Amber India Restaurant, San Francisco

by Billy Guest on September 11, 2009

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
welcome to Amber

welcome to Amber

Some of the WC crew went to Amber for dinner mid-week. We’d been wondering about this very stylish looking Indian for ages. It’s on Market Street between 3rd and 4th, just across a pedestrian walkway from the Four Seasons Hotel and the new, heavily designed Contemporary Jewish Museum in the SOMA neighborhood. A friend from work, who is very knowledgeable about Indian fare, recommended the place.

On first glance, the restaurant looks simply amazing. Its sort of cool chic bar area reminded one of us of his time in Tokyo. There’s a large rectangular piece of dynamic abstract art over the bar filled with colored lights that gradually shift while we sat there. It reminded me of something from a futuristic dystopic movie: sort of Bladerunner-ish or maybe from AI-Artificial Intelligence when the Jude Law character takes the kid robot into the red-light district to consult with the oracle. So basically the place looks really fine!

The staff, too, was very good looking. Unfortunately, they weren’t that organized or attentive to us. I simply hate sitting around a bar waiting on my first drink, but that’s exactly what happened at Amber. The two lovely female bartenders seemed to be in an argument about something for at least five or ten minutes—maybe they were fighting over who would have the pleasure of making my “house Manhattan?” Whatever the reason, when the drink finally arrived it had way too much vermouth, which I didn’t like, and already I had a bad taste in my mouth out of frustration. The Dev-ster was probably right to only order scotch on the rocks. It’s harder to really mess that up.

stunning Amber bar

stunning Amber bar

There were about eight of us for dinner. By the time everyone arrived, we were ushered to our table through the stunning looking dining areas that are on at least two levels separated from one another by a few steps. Many of our fellow diners looked like tourists or business types. I heard at least one or two other tables speaking in various non-English European languages. Our spot was spacious and comfortable. I was sitting facing the wall, which normally is no big deal, but this place has a series of huge mirrors in oversized frames behind the table. It’s a great concept; it opens up the space more and allows people to see the other tables and the outside discreetly. Too bad the mirrors were set at just the right angle so that I had to stare at myself all night. That’s uncomfortable.

The meal was pre-arranged by our glamorous hostess. I ordered several wines to start off the group: a white, a pink and a red. I know that red doesn’t really go with Indian food, but some of us were insistent. The wine menu has a lot of inexpensive wines that were decent quality. We tried the 2008 Malbec Rose, Belasco de Baquedano, Mendoza, Argentina. It was cheap, a bit sweet with cherry notes. I thought that it matched quite well with the meal. The white was an Italian: 2005 Vermentino, Santadi, Villa Solais. Folks seemed to like this one because a second bottle was eventually ordered by the non-red drinking part of the table. In honor of CM’s new Spanish boyfriend—when is he coming to San Francisco so we can grill him, Carey?—I got the 2006 Grenache, Priorat, Pasanau, Ceps Nous. I thought that it was merely o.k. and it didn’t really go with all of the spice. Hegui thought the red was “disgusting.”

the malbec rose matched the food well and was the cheapest thing on the menu!

the malbec rose matched the food well and was the cheapest thing on the menu!

There were a lot of meat items served. I didn’t try any of them though almost allowed the handsome waiter to put a portion of the lamb curry on my plate. I am sure that I heard him say “naan” instead of “lamb.” Fortunately our charming hostess realized my mistake and corrected it before any damage was done. The service really messed up at this point. We told them that there were several vegetarians in the party. Yet all of the meat apps came out first. There was a long delay before any veggie dishes appeared at our table. Who serves food this way? Plus isn’t much of Indian food vegetarian?

There were several vegetarian appetizers that eventually showed up. They all came fried. Maybe that’s a nod to the American diner, but really!?! My sister would have had a heart attack there. We had the Aloo Peas Samosa; fried dough stuffed with potato, peas and spices. It was fine. I liked the Palak Chat, fried fresh spinach topped with yogurt and tamarind chutney. Who would ever think of frying fresh spinach? Very creative in a really naughty way! It tasted like pure fat. The bread basket of Mutter Kulcha—a bread stuffed with potato and green peas, Lacha Paratha—a whole wheat bread, and Naan were tasty if unoriginal. For the main course I liked the Badam Bhara Baaingan, eggplant that was stuffed with caramelized onions and almonds in a red sauce. It was a bit sweet, a bit spicy and had a rich flavor. Also the Jaipuri Bhindi; slivered okra with fennel seed, tomato and green mango; was really nice. There were several more, less memorable dishes other than the meaty ones, including a tandoori fish and spinach with fried cheese.

the fried spinach was my favorite here

the fried spinach was my favorite here

a sampling of Amber

a sampling of Amber

yummy eggplant

yummy eggplant

Carey and Hegui at the bar

Carey and Hegui at the bar

I think that there must have been a lot of ghee in this food or something. None of us ordered dessert though they brought tiny tasters, which was nice. I felt bloated and super gassy the next day. Apparently I wasn’t alone in this either. Amber is a very good looking place in a sexy part of town. That’s really it. The food was nothing special, the service was really lacking and the drinks weren’t good either. I enjoyed the company a lot but I wouldn’t recommend this restaurant and won’t go again.

Stephen and Carey in the Amber light

Stephen and Carey in the Amber light

the mini desserts were really unnecessary but tasted great

the mini desserts were really unnecessary but tasted great

Contemporary Jewish Museum with the Four Seasons in the background

Contemporary Jewish Museum with the Four Seasons in the background

Related Posts with Thumbnails

Kirk September 11, 2009 at 5:15 am

Thanks for the warning about the Amber bar! I hate waiting for my drink, too! Sometimes bartenders have this attitude like they’re doing you a huge favor by taking your order and bringing your drink!

ritatower September 11, 2009 at 7:49 pm

I’ve been there before and really liked it, but I agree with you on some major: service bad, good looking waiters, slow drinks, and greasy appetizers! The atmosphere is nice, and the location is central but it almost feels like it’s set up for the people staying at the nearbye hotels and locals don’t gather there that much. I liked my strong vodka drink that I ordered there.
I wasn’t itching to go back but your article reminded me of the subtle glamour.
Keep up the good work!

Holly Z September 12, 2009 at 2:35 pm

Sounds like I didn’t miss much but the fab company! Wish I could have been there.

Ferdinand May 12, 2014 at 1:09 pm

This place is great for Happy Hours! The Manhattans though taste more like Old Fashions but you can’t beat the “Happy” price tag. The veggie apps went well with my cocktail and my friend’s chenin blanc and the service was great. Go there for Happy Hour so you won’t be sad for your dinner. Highly recommended!

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: