SF PLACES & FOOD: The Mission’s Amber Dhara Elevates Indian Cuisine & Infused Craft Cocktails (@AmberDharaSF)

It’s a typical night: you say you want to try a place that is new, that has expertly prepared food, and cocktails that have been made with undying love.  Result: you search on Yelp with as many keywords as you can think of only to become completely overwhelmed, and in fit of despair, opt go to the pizza joint down the street and hit the dive bar next door.  You’re full- yes.  But was it good?  Probably not.

Dry your eyes my friend, there is a place you haven’t tried, and without a doubt- you will be back.  There are many Amber Dhara restaurants around, but only one has food prepared by a seasoned chef from India and two bartenders whose admitted love of fresh ingredients and flavor will have you smiling with every sip.  What you may also not know is Amber Dhara’s revamped mission has brought flavor back in a whole new way.  Authentic Indian flavors, fresh ingredients, and house-made infused spirits are the soapbox this place proudly stands on and they will shout it to anyone who passes.

Manish Tyagi hails from northern India with 14 years of experience under his chef hat.  He was executive chef at both Daj Group of Hotels and Oberoi Group of Hotels before he moved to Washington, DC to become the acclaimed Chef de Cuisine of the notably impecable Rasika.  His belief in fresh spices, fresh vegetables and a soulful blend of flavor will have you crying out with delight.  He came to Amber Dhara back in March, and since has taken the menu by the reigns and has steered across every region of India and back.  There are also plans for a brand new lunch experience for all you working folks who have a hankering for Indian cuisine during your work day.  You can look forward to Indian-style bento boxes where you can eat-in or take-out a delicious wrap of your choice.

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Paneer (cottage cheese) wrap with side salad

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Spiced chicken wrap with side salad

My favorite was the paneer wrap, made with house-made paneer cheese simmered in a fantastically flavorful tomato sauce with sweet yellow bell peppers.  The side salad has fresh arugula, chic peas, golden raisins, carrots radishes and topped off with crunchy walnuts.  My head is spinning just thinking about it.

Chef Tyagi even has a vegetarian dish that comprises of fig balls with a delicious fig sauce.  “Many people think it is a Thai dish, but it is so Indian,” he said smiling.  His pride for his craft goes without saying, and he won’t say a word; he will present the dish, fold his hands and watch your reaction and then smile.

“I believe in fresh spices- not pre-made powders.  I believe in fresh vegetables, and good balanced flavor” -Chef Tyagi

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Ryan Ingram was born and raised in Redwood City, and would have never guessed he would have been running a bar with a like-minded counterpart when he was working at Starbucks in his 20’s.  His love of food and flavor began when his ex was in culinary school and they began exploring restaurants together.  His first “out-of-the-box” cocktail was a Southside.  And being a gin drinker- he was hooked.  Soon after, it took little convincing for him to enroll in SF School of Bartending.  He loved it so much that he would come to class early and leave late and after he graduated, his reward was a trip to BevMo where he stock piled $900 in spirits to take home for his personal bar…you know, for homework.  After his stash dwindled, he didn’t get sad- he got creative.  Ryan had heard of infusing alcohol before but wasn’t really sure what all the fuss was about…until he tried it himself.  He began to experiment with fruits and vegetables to find the best most impactful combination.  “Infusing requires so much patience, it’s so hard not to taste a bit of it everyday- you have to wait so you can have some at the end to make your drinks!” Ryan chuckled.  Ryan likes whipping up fresh creations so much, would much rather prefer to go home and add more recipes to his book than hang out at a dive.  “Why go somewhere where I know the drinks aren’t going to be up to my standards, when I could just do it at home?,” he says.  Ryan’s ah-ha moment came after working at Friday’s as bar manager, and realized there was no room to stretch his creative wings.  Enter- Amber Dhara.

Favorite Spirits:

1. Gin!
2. Tequila
3. Irish Whiskey

Favorite Flavor Combinations:

1. Spicy, spicy, spicy!
2. Cucumber + gin
3. Pineapple + spicy hot peppers (habanero or serrano)

John Harris isn’t your typical San Francisco transplant.  A New Orleans native, John had been in the service industry for years.  Starting out as a dishwasher, and soon after an oyster shucker at a bar in NOLA, he gathered his skills working in practically role a restaurant has to offer.  His first real bartending job was at a high-traffic bar on Bourbon Street where serving drinks was like fighting your way out of a lions den.  His first introduction to infused spirits was at a friend’s Mexican-themed party where he mixed strawberries, tequila, and Grand Marnier.  And like magic, he noticed as he put time and effort into his cocktails, there was a shift; “I noticed when I made better drinks, I had better parties, and when I had better parties- I had better friends.”  But living in small-town South, something was pushing John to do more.  Interested in construction, John enrolled in Louisiana State University to study architecture, bartending his way through school.  After a stint working as a carpenter and some training to become a Green Baret, there was just something about the service industry that kept calling him back.  But where could he go where he could embrace his creative passion for food and drink?  So, with Seattle in mind, John hopped on his bike (not a motorcycle- an ACTUAL bike) and rode to the West Coast, stopping in San Francisco with plans to stay for a couple of weeks to see a few friends.  John has been in San Francisco for a year now and is loving every inch of the The City.

Favorite Spirits:

1. Tequila

2. Vodka

Favorite Flavor Combinations:

1. Light airy

2. Spice / Heat

I was surprised to find that Ryan and John didn’t know each other prior to working at Amber Dhara together.  I just assumed they were life-long friends.  Their shared passion, joy and discovery of finding unique flavor combinations is nothing short of kismet.  They are practically yin and yang.  Together, they have created 16 (yes, you read that right) infused spirits from scratch and put together an extensive cocktail menu (in which they only had a week to construct).  Check it out.

  1. Espresso Vodka
  2. Blueberry Vodka
  3. Raspberry Vodka
  4. Strawberry Pepper Vodka
  5. Blueberry Ginger Gin
  6. Cutie Tangerine Gin
  7. Cutie Raspberry Gin
  8. Blood Orange Gin
  9. Dried Red Pepper Tequilla
  10. Chocolate Vanilla Bourbon
  11. Mango Rum
  12. Avocado + Cutie Tangerine + Verte Absinthe + Mezcal
  13. Bloody Mary Vodka: Cherry tomato, cucumber, serrano peppers, worcestershire sauce, salt & pepper
  14. Serrano Pineapple Tequila
  15. Apple Pie Rye
  16. Serrano Pineapple Strawberry Tequila

Serrano, Pineapple, Strawberry Tequilla

Apple Pie Rye

Serrano and Pineapple Tequila

“You may come in here as vodka lover, but I will make sure you go out loving everything else” – Ryan

“When you learn to drink, it’s like eating.  You should eat well, and you should drink well”  -John

“We want [Amber Dhara] to be just as comfortable as your home” -Ryan

“There is no reason you can’t have high quality” -John

Signature Amber Dhara Cocktails:

Mallika

Mallika

-White Jasmine Tea infused gin, fresh lemon, honey water, egg white foam and topped off with dried rose petals

Has a smooth and elegant body, with a light as air finish.  Enjoy the smell of an ancient rose garden as you sip.

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Tantra Mantra

-Ginger root, blackberries, muddled Tobasco, lime juice, vodka, topped off with ginger beer

Has a sweet base with a kick in the tastebuds with Tobasco heat and ginger spice.  Timid need not apply.

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Mojini

-Green cardamom pods, Tequila blanco, Pimms, pineapple juice, lime juice, and saffron infused simple syrup

Has a floral bouquet with a perfect balance of citrus acidity and smooth finish.

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Mithya

-Coconut paste, coconut rum, lime juice, simple syrup, mint, coconut water, soda water

Has a smooth and sweet frothy balance, with a dreamy hint of citrus and mint.  Mysteriously hydrating and potently sneaky.

From left to right: Chef Manish Tyagi, Ryan Ingram, John Harris

From left to right: Chef Manish Tyagi, Ryan Ingram, John Harris

Basically it’s like this, mix one part passion, one part fresh ingredients, one part renegade chef and one part love.  Shake and serve neat.  You, my friend, just made yourself an Amber Dhara.  You will never have a typical night ever again.

Amber Dhara
680 Valencia St
(between Sycamore St & 18th St)
San Francisco, CA 94110
Neighborhood: Mission
415.400.5699
 
Sun-Thu- 5-11pm
Fri & Sat 5pm-12am
Sat & Sun 11:30am-3pm (brunch hours)
 
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