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Dining Outside At Amber India In Santana Row

Chilean sea bass tikka with pumpkin ravioli — only at Amber India’s Santana Row location.

Chef Bikram Das couldn’t be happier to finally have the chance to show off his creative flair at Amber India in San Jose’s Santana Row.

Yes, it’s only recently that he’s been able to fully do that. Because Das had the unfortunate timing of arriving as head chef in March 2020.

Initially, he had high hopes that the restaurant would be able to succeed with food to-go.

But his optimism was dashed, when he realized that many of the apartments at the upscale retail-restaurant-housing complex were corporate-owned, and thus, largely empty during the pandemic.

However, with both indoor and outdoor dining now offered, Das is thrilled to offer an array of classic dishes, as well as contemporary ones that take inspiration from Italian and other Asian fare he’s cooked at hotels in India.

I had a chance to sample some of his handiwork, when I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant last week.

Revolver cocktail with draft Blue Moon in the background.

There are plenty of outdoor tables right in front of the restaurant, which provides for a great people-watching vantage point, especially with a craft cocktail in hand. Santana’s Revolver ($14) is a take on a Manhattan, a potent blend of Bulleit Rye, Tia Maria, and Angostura orange bitters for a smoky, honeyed-vanilla punch.

In the weeks to come, the dining room will get a slight refresh. The flashy constellation-lighted ceiling will get toned down for a more sedate look.

Tables outdoors in front of the restaurant.
The indoor dining room with a private room available in the back.

To get an idea of Das’ wheelhouse, try the Chilean Sea Bass Tika, a flaky, moist fish kebab with a mustardy-hued rub of Bengal five-spice and fragrant kaffir lime leaf. It’s served with a small bowl of ravioli. Yes, ravioli — filled with spiced pumpkin puree and napped in a rich saffron cream sauce. You won’t be lamenting the dawn of pumpkin spice season already, not when you try this.

The ravioli served with the Chilean sea bass.

The Gobi Roast ($18) had been recommended by the manager, and his advice was spot-on. The tandoor-cooked cauliflower was the perfect texture — soft and sweet yet still structurally intact. Its smokiness was enhanced by a creamy shallot ginger sauce enriched with pulverized cashew nuts and just a hint of rose petal.

An incredible roasted cauliflower.

Be sure to have plenty of rice or bread on hand to sop up every last drop of the delicious sauce. The assorted bread basket ($13) is an ideal option as it includes warm, freshly made naan, whole wheat paratha, paneer-and-Parmesan stuffed bread, and spiced potato-green onion stuffed bread. For a carb fanatic like me, it’s the Disneyland of bread.

Assorted breads.

It’s not offered at all Amber India locations, and it’s not always listed on the menu at the Santana Row location but if you inquire, the restaurant will almost always have its goat curry ($26) available. You’d be missing out if you didn’t order it. Slow-braised, it’s supremely tender meat still on the bones. Milder than lamb in taste, the goat cooked this way reminded me of oxtail in texture. It’s flavored with a lusty array of chilies and spices, including fenugreek, and topped with slivers of fresh ginger for a whoosh of sweet-heat. It’s a dish I’d order again in a heartbeat.

Not-to-be-missed goat curry.
The signature butter chicken.
Spinach and corn.

Amber India has long been famed for its butter chicken ($26). Tandoori chicken imparts a nice hint of char to the vibrant, slightly spicy tomato sauce enriched with cream.

The Lasooni Makai Saag ($21) is classic pureed spinach (from Watsonville) dotted with fresh, sweet corn kernels.

For dessert, the chef served a duo of cold, creamy saffron kulfi and warm moong dal halwa, with a crumbly, moist cake-like texture from ground lentils.

Moong dal halwa (front) and saffron kulfi (back).

Like so many businesses during the pandemic, Amber India (with four Bay Area locations) has been through the wringer. We’re fortunate that this respected restaurant group has not only endured for 27 years, but continues to flourish when doing so these days is no easy feat.