Amber Dhara on Valencia report [San Francisco]
Last night three of us went to the new Amber Dhara in the Mission. My friend arrived at about 7:10, asked for a table for 7:30, and waited for us to arrive. We got there and sat with him at the bar a few minutes later. There was a private party upstairs so that seating area was closed, but ere we're open tables downstairs. 7:30 came and went. At about 7:45 we reminded the host that we were all here. 8:30 came and went. Finally, at about 8:45 we asked the host again what was going on. They seated us immediately. Apparently they had forgotten us. The upside was that we tried nearly every drink on the ayurvedically inspired cocktail menu.
Darjeeling Limited, whiskey based iced tea drink, very refreshing and easy drinking, not complex
Blessed monk: vodka based, pink and herbal with a hint of citrus, tasty but I could have done without the crunchy bits of lemongrass floating in it...I think it would be nicer strained or with a lemongrass infusion
Cocky Sultan: bourbon based, one of my favorites but less exotic
Spice Market: Rum based, and between the tamarind and spices this tasted like some kind of chaat to me--interesting but I wouldn't want to drink a whole glass of it
Queen's Conquest: their take on a gin and tonic. We had two of these; the first was very strong with three lichees as a garnish (a definite highlight) and the second had more mixers in it and had a measly one litchee. Tasty but inconsistent.
Food (we went veggie, so no comment on the meat dishes)
Papad basket: tasty but very strange texture...not crunchy and unpleasantly chewy. Were they undercooked? Stale? Three different kinds of papad: one plain, one with cumin, one with pepper (spicy). Served with three chutneys which I didn't try.
Baluchi Baingan: 5 tiny slices of fried eggplant with various drizzled sauces on it, which was absolutely delicious...perhaps my favorite dish of the night. I was underwhelmed by the portion, but it was an appetizer.
Cilantro Fingers: jenga like presentation of small rectangles of crunchy on the outside, sawdust on the inside. They lacked flavor and felt dry.
Garlic Chili Paneer Tikka: four slices of wonderfully flavorful paneer cooked in the tandoor. The texture of the paneer was perfect...another favorite of the evening.
Portobello Mushrooom Chatpatta: just tasted like a grilled mushroom...nice and juicy, but uninspired. A miss that I wouldn't try again.
Paneer Till Ke Tukde: Paneer squares pressed with black and white sesame seeds and served over a tikka masala type sauce...thick, tomato based, not creamy, very tasty but a bit on the salty side. I enjoyed the crunchy texture of the outside of the paneer and I thought it was tasty with the sauce. I liked the paneer from the tandoor better.
Amber dal: black lentils (urud dal)-- basically a dal makhni without the rajma (kidney beans), I'd order it again in a heartbeat. Tasty, creamy, earthy...delicious.
Bread basket: naan, pea sprout khulcha, and lacha paratha. Everything was fresh and hot, the paratha was a little too chewy for my taste, but had nice layers--the khulcha was my favorite.
Dessert: 3 cups of pleasant but very mildly spiced lukewarm chai (unsweetened) and one order of
rasmalai, which tasted good but was a bit chalky and dry in texture.
The table next to us complained about their dry biryani and got comped some dessert wine. I would have liked to tell the staff what we loved and asked for hotter chai, but no one asked how things were going all night, and they seemed too busy and rushed to take the time to check in.
We were hoping for a more lounge like atmosphere...it felt pretty restauranty to us. The service was pleasant if a bit bumbling and rushed, but it was only the second Saturday night they've been open.
All in all, I don't feel a pressing need to go back, but perhaps I'm more of a hole in the wall girl at heart.
Looking forward to hearing what others think...