December 13, 2006

Mantra [Palo Alto]

You have to give Mantra props for what the chef's interpretation on Indian cuisine. It's not an Indian fusion restaurant, so don't expect muted versions of Indian food catered for the Western palette. The menu reads more as New American with undertones of Indian, where Indian spices and preparation belie the philosophy behind the cooking. This genre of American cuisine has yet been unattempted by any restaurant, so if you come without expectations, you're bound to be pleasantly surprised.

We started with the Shrimp Vinhaleaux, which was served three to a platter. While the shrimp were marinated in chili and cinnamon, we could only taste the chili, which was generously encrusted on our overcooked shrimp. In theory the tart flavors in the salad should have offset the sweet-spiciness of the shrimp, but the kitchen must have fallen short on execution that night.

Next came our garlic and chili flake naan with the yellow lentil dal of the day. Our naan was rolled a little thin and crunchy to the bite. I wasn't sure if this was an intentional interpretation, but I found the naan so dry that I opted to order the dal to give us something to dip in. The dal, a lentil soup, at Mantra was probably the most traditionally prepared Indian dish on the menu---don't miss it.

We shared the Kashmiri Sea Bass entre and were told that it was the most popular item on the menu---and with good reason. The flesh of the fish itself was fragrant with the marinade of cayenne pepper and mustard without the help of an accompanying sauce. I could have eaten the filet sans mashed potatoes, sides, or accompaniments of any sort.

We ordered the chocolate lava cake for dessert and were brought two mini cakes for the celebration of a birthday. Dessert was average at best and I still prefer Delfina's bittersweet Scharffen Berger version.

At 6pm, we had our pick of the lot and chose a table window-side 100 feet from the only other party seated at that time. The lounge-feel of the dining room seemed out of place for the age demographic present that night, but then again it is Palo Alto.

632 Emerson Street
Palo Alto, CA 94301
(650) 322-3500

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