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Silicon Veggie

Currying Favor

By Elisa Camahort

MY MOM is a great cook, but two dishes she made scarred me for life. I'm not being dramatic—the first dish was tongue! Imagine taking the lid off a pot and seeing a huge tongue, taste buds and all, freshly ripped out of the cow's mouth. I'm sure the seeds of vegetarianism were planted then.

The second dish was strong yellow curry. I cannot remember actually eating it, just hating the smell. These day, well-meaning friends who suggest Indian restaurants, knowing there are numerous vegetarian choices, look at me askance when I say, "I don't like Indian food."

It was time to see whether a vegetarian who doesn't like curry can eat happy in an Indian restaurant. I sucked it up and tried two Indian restaurants.

First was small, unassuming Satkar in Los Altos. My S.O. and I started out with aloo parantha (potato-stuffed bread) and samosas. After eliciting positive feedback from me, the S.O. "helpfully" pointed out the samosas had curry in them. We sampled both a noncurry and a curry-based entree. I did prefer the curry-free navratna korma to the dal, but both were palatable.

Satkar provides ample quantities of strongly flavored traditional Indian dishes at an unbelievably affordable price. Our meal came in at $30 before tip. And it felt like we tried everything!

My second experience was at the other end of the spectrum. At Amber India in Santana Row, service and style are everything. The atmosphere is beautiful and contemporary, the service attentive and accommodating. The menu is creative; the flavors, subtle. I had a delicious portobello and artichoke dish (bhara jungli kumbh) from the "contemporary" section of the menu. When I say the food is subtle, I mean that this dish was not overspiced or too hot. I could distinctly taste both the artichokes and mushrooms.

We tried a bit of everything at Amber, too—breads, appetizers, entrees, dessert. And the cost was about double Satkar's. Is it worth that? If service and style really enhance your dining experience, then it's worth it. If all you really care about is lots of good food, perhaps not.

Conclusions? There are different kinds of curry, apparently none as pungent as that of my childhood, and Indian restaurants offer choices without curry, anyway. So, the next time someone suggests Indian—not because I'm a vegetarian, but because they love the food—I will no longer be the naysayer. Which is nice.


Satkar: 233 State St., Los Altos. 650.947.8729.
Amber India: 377 Santana Row, San Jose. 408.248.5400.


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From the September 1-7, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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