"She is brilliant and she is dedicated and she is tough, and she is exactly what you'd want in anybody who is administering the law, and making sure that everybody is getting a fair shake," he said at an Atherton, California, fundraiser for his Democratic Party Thursday.
"She also happens to be by far the best-looking attorney general in the country - Kamala Harris is here," Obama added amid applause, according to a transcript provided by the White House.
"It's true. Come on. (Laughter.) And she is a great friend and has just been a great supporter for many, many years," he said of the first woman attorney general of California.
Harris, daughter of an Indian mother and an African-American father, was the first elected official in California to endorse Obama during his 2008 run for the White House and campaigned for him during his 2004 Senate run.
But Obama's playful remarks set of a little storm.
"Obama calls Kamala Harris 'best-looking:' Accurate, but sexist?" wondered the Los Angeles Times.
"Does merely stating the obvious make the president sexist? More wolfish than sexist, I'd say. And this may be a little problem he needs to work on," said columnist Robin Abcarian.
Obama had rekindled "talk about boys club" suggested The Washington Post noting his remarks "buzzed through Twitter and other social media, where reaction ranged from appalled to leave-the-guy-alone."
"Obama in Need of Gender-Sensitivity Training," said the New York Magazine.
"It's not a compliment. And for a president who has become a cultural model for many of his supporters in so many other ways, the example he's setting here is disgraceful," wrote columnist Jonathan Chait.
Obama was thus left feeling "the heat Thursday after calling a powerful female official smoking hot" as the New York Daily News put it.