Ambar India, Clifton

Talking 'Bout Our Generation

First introduced in 1927, the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics states that no process can truly be observed because, just by observing it, the process is altered permanently. And what does that have to do with a local restaurant?

Well, although seemingly unconnected, I'm reminded of the Copenhagen Interpretation after being told to eat at Ambar India, snap a roll of film and describe the ambiance for CityBeat readers. See, the folks at the next table think you're pretty weird when you keep trying to take a photo of their dinner.

But wait for 20 minutes or so, and slowly the mood recovers. People stop wondering who the crazy with the camera is, resume their conversations and start enjoying their food once more.

Ambar, located in Clifton's Gaslight District, is set among solid, red-brick apartment buildings, leafy streets crowded with cars, dusty trinket stores and other ethnic eateries. There's Thai, Chinese, Pizza and Tex-Mex, dine-in or carry out. Each establishment offers passersby a steamy window through which they can glimpse its patrons. None, though, are steamier than those of Ambar India, the area's most popular Indian restaurant.

The eclectic atmosphere of Ludlow Avenue defines Ambar almost as much as the food that's served there. Pierced coffeehouse kids mill around comparing tattoos, young professionals struggle with baby-filled papooses and Yoga moms use any available streetlight as a stretching aid, eager to not lose their Tantric buzz before they get home.

And probably the first thing that strikes those entering Ambar is that its clientele is equally cosmopolitan. Even following a recent extension, the restaurant is always crowded and bustling with activity, its conversation loud and frequently punctuated with laughter. The next thing a diner notices is the aroma of the food. Rich and spicy, the smell is half the experience of eating at Ambar.

Trays are carried by wait staff from the clang and steam of the kitchen, loaded with various Indian dishes — Korma, Jalfrezi, Vindaloo, Makhani, Tandoori chicken. The names are exotic and the colors a painter's dream: rich ochres, sienna, deep oranges and reds. A spicy and tangy array of chutneys is placed at each table for the members of each party to share, along with great mounds of steaming communal rice and leavened Naan bread or chapatti to sop up thick curry sauces. And the tablecloth always looks like a war zone afterwards, but no one cares — it's messy food and to eat any other way would somehow dampen the experience.

The menu offers dishes with subtle differences in ingredients and an extensive range of vegetarian alternatives that are no less loaded with flavor. Mysterious, colorful drinks and imported Indian beers also are available for the more adventurous. The staff is friendly, always available to offer well-informed advice on menu choices and administer iced water to the uninitiated.

So forget about the Copenhagen Interpretation. Try the Ambar Interpretation instead. Be prepared to share your food, eat with your hands and break a sweat in the process. And don't worry — Graeters is just down the street, waiting with the perfect dessert.