Indian-Californian bar snacks in the Mission
Saffron walls longer than your apartment. Flowery white lamps suspended from a carmine ceiling. The Mission's massive new Amber Dhara is as boldly designed as its five older sisters.
The menu takes more risks than Amber's first San Francisco location, too. Chef Arindam Bahel weaves Indian spicing around California produce--mizuna here, wild mushrooms there.
With some of the main courses and tandoor-cooked meats, frankly, it can be hard to distinguish Bahel's Indian-Californian fusion from your average Americanized butter chicken. But the vegetable starters and sides are intriguing and vivid.
Take the baluchi baingan ($6), a Grateful Dead spin on eggplant parm: Coins of crisp battered eggplant are arrayed across garlicky yogurt, then dabbed with sugary tomato chutney psychedelic with sweet spices. And the jaisalmeri bhindi ($8), thinly shaved okra stir-fried with fennel seed and sour-mango powder, contrasts the vegetable's feathery crunch against dense flavor.
The small dishes pair well at the expansive bar with glasses of Torrontés. Afterward, beg the bartender for one of the crazily perfumed paan shots (puréed betel leaf, fennel seed and rose water) the servers give dinner guests.
You'll be glad you took the risk.
Amber Dhara, 680 Valencia St. (at 18th St.); 415-400-5699 or amber-india.com