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Amber Cafe, Mountain View

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  • Melanie Wong Jun 14, 2006 03:03 AM
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Monday night I stopped in Mountain View for a quick snack on my way south. I remembered positive mentions of Amber Cafe (Saravana Bhavan's old location) so swung by there.

This was just the ticket. Order and pay at the counter, food brought out quickly.

I started with papdi chaat ($4.49). Amber makes its own crisps and the extra quality makes a difference. The sprinkle of sev on top is a nice touch. Yet, I think that Vik's in Berkeley has a more distinctive (and addictive) seasoning and more complex chutneys despite its stale crisps. Here I needed to add some extra green mint chutney to get the flavor impact I wanted.

The pav bhaji ($6.49) is as good as Katya describes below. I would have liked a smaller order size at a lower price. I didn't pick up any eggplant in this mix. It had less of the long-cooked together texture and taste. The individual flavor of the various vegetables in the blend still spoke. And, there was a tiny mince of red and green raw peppers that added a nice crunch and fresh taste. The balance was quite tart and I didn't add any more lemon juice. This didn't have the extra pat of butter on top, so I appreciated the extra butter on the housebaked, toasty pav rolls. The raw onions and cilantro were extra fresh and had obviously been cut to order.

Prices seemed a tad high but I guess this is a new establishment and the setting is spic and span. But I liked the food, and I'll be having the leftover pav bhaji for lunch tomorrow.

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  1. j
    Josh Fredericks

    Wow, they're consistent. I was there on Saturday and ordered the papdi chaat, which looked identical down to the yogurt drizzle. I found it a tad on the sweet side and the homemade crisps a little too crunchy. But these are minor issues- overall I enjoyed it.

    I also had the crab pizza, which also included diced bell peppers (not listed in the description). It was better than I thought it would be- I was not expecting the crab and cheese and indian spices to go so well together over the buttery nan-type "crust". It was maybe a tad dry but a squeeze of lemon helped. I would order it again.

    Best of the bunch was the mushroom and eggplant wrap I ate the next morning. The eggplant was especially soft and blended well with the mushrooms and the masala. Definitely a winner.

    Amber Cafe has a nice little niche and is a really welcome addition to the Castro area.

    Link: http://www.rohitsabharwal.com/cafe.swf

    5 Replies
    1. re: Josh Fredericks

      I agree with you on the texture of the crisps. More bubbles to make them more fragile would be an improvement. I was attacking them with the tines of my fork and was never quite sure what direction they might shatter and fly off to! But at least they were fresh tasting and not made with rancid oil like too many are. Adding more of the mint chutney solved the too sweet thing for me.

      I almost ordered one of the pizzas, next time I'll do it with confidence. Oh, and I also ordered a drink. Covered cups of the beverages are prefilled and handed over immediately for quick service.

      Nice to hear from you again, Josh.

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        I've tried their palak paneer pizza and the chicken 65. both were very yummy and made great leftovers (key for any pizza i order). despite numerous recommendations, i thought the eggplant mushroom wrap was a underwhelming and underspiced, but i think it could hve been an off night. ppl really like that wrap.

        1. re: thejulia

          I stopped there again last night on my way back to the City and had my brother join me. Neither of us liked the looks of the palak paneer pizza. I was expecting the spinach to be more of a creamed sauce spread on the base rather than clumps. Fortunately, it was as delicious as promised. William pronounced it a "good use of naan."

          Gotta get some sleep ... will post about the rest later.

          Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

          Image: http://static.flickr.com/41/167571823...

          1. re: thejulia

            Mel
            There is no Chicken 65 at Amber Cafe.
            Check out the menu:
            http://www.rohitsabharwal.com/cafe.swf

            1. re: rdabke

              Just looked at the link you provided and Chicken 65 is #31, $7.49.

      2. I feel the same way about the prices. I think the lunch buffet at Amber India is a much better deal. However, we did enjoy the food.

        1. f
          Flash Sheridan

          A couple of brief additions to what's gone before:
          • It’s one of the few Indian lunch places around that concentrates on individual servings, rather than a buffet.
          • If you don't want your food spicy, emphasize this strongly when you place your order. A couple of times in their early days I asked for mild, but apparently not emphatically enough.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Flash Sheridan

            Thanks, FS.

            Last night, in addition to the palak paneer pizza, we also tried -

            Chole bhature, $6.49
            Idly chilli fry, $5.49
            Masala kadhai scallops, $8.49
            Malai kulfi, $3.49
            Blueberry bliss (not shown), $2.99

            We didn't like these as well as the pizza. The most interesting was the idly chilli fry. It reminded me of Korean-Chinese cooking. Steamed idli dumplings were cut in half then fried until crispy. William said the texture reminded him of fried bananas. The hot and sweet sticky sauce was quite addictive and it was especially good on the slices of red and green peppers.

            The chole was tasty, but the bhature was sub-par. Amber advertises that it uses only canola and olive oil. Somehow this didn't have the greasy, crispy satisfying oomph that it should have. As my brother said, you didn't feel like you had to rush to eat it before it cools down and softens. It was never crispy and seemed underdone and pale to us. This was better than the so-so version I had recently at Indus Village in Berkeley. But it was far off from my own or my brother's favorite.

            The kadhai scallops had a tasty sauce, again with red and green bell peppers in it. The spicing seemed rather toned down, yet was in balance with the shellfish. However, it soon started to build up and had a hotter finish. The scallops were cooked quite nicely, staying very juicy and plump. But somehow, they didn't taste very scallop-y. William mentioned that there was no sweet seafood aftertaste, and I'd have to agree with him.

            For dessert, we had the malai kulfi (rosewater, saffron, pistachio). Not great kulfi, and a stingy portion for the price.

            My blueberry bliss (blueberry, strawberry and banana smoothie) was very good. Not that sweet, it filled my resveratrol quota for the day. I'd order it again.

            Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

            Image: http://static.flickr.com/75/168139229...

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Gee, Melanie, if you're spending so much time eating Indian food in the Mountain View area, I hope you get a chance to go a few miles either way on El Camino to Southern Spice in Mountain View (Andhra food specialties) or Madras Cafe in Sunnyvale (best dosas around). No pizza at those places, though!

              Michael

              1. re: mdg

                Hey Michael, I have your favorites top of mind! I wanted to try Madras on Monday night, but ended up at a dark storefront. Unfortunately, that's the night they're closed. So, I drove a little further north to Amber. My bro mentioned that he's been to Southern Spice, so we'll try it together some time.

          2. I'm glad to see you liked it. I've been wanting to try the scallops and the blueberry bliss smoothie in particular so I was happy to see reviews of those dishes.

            I liked the pav bhaji in my first visit, but was less impressed with it the second. Like you I wished that I could get less for a lower price. It was by far the largest portion of pav bhaji I've ever seen.

            I hope you get a chance to try the wraps. The malai methi wrap is amazing - I've eaten it weekly now for four weeks running.

            Amber Cafe is pretty close to the ending point of Hwy 237 so it's more do-able for lunch than some might think.

            4 Replies
            1. re: katya

              From what I've been reading, it sosunds like the wraps are the best thing here. I saw a few orders come up and I like that they're two small ones rather than one big one to an order. Have you had the Kathi wrap? And, yes, Amber does have pretty good hiway access.

              Oh, my brother had the mango lassi. Very fruity style here and not as heavy in texture.

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                The Methi Chicken wrap reminded me very much of Peking duck in taste and appearance with its relatively sparse filling, toothsome paratha, veggie mix and the sweetness of the accompanying tamarind chutney that were roughly analogous to the pancake, spring onion + cucumber and hoisin sauce often served with that dish. Unfortunately, the similarity was also reflected in the price, which seemed too high for the two small cigar-ish wraps that come with each order (I did appreciate the little cucumber salad that they threw in, though).

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  I have had the kathi wrap. It's actually in the link you list with your initial post. It was really, really good but I liked the melai methi a tad better.

                  I didn't think the melai wraps were sparsely filled, nor did I think they were particularly small. To indicate how substantil the melai wraps are, the boyfriend and I typically make a dinner of one order of the melai wraps and one order of samosas.

                  Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                  1. re: katya

                    Thanks, and that confirms I'm losing it. (g)

                    Just wanted to add a note that my friend Shalini made pav bhaji for a potluck last weekend. It was great, very fresh tasting, and she explained the cooking method. I had thought that the bhaji was long-cooked, but it's actually sauteed and mashed on the griddle, usually to order.