. The rolls were sitting in a thick, brown, sweet sauce, which might have been a bit too much sweetness, and the rolls really had to be eaten with a knife and fork because they were sitting in the gooey sauce.

For a main course I had Kashmiri Roganjosh, which is usually a very subtle curry sauce over cubes of lamb. In this case, the sauce was quite assertive, with ginger, saffron, and fennel. There were strips of julienned ginger on top. It was slightly but not unpleasantly hot. I had Naan and rice on the side. It was a very successful dish, with deep flavors.

For dessert I had an overly sweet kulfi with fig.

Overall, very good; some of the "innovative cuisine" is a bit over the top, and I wasn't enamored with the desserts. Service is pleasant and efficient, which is in my experience a rarity in Indian restaurants.

Next time I'm in San Jose I'll have to try the Santana Row outpost of Roland Passot's Left Bank, which I noticed when walking up the row after dinner.