Venue Review: Amber Cafe
Have a hankering for Indian, but don't have the time or bucks for a big sit-down meal?
At Amber Cafe, you can get in and out in 10 minutes with an armful of northern and regional Indian treats and innovative fusion dishes -- most under $8. Or eat at the simple Mountain View dining room decorated with cartoons reminiscent of 1950s cocktail napkin fare, in style if not subject matter. (They tend toward gags about food, rather than tipsy hubbies.)
The cafe is the newest culinary venture of Vijay Bist, owner of the much-lauded Amber India restaurants in San Jose and Mountain View. Bist has made some changes to his usual menu for this faster -- please, not fast, he insists -- food. It's lighter on those addictive, creamy sauces and curries, and every dish is cooked in olive or canola oils instead of butter.
There is a broad selection of Indian snacks, known as chaat, and wraps as well as salads, stuffed flatbreads, dishes cooked in the tandoor and even pizza.
We tried the aloo tikki ($3.99) -- fried potato cakes stuffed with gingered green peas -- that were a bit bland by themselves, but more than redeemed by a tasty garbanzo bean, mint and tamarind chutney. Amritsari fish fry ($5.99), catfish advertised as a spice-marinated ''favorite in the dhabas of Punjab,'' was woefully under-seasoned.
Topping our list of favorites was an unexpected and utterly successful small pizza. We had the eggplant and tomato ($6.99) that started with the traditional tomato and cheese base on naan, or flatbread. It ended with refreshing Indian spices that telegraphed we're not in Sicily any more, Maria.
The Malai methi chicken wrap ($6.99) we tried was similarly irresistible -- fenugreek- and pepper-spiced chicken kebabs topped with mild red onion and mint chutney and wrapped in a thin, flaky bread called a paratha.
In the kids' meal category, the chicken crisps weren't and the spring rolls lacked bounce, but maybe that was the point for picky young eaters.
Stay tuned. Bist has plans for more locations this year.
600 W. El Camino Real, Mountain View,
Hours: 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays. 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5:30-10:30 p.m. Fridays. Noon-10:30 p.m. Saturdays, and noon-10 p.m. Sundays.
Types of food: Chaat, wraps, Indian pizza and traditional fare.
Average meal price: Under $10
Good choices: Salmon cooked in the tandoor, pizzas and spicy stir-fried pahadi noodles.
Not recommended: Fish fry and kids' meals
Attitude: Quick and friendly.
Amenities: Outdoor dining
Vegetarian options: Eggplant and tomato pizza, many other dishes.
Drinks: Lassi, tea, coffee, smoothies.
Next-day edibility: Pizza reheats well.
Who goes there: High-tech lunch crowd, moms on the run.
Credit cards: Yes
Parking: Cafe's parking lot
Restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously. The Mercury News pays for all meals.