Ambrosia in Monterey (Indian)
A group of six hounds gathered at Amrosia this evening for an outstanding meal of Indian food. The weather was rather balmy and we had a rare treat of being able to have dinner on their front patio in July without being bundled up.
Let me say right up front that everyone liked every dish we were served, some more than others, but everything was really delicious and presented well.
As basket of Papadams and a container of pickles, tamarind chutney, and a green mild chutney. The pickles were very good and not too spicy. The tamarind was sweet and very tasty but not cloying.
For an appetizer we had CHOWK KE ALOO CHAT, panfried potato patties topped with spiced puffed wheat and a sweet and sour sauce. This was a very thick potato pancake that wasn't at all heavy or greasy with a rather delicate sauce.
A second appetizer was GAULATI KEBAB a very finely ground fried lamb patty with a slightly smoky flavor.
KEEMA KULCHA was a soft bread stuffed with spiced minced lamb, that reminded me of a lamb sausage.
We had both plain and garlic NAAN. I didn't have the Garlic Naan, but the plain was fine, I've had better and worse.
We then moved on to main courses.
KURKURI BHINDI crispy okra tossed with sauteed onions and fresh clantro.
PALAK PANEER North Indian spinach and soft cheese.
BAIGAN BHARTA Tandoori baked eggplant cooked with onions, tomatoes, and homemade spices. It had a wonderful smoky flavor.
BADAMI GOSHT KORMA Lamb cooked in an almond and safron sauce.
MUGHALAI GOAT CURRY We had this one prepared a bit spicier than the others (6 on a scale of 10)
GOA FISH CURRY Cubes of halibut cooked in a Goan curry sauce
They make their own ice creams and we tried several of them: Mango, Lychee, and Rosewater as wellas Kulfi. All were very good.
We also had a wonderful CARROT PUDDING with ice cream.
Finally we ha RAS MALAI, Fresh cream cheese balls in a cream sauce. This was my favorite dessert. It was very rich and flavorful and light.
We left stuffed and happy. The bill including tip and 8 beers and 3 glasses of wine was
We ate at Ambrosia on Friday 11/23. To minimize the risk of eating at an untested restaurant, I made sure to order several of the dishes recommended by other Chowhounders, but unfortunately the kitchen must have had a very bad night. The gaulati kebab was too salty almost to the point of being inedible. The Goa fish curry had maybe three 1" cubes of halibut in an overly salty sauce. The kurkuri bhindi was likewise overly salty. On the upside, the vegetable pickle and tamarind sauce on the complimentary condiment tray was great as was the onion kulcha.
No restaurant worth it's salt (pun intended) should ever turn out three poorly prepared entrees as Ambrosia did on Friday night. Maybe the overly salty kebab destroyed our tastebuds for the other entrees, but I don't think so. We made our concerns known to the waiter who only promised to tell the chef....no other compensation was offered. We eat Indian food about once a week and consider ourselves seasoned connsaisseurs of Asian and South Asian cuisine. We were looking forward to adding Ambrosia to our list of restaurants to go back to. Unfortunately, Ambrosia has earned itself the unenviable position of "worst Indian restaurant ever" in our book.
Ask and ye shall receive! I had posted an inquiry about this spot last month, http://www.chowhound.com/topics/411586 , and it seems to have been on the radar for several of us. Although it has only been open since January, the kitchen gave a solid performance. As would be expected from the chef who put Amber India of Mountain View on the map. I'm delighted to have caught up with Chef Bhupender Singh again here in Monterey and in such a lovely setting. Even better to be here on a warm evening when we could enjoy the patio and the cut-rate drinks during happy hour (beer and cocktails discounted).
Here's the view from the sidewalk:
Before our meal, I had studied the online menu intently for the things I wanted to try here. After the others nominated the things they wanted to try, I was glad to have relatively free-reign with the menu to let the kitchen show off more beyond the same-old, same-old. The only constraint was the fire-level with one our parties, and for all but one dish, I told the waiter to serve them the "usual" way for its clientele, which turned out to be quite mild. Our waiter was little help, as he tried to steer me to the samosas, pakoras, tandoori lamb, and basket of mixed breads, which I'm sure are all very fine but probably make the chef sigh with boredom that his patrons lack imagination in ordering. The one helpful answer that I got out of our server was when I asked him to help me choose between the Goan fish curry and the Kerala scallops simmered in coconut milk and mustard oil, he actually thought for a moment and said the fish curry was very good and he liked it himself. He also tried to get me to order more, but I held the line and said we'd place a new order if we didn't have enough to share.
While the dishes were mild in chili seasoning, they were all very fresh, bursting with flavor and well-executed with few exceptions. Also, portion size is pretty generous. While you're paying more than at a Tandoorloin curry dive, the serving of goat curry, for example, had many pieces of young goat in it and not just four cubes swimming in sauce.
I knew were in for a treat when I had a chance to try the caddy of chutneys with the complimentary papads (which were refilled, btw). The tamarind had more going on than just sweet and sour with other warm spices in the background. I loved the homemade pickle, which had a saucy tomato base and not just oil, curing the crunchy whole garlic cloves, cauliflower, onions, and whole chili pods. The only real criticism I have is that the naan was overdone and hard (and probably sat too long before being brought to the table) and the lamb cubes in the korma had been cooked separately and not married together long enough with the saucing to integrate (but this is a common practice, unfortunately).
Some specific comments on the dishes:
Potato chat - I was really excited to see chaat items on this restaurant's menu. This had a base of a large, single aloo tikki in a puddle of dahi (natural yogurt) streaked with red and green chutneys. It was piled high with a mix of bhel (rice puffs) and sev (fried vermicelli) blended with diced red onion and cilantro. I don't recall any fresh jalapeno or hot sauce, but it did have nice salting and the toppings were fresh and crunchy. The aloo tikki was made with fine-textured mashed potatoes, which was somewhat boring compared to the rougher and uneven grain of other versions. While I would have liked a shot of hot sauce on this, it was still very tasty and well-done.
Gaulati kebab (aka galouti kabab) - My first sample of this Lucknow specialty, and one I was anxious to try after reading about it. The lamb was very finely minced, similar to the twice-ground texture of Persian koobideh. The name, galouti, means "melt in the mouth", and it surely did. The softness of the texture was just beguiling. And, I was happy to experience a version here that is smoked before griddling. The spicing was tame on this, but perked up nicely with a little bit of the green mint-cilantro chutney, and the high quality of the lamb sourcing was upfront and center.
Lamb keema kulcha - Ordered as an appetizer, the tender bread with fragrant char showed what the tandoor department can deliver here. It made the later delivery of naan that much more disappointing, compared to this. The lamb filling was quite juicy and not dried out. Very good rendition.
Bhindi - The okra was prepared jalfreezi style, and not crispy-fried kurkuri style. But with perfectly uniform golden brown sweet bits of carmelized onion and wonderful aroma, showing the careful and steady hand of the chef, this made me happy nonetheless. The okra was cooked enough to solve the slime problem, yet was still on point with a fresh crunch remaining.
Palak paneer - My first spoonful of this missed any paneer other than the little bit of fresh cheese sprinkled on top. But the second serving hit paydirt with a browned cube of freshly made paneer, not rubbery at all. And, the spinach was obviously fresh and not frozen. Too salty for me, but that's a quibble.
Eggplant - High on the smoke quotient and again, good control on texture. Still some chunkiness and not pulverized smoothness. It also had a little bit of tartness to cut through the richness --- tamarind, citrus, yogurt? I liked this dish very much. It may have had a spoon of yogurt blended in, but if so, it was integrated so well as to not leave a dairy aftertaste.
Lamb korma - This dish was just okay, much better versions to be had out there. The sauce had the richness of the ground nuts and dairy, but only had those flavor dimensions. And, because it hadn't been simmered with the meat, the two didn't come together.
Goat curry - This was the dish I had to order, if for no other reason than to encourage the chef to keep it on the menu. Goat's not seen often in these parts except in birria. Cooked on the bone and braised in the saucing, the meat was very tender and still retained its succulence and natural juices. #6 on the 10-point scale is more like a 4 to my palate, so I would go up to 9 or 10 with this one to kick it up to its full splendor. Shalimar's version has more fire and spiced complexity, but this dish had an uncommon polish that made it very appealing.
Goan fish curry - This was my favorite dish of the night. The firm cubes of halibut gave this a meatiness that was different from the oilier fish (e.g, mackerel, pomfret) that I've had in southern fish curries before, but made it more sophisticated. Not overcooked in the slightest, a fault at too many Indian restaurants in the seafood department, so again, kudos to the chef.
Here's my plate with a sampler of the six "mains":
The desserts were all wonderful. It has finally dawned on me that the rosewater kulfi was served falooda style. The little yellow shreds that we were trying to identify were saffron-stained noodles soaked in rosewater and citrus. The carrot pudding was carrot and nut (almond? cashew?) halwa, served warm. The ras malai was particularly good, light and tender and not heavy and rubbery disaster served by too many other places. The cream sauce was not as boiled down and thick, more like natural cream and studded with cardamon and pistachio.
I'm overjoyed to have a mid-price, delicious option in this area. Would love to hear reports of the weekend brunch or the lunch buffet.
re: Melanie Wong
Thanks Melanie for the wonderful discussion of the dishes. Reading your post brought back the dinner to me, and as usual, you caught details that I'd missed. You are right that none of the dishes was especially hot spicy (and I have heard that that characteristic is exaggerated in the buffets). But all the dishes were fragrant and rich in other spices, at least for my palate.
I'm glad you went into detail about the sauce on the chat because I didn't taste any tamarind, but I had no idea what was in it otherwise. I really didn't mind the blandness of the potato patty since so much else was going on.
You also reminded me that (unusually for me) I liked the paneer better than the palak in the spinach dish.
And I must add that I was very happy that the little bowls of goat curry and fish curry ended up resting at my end of the table. if I had stayed long enough, I might have been tempted to pick them up and lick out the last of the sauces.
Thanks especially for ordering the dishes and balancing out the flavors and textures so well. It was a real treat!
re: Ed Dibble
Lucky you, and thanks for the lunch buffet report!
I don't find buffets particularly spiced up or down, it just depends on the style of cooking at a particular place. The incendiary South Indian restos in Fremont, CA serve equally fiery food on their buffets, and the places that are inclined to hold back do that on theirs. Every dish doesn't need to be loaded with chilis. Many are traditionally mild and to me, taste best when they're served that way. Otoh, something like mughlai-style goat curry calls out for a heap of chili heat, and many other traditional preps do as well. When you can establish rapport with a server, it can be best to rely on his/her guidance as to which dishes benefit from more spice or not to vary the heat levels on the table.
I also wanted to mention the beers we tried. Ambrosia has a full line-up of Indian beers. We tried the Kingfisher and Taj Mahal, the latter in a 22 oz. bottle. The Kingfisher had a little more acidity to it and an attractive bitter note that made it stand apart from the smoother and sweeter Taj Mahal. But I liked them both and they were thirst-quenching on a warm evening and good with the food. Maybe you can tell us about your draft?
Given that Ambrosia serves many wines as well, I was surprised that Sula from India was not offered. It's served at several Indian restaurants in the Bay Area, and the chenin blanc or sauvignon blanc go with the vegetarian dishes nicely.
re: Melanie Wong
I made it to the lunch buffet today (M-F 11:30-2:00, $8.95). While no expert at Indian food, I have eaten at a number of Indian buffets and this one had the best prepared food of any that I've been to. Dishes included tandoori chicken, butter chicken, chicken curry, mushroom curry, palak paneer, eggplant in yogurt sauce, pakoras, yellow pea dal, rice, pickles, chutneys, condiments, and naan.
Eggplant with yogurt had whole egg-sized eggplants, sliced in half with a very tangy yogurt sauce accented by green spices and background chili flavor. Really outstanding. janerofreno's husband would love it.
That dish called my attention to how many of the items had their richness/sweetness balanced with the tang of yogurt. Most idishes had great complexity of of spicy flavors.
Mushroom curry also had wonderful textures: onion still crunchy, pepper strips softer, and mushroom slices chewy.
The spinach was better than my memory of the spinach at the dinner, but that may simply reflect my lack of concentration on the palak with so many other culinary attractions and such interesting and stimulating discussion at the dinner.
The dal was excellent as were the pickles again - this time carrot pickles with what seemed to be slices of cabbage core and whole garlics.
Also exceptional was the naan - delivered fresh and hot to the table while I was eating. In places the bread was so thin as to be mere crunchy crust; in other, thicker places the bread was wonderfully chewy and had that great just baked flavor. Clearly the naan at dinner had sat around for a while before it was served.
Service at lunch was nice for a buffet - water glass refilled without asking. Check delivered in a timely fashion.
If one expects fiery hot Indian food, the buffet might disappoint. While hot spice notes were apparent in all the dishes except the butter chicken, nothing (not even the pickles) was incendiary - most dishes about 2 on my scale (but I do eat a lot of salsa, so people used to real mild food might find it a bit hotter). On the other hand, the dishes had great depth of spice, complexity, and balance.
re: Ed Dibble
re: Ed Dibble
I tried the lunch buffet the day after you were there. My sister had a seminar in Carmel, so we met at Ambrosia for lunch with our parents in tow. We arrived at 11:45am, luckily, as there was a table reserved for a party of 16. Those showing up after we did had a bit of a wait for a table or sat outside in the cold and wind.
Unlucky again with the naan, it was plonked down on our table as soon as we sat down. Still warm but already starting to ossify and much too hard. I didn't bother to send it back as there was so much hubbub when the big party started to show up.
We had the same three chicken dishes. My sister really liked the seasoning on the chicken curry. We had to try a few pieces of tandoori chicken before finding some that weren't overcooked and dried out. Then, I'll agree that the spicing was very finely tuned and had more highlights than many. I liked the butter chicken although the pieces of chicken were pretty tired, even if the sauce was a little too sweet.
Our veggies weren't as interesting: squash kofta, channa masala, and sauteed veggies sprinkled with some garam masala (this was lame). The squash kofta's sauce was too similar to the butter chicken. I was glad to have the garbanzo beans, as we had overlooked channa in our dinner ordering, and they had a nice meaty texture with very little sauce in a dryish style prep with a touch of tamarine sweet-sour.
The pea palau was done well, very light and separate grain of basmati rice and good for mopping up the sauces. i thought the yellow dal was stellar, nice and garlicky with a complex range of seasoning. i actually took one of the bowls set out for dessert to have some of the liquid fraction to sip and savor the balance of flavors. It was much hotter as the chili heat was dissolved in the oil floating on top. In the buffet line I heard some confusion from other customers about how to deal with the soupy dal . . . try ladling it over your rice. Onion bhaji were very good (Indian version of "blooming onion"), this kitchen is good with frying, and especially tasty combined with the chutneys. The pickle was even less hot than at dinner but enjoyable just the same. The kheer (rice pudding) was mediocre, quite unexpected drop off in quality here. Thin, tasting only of sugar with little in the way of nuts or cardamon. I had the fresh cut fruit drizzled with tamarind sauce for my dessert.
Oh, and the mango lassi was good that I'd ordered for a beverage. We were in and out in an hour. I'm not a fan of buffets but I'd certainly do this again. Very good value.
Who's tried the weekend champagne brunch?
re: Melanie Wong
You are right about the dal. It had layers of flavor. First it seemed the perfect embodiment of yellow peas. Intense pea flavor. Then the more subtle Indian spices hit the palate followed by the warmth of chili heat. It does seem like I got lucky with the veggies. The eggplant and the mushroom curry were as good as anything we had at the dinner (imho).
re: Ed Dibble
I was glad to have the chance to try the kitchen's hand with dal and channa, two staples that we didn't squeeze into our dinner. But so disappointed to not have a chance to try the eggplant or mushroom dishes you had or a similarly interesting equivalent! But now that I know about them, maybe I can request them at dinner time if the ingredients are at hand.
Oh, one other thing is that the day I was there, only the buffet was available for lunch. One customer was miffed because she'd been able to order from the menu previously at lunch time. Don't know if that was a one-off due to the big party in the house or a new policy.
That is fast work - getting the post out so quickly. Thanks.
As jaweino says, everybody liked everything.
For me one of the highlights was the potato appetizer. The textural contrasts between the puffed grain and the smoothness of the potato patty was excellent. While the menu says that the sauce is a sweet and sour sauce, that really does not adequately describe its complexity - don't think Chinese restaurant sweet and sour.
As noted, the eggplant was incredible. Great depth of flavor and the pronounced smokiness came from perfect use of the tandor. I've never had another version of this dish that came close, and this is one of my favorite Indian dishes.
Both the fish and goat curries were on another level of flavor as well, The goat was fall off the bone tender.
I'm not a huge fan of deserts, but these were outstanding. I think my favorite was the rose petal ice cream. It was like tasting cold creamy roses.
Yes, Susan, this is a new place and when I got to Monterey this year, almost the first thing my friends Steve and Helen said to me was "you gotta try this new Indian restaurant in town." Luckily there were others who wanted to try it as well. What a treat to eat food this good with company this enjoyable. I should add that is was great to meet you Joel (and your very funny better half) and, of course Melanie. I had a totally wonderful time.
re: Ed Dibble
Ed, the sweet and sour sauce probably was a tamarind sauce of some sort...that's what's usually served on that type of chaat. Its usually a little different than the tamarind chutney (thinner...)
How was the bhindi (okra?) That is my test of an Indian kitchen...
And did the benghan barta have any plain yogurt in it (or served on the side to mix with it?). DH insists that its not good benghan without the yogurt. I still remember him arguing in an Indian restaurant in Paris several years ago trying to get them to bring some yogurt for his eggplant. I can still hear him telling the waiter in Hindi (since he speaks no French) "I know there is yogurt in Paris!" (meanwhile I'm trying to hide under the table, making a mental note that maybe Indian food in Paris isn't such a good idea.....:-).
Will definitely remember this place next time we're in Monterey, thanks!
No yogurt in/with benghan as far as I could tell. In my mind, that would have lowered the intensity of flavor. But I'm certainly not Indian, nor an expert on Indian food.
I only got one small portion of the bhindi. I liked it - thought it was the best I've ever had, but it is not a dish that I have much experience with. The okra was very fresh and crunchy. The texture was unique among the dishes. Other ingredients were chopped in with the okra and added a complexity of flavor notes. Maybe Melanie or jaweino can elaborate.
Thanks for the report! That baked eggplant sounds great, looking forward to trying it.
Is this new, I don't recall reading any previous reports?
Adding a place link...I assume this is the Ambrosia you are referring to, there is also a place called Ambrosia in Pacific Grove...
Ambrosia India Bistro
565 Abrego St, Monterey, CA 93940