Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Delivery from Amber Dhara

It has been a while since I've reviewed indian cuisine.  I'm still sorta searching for somewhere I like.

I've tried many places in SF, ranging from fancier places like Dosa on Fillmore, to cheap Lahore Karahi in the Tenderloin, to the awful Aslam's Rosoi, classic Udupi Palace, or goan-style Gajalee in the Mission.  None have really been worth returning to.

My favorite indian food in the area is still down in Palo Alto, at Amber India.  I had many great meals there, but as you may recall, the last time I went to the Amber India in SF, I had such an awful experience, I vowed not to return.  But, the Amber chain expanded in SF a year or so ago, opening Amber Dhara on Valencia.  I had a decent meal at the Amber Dhara in Palo Alto, so I was eager to try this new Amber establishment out.

Unfortunately, Ojan isn't able to go out these days, so we decided to order delivery, not something I do often, at all.  I'm too much of a food snob to deal with cold food.  But indian is a cuisine that I know re-heats well, so we gave it a shot.  I was really excited to see Amber Dhara listed as an option for delivery, even though it was far pricier than anywhere else.  And they had an additional delivery fee, which again, no where else did.  And reviews weren't great.  But ... I really wanted to try it.  Who trusts the Yelpers anyway?

I read in many reviews that it takes 3! hours for the delivery to arrive, so we actually ordered in advance on the day before.  I figured this would be the way to ensure it came on time.  I also put in the notes to please try to deliver at our specified time.

And ... it came 45 minutes late.  Sigh.  It was all cold.  

It turns out, I completely agreed with the Yelpers, for once.  The delivery experience was poor - late and cold food.  No cutlery was provided, even though it clearly said to include it on my slip.  There was also no way to specify spice levels when ordering, which I found really strange.  The additional delivery charge made me grumpy, particularly given that it arrived so late and cold.  I'm also realizing that I think I'm going to stop including the tip when I order.  When it comes so late, I'd like to not give a high tip.  And, if it comes fast or the delivery person is particularly friendly, I'd like to give more.  Pre-determining a tip amount seems silly.

Anyway.  The food was ok.  Probably better than most indian delivery.  They do use higher end ingredients.  I'm sure it would have been better at the restaurant.  But the fact that Amber Dhara is priced so much higher then other indian restaurants, adds a delivery fee, and expects a tip, makes it way too pricy in the end for what you get.  $40 for our little meal would easily be <$20 at most other places.  I won't likely order delivery again, but perhaps I'll still check out the restaurant some time.
Cilantro Garlic Naan. $3.
Since this was delivery, and obviously, delayed delivery, it isn't quite fair to evaluate the naan with any expectations.  But, I'll still describe what arrived.

Limp, soggy, cold.  Very moist from condensation in the foil.  Obviously, not good.  I threw it in the toaster oven and it crisped up fine.

From what I could tell, this would have been unremarkable naan even if fresh.  It didn't have a char to it or anything.  There was a small amount of garlic, but again, nothing notable.

At $3, this is slightly more expensive than most naan.
Saag Paneer: Cottage cheese, garlic, spinach and mustard.  Side portion.  $8.
I love paneer, so this was an easy pick for me, particularly as Amber Dhara is known for really using fresh greens and keeping this dish light.

The food was barely lukewarm when it arrived, so I had to warm it back up.  A strike against their delivery service for sure.

The dish was pretty much exactly what I was hoping for.  Chopped up greens that did indeed taste fresh.  Chunks of onion too.  The greens weren't mushy, and really tasted quite bright.  Decently spiced, although, not remotely "spicy".  I would have liked some heat.  There was a generous amount of paneer, small cubes, again, all fresh tasting.  A bit squeaky, but otherwise, well prepared, and I'm guessing house made?  Best saag paneer I've had in recent memory.

I enjoyed this, and would probably order again.  I went for the side portion rather than full entree, so it was only $8, and plenty for me. I really like that they offer all of the vegetarian dishes as sides in addition to entrees, and wish they'd do the same for the non-vegetarian too.  This portion size was really just right (with naan and the other dishes, I actually was easily able to make it last two meals).  Favorite dish we ordered.
Butter Chicken: White meat, tomato sauce and kasoori methi.  $15.50.
Ojan requested the butter chicken.  All of the Amber restaurants are known for their butter chicken, and we've enjoyed it many times in the past, at pretty much each of their branches.  Even though I dislike chicken these days, I knew the sauce to be delicious enough that I went along with this order.

Like the saag, it was barely lukewarm, and needed to be heated up.

As I said, I don't like chicken, but I tried a few pieces to really be able to evaluate it.  All white meat, very generous amount of chicken in here.  But, it was chicken.

I was in it for the sauce.  I remember always using my naan to lap up every last bit of butter chicken sauce, pretty much every single time I've visited, or ordered take out, from any of the other Ambers.  Sadly, that didn't happen this time.

The sauce didn't blow me away like it normally does.  Maybe that is because I saw the oil pooled on top since it had separated out as it cooled down.  Maybe it just isn't as good.  Maybe I just wasn't in the mood for it.  I dunno.  It was creamy, but oily, and the spicing wasn't really there.

At $15.50 it was far more expensive than most indian restaurants in the city, although the meat was quality.  This was a full size portion, which fed Ojan two meals, gave me a bunch of sauce to dip my naan in, and we still had at least another portion left over.  So, generous size, but expensive.  I wouldn't get it again, but Ojan might.
Rice Kheer: Classic rice pudding with nuts.  $6.
And finally, you know I needed my dessert!

Well, like the other food, this was also lukewarm.  But, that is because it was in the bag with the warm other food, with a warm dish on top of it, and on the bottom.  Come on, cold and hot shouldn't be next to each other for transport!

Anyway.  Basic rice pudding.  Creamy sauce.  Some slivered almonds.  Not much spicing.  Way too sweet.  Yes, I said it.  Way too sweet.

Portion was large, and given that Ojan doesn't eat rice pudding, and I didn't like it much, I had a hard time finishing it up.  $6 is fine for a dessert in a restaurant, but for simple rice pudding it was high, especially considering I normally find rice pudding for $2! Wouldn't get again.


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