Sometimes who you eat with at a restaurant can make or break the experience, but even loving your company won’t help Amber.
Despite its misleading height of three floors, Amber is a relatively small asian restaurant on the second floor of its Gramercy location. The third floor is mostly unused, except for private parties, and gives the restaurant lofty high ceilings. The first is primarily “a bar area for young people,” in the area according to Wi Pam, the assistant manager. It’s long electric blue bar is modern looking and complimented by the neon orange of the stairs that clashes nicely with the brick facade hiding behind a curtain.
The space fits roughly 50 hungry people pressed together during the busy lunch hours in a closely spaced tables. It has two long leather couches on either of the exposed brick walls, but those stuck in the aisle’s wooden chairs will be surprised at how comfortably you sink in to them. The tables are an elegant dark mahogany that in the candle lit dinner atmosphere is almost romantic; I say almost because the Katy Perry blaring on the sound system is anything but.
Before you place an order the wait staff is patient, practically invisible. The same is true for when you get thirsty or need a fork if you’re not trained in the art of chopsticks. They begin to test your patience after a while but the giant Buddha surrounded by a small pond of fish by the kitchen remind you to keep your inner peace.
Once the food arrives, faster than the slow service might initially indicate, you realize the reason for the diner like prices. The portions are immense, but the food is disappointingly simple in flavor. Buddhist delight ($9.00), a combination of squash, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus and noodles were so drenched in soy sauce that the smell and taste was uniform. The texture of the vegetables also varied from hard huge chunks of the broccoli and cauliflower to smushy squash in your mouth, something I was unprepared for. The side of sticky white rice it came with reminded me of a cheap Chinatown restaurant and did not effectively compliment the dish in any way, even to soak up some of the soy sauce.
The pineapple fried rice ($9.00) was a little better, but that’s not saying much. It comes in an empty pineapple shell, which is nice, but just like the Buddhist delight, the combination of pineapple, cashews, an array of vegetables and shrimp did not combine well to bring out any of the flavor. The pineapple for example had a sharp sweetness that didn’t allow anything else in the bite to be tasted. If you tried each individual element with just the rice however, it fared better in the taste buds.
“I want to just eat the cashews alone, I’d be disloyal to them if I combined them with the shrimp,” said Jessica Rozario, who left a third of her food untouched.
Needless to say, we decided not to take remainder of her meal home. It was nice to sit there though. If you eat there on a weekday night only a few people downstairs silently drink their cocktails, the second floor plays poppy music giving it a lounge feel and no one, especially not the wait staff, bothers you. Just makes sure not to get your hair stuck on the gum stuck on the wall. If you want good Asian cuisine you would probably have better luck eating at any of the other 18 restaurants in the area.