.A Festival of Spices at Ambrosia India Bistro in Scotts Valley

Loaded with intricate spices, shimmering and earthy flavors, Indian cuisine is as good as cooking gets. Foods from the northern Indian Punjab provide stand-out memories of the Ambrosia Indian Bistro newly opened in Scotts Valley. Our senses were undeniably expanded after a meal here, and the reason is spice! Ginger, garlic, coriander, cayenne pepper, and garam masala (itself a spice blend combining cardamom, cumin, cloves, cinnamon and black pepper). Most of Ambrosia’s curry dishes, chutneys, and savory sauces offered a blend of some—or all!—of these.

Last week, craving the flavor high that only Indian food can deliver, we checked out the newest Ambrosia, located across the street from the Hilton Hotel, right off Highway 17. The modern and welcoming interior has been smartly inflected with traditional carved and embroidered crafts and fantastic aromas. Attired in crisp black uniforms, the helpful and attentive staff brought water, a basket of feather-light, paper-thin papadums, and a tray of chutneys almost immediately after we were seated. At this point, I want to remind readers that I timed our drive from the Westside of Santa Cruz to the Ambrosia parking lot at exactly 10 minutes.

Crunching away on those gossamer papadums—lentil crackers—we sampled the green mint chutney, the delicious, slightly sweet tamarind chutney, and the house pickle involving lots of red pepper, garlic, carrots, and tiny cauliflower florets. We immediately ordered a second helping of the house pickle, a condiment so vivacious that it could amplify and distinguish almost anything edible. Stupendously spicy, this relish came in handy later in the meal as an adornment for the lavish Tandoori Mixed Grill ($23) that formed the centerpiece of our dinner. A festival for our tastebuds had already begun.

To augment the traditional clay-oven bouquet of tandoori chicken, shrimp and lamb sausage, we ordered another curry of lamb ($16), sauced in fresh coconut cream and green peppercorns. And my always favorite vegetable curry, Aloo Gobi ($10), showcasing what a finely spiced sauce can do for potatoes and cauliflower. I enjoyed my glass of Estancia Sauvignon Blanc ($7) and my companion his St. Pauli Girl ($4.50) as we munched ourselves senseless over the spice pyrotechnics of the fiery house pickle chutney.

Then the main dishes arrived, smartly served with obvious pride and flair. Covering every inch of our table were tureens of steaming curries, one with fat chunks of aromatic lamb, the other loaded with spiced veggies. The centerpiece was a sizzling iron platter piled high with huge chunks of colorful chicken (red from tandoori chili powder), shrimp and plump lamb sausages, on a bed of onions. I added some of the pickle to the chicken, and quickly discovered that I liked the beautifully seasoned, finely textured sausage the best. But it was the showcase Aloo Gobi that stole our hearts. Fiery with red and black peppers and cinnamon, coriander, garlic, and cloves, the curry was nothing short of brilliant. Let me confess—Ambrosia’s kitchen had produced the best Aloo Gobi I’ve ever tasted anywhere, including London, New York, and San Francisco. Perhaps the lamb curry could have been a bit bolder for my taste (no worries, I simply added a few hits of chutney), but joined by brown rice, everything was wonderful. We took most of our generous portions home for lunch the next day, vowing to work our way through Ambrosia’s entire, mouthwatering menu.

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Ambrosia Indian Bistro is open daily from 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 5-9:30 p.m. 6006 La Madrona Drive, Scotts Valley. 713-5594.


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