Review: Ambar India
I know. You’d think I’d have written about this place years ago, right? I went to UC, and in the battle of the Indian Restaurants in Clifton, Ambar has always won for me. You know the whole feud between Amol and Ambar, right? Don’t park your car in Amol’s lot and walk into Ambar– it’ll be towed. I have no idea how the restaurant across the street– or down the street– or a few blocks down play into this, but Ambar has always been my choice.
There are a few givens about Clifton Indian: you’re not going for ambiance, you get large portions, and the prices are generally quite reasonable. You’ll also deal with the same sorts of menus, a mix of Northern and Southern Indian cuisine. You will have people argue up and down that one is better than the other– I find them all to be equally good, but some places do some things better than others. When my ex had coworkers from Hydrabad in town, who were tired of American cuisine, we took them to Ambar and they said it was just like home. Whether it was a ringing endorsement or they were just trying to be nice, I’m not sure, but many of my American friends who have spent time in India have said it’s pretty authentic.
Now, we have to throw a wrench into this whole Indian food thing, and it’s a pretty simple one. I love it. I could eat it once a week, easily. Terry? Well, he had a run-in with some bad curry on an Air India flight when he was in high school, and I’m pretty certain he’s allergic to a component of some curries (though I haven’t put my finger on exactly what: I know it’s not turmeric). So, in our entire relationship, we’ve never gone out for Indian. I’ve cooked with some yellow madras curry powder before and he liked it, so I had some hope. We originally planned on going to Habanero, but I went, “Oooh. Indian.” and Terry said, “Oh, fine, let’s go.”
So we did.
Terry, good guy that he is, battled a headache as we ate, which he didn’t mention until we were halfway through the meal. Any future Julie and Terry Indian Adventures will probably be takeout. Oh, well.
He had me order, and I ordered a bunch of my favorites:
Raita, which, in this version, is cucumbers, peppers, onions and other vegetables in yogurt. It’s creamy and delicious, and a good contrast to the spicy food. I’ll eat it with rice, or with naan, or on the side of the dishes with a little bit of tamarind sauce on top. It’s the best way to cool your mouth when you’ve gotten a bit too much heat– did you know that water only dilutes it, while dairy actually cools?
Speaking of spicy, here’s the relish caddy: a tamarind chutney that I just love: it’s tangy and sweet. The green chutney is a hot, with a lot of cilantro, and the red is mostly chopped onions, and just a bit of heat compared to the green one. I prefer the red, as it starts out cool and then leads to a slow burn.
Saag paneer is up next. Saag= spinach, paneer = cheese, so this ends up being chunks of a fresh, semi-soft cheese (you used to be able to buy paneer at Trader Joe’s, but it’s pretty easy to make your own) in a creamy, spicy spinach sauce. This turned out to be Terry’s favorite, and was one of the first ways I really enjoyed cooked spinach as an adult.
And last, but not least– my favorite, chicken Tikka, which is esssentially the chicken Tandoori, but all boneless, skinless breast. The chicken was a bit dry this time, but my favorite part, by far, are the caramelized onions on the sizzling-hot tray. The saffron-based sauce for the chicken makes up for any dryness, but if it is dry the next time, I’ll switch to the regular Tandoori chicken.
So, this is my favorite Indian spot– what’s yours? Let the debate begin in the comments.