It’s no mean feat to find interesting Indian food in this country. More often than not, Indian restaurants use only one or two masalas-spice blends-to flavor their dishes, and the palate gets tired of them quickly. Conversely, no self-respecting Indian home cook would use the same masala twice at a dinner party. That’s why home cooked meals in an Indian house are often spectacular, and eye-opening when compared to restaurants.
Patan Bose, the chef/owner at Mantra Masala, is a philosopher, chef, and proponent of ayurveda, a Hindu system of alternative medicine based on herbs and natural products. At Mantra Masala, Bose has attempted to incorporate these ideas into his cooking. The restaurant uses far less oil in traditional preparations than the other Indian restaurants in the city, and the result is a cuisine that you may find different than the others here.
Whether you like it or not, though, this is a healthier version of Indian cuisine than other Indian restaurants in Las Vegas offer, and the spicing is more varied and interesting. He is a native of the Indian state of West Bengal, known for its largest city, Kolkata, and for a distinctive cooking style that makes frequent use of seafood and mustard seed oil, for dal (stewed, curried lentils) and fish preparations.
Bose has recently launched a new menu, and I stopped in to try a few dishes. Together with his beautiful daughter, Ryli, the two are running an exciting operation. Bose brought several dishes to my table that I haven’t tasted before in Vegas. One was dal cooked in the mustard seed oil, an off-menu item that he usually reserves for his family. A second surprise was a new menu item, pan seared sea bass, coated with a fragrant spice crust.
I completely enjoyed my evening here. The restaurant has a shortcoming, though, and that is a hard-to-spot location. It’s in the rear of a mini-mall on Warm Springs Rd., just E. of Durango Bl., and for some reason, Bose has blacked out the windows, so that it looks closed when it is, in fact, open.
Inside, the atmosphere is charming. The restaurant is filled with Indian paintings, cloth wall hangings depicting Indian village scenes, and wooden crafts. During the evening, it has soft lighting, while for lunch, there is a hearty buffet illuminated by natural light.
My wife, from Nepal, is no stranger to this cuisine, and she gave almost everything we ate a hearty thumbs up. We began with papri chat and aloo tikki, Indian snacks eaten by hand. The first is flour crisps with vegetables and tamarind sauce, mint chutney, roasted cumin, raw mango powder and diced potato-think Indian nachos. Aloo tikki are pan fried potato croquettes drizzled with sauces and more of the raw mango powder.
Then came a parade of proteins. Bose makes a wonderful dish he calls bazari chicken, sort of like chicken tenders, if instead of a crunchy batter, they had been given a yogurt marinade, and then rolled in a masala with cumin, turmeric, coriander and other spices. Boti kabab is large chunks of lamb also cooked in the tandoor-cylindrical clay oven, like the bazari chicken. The pan seared fish, which has a totally different flavor profile, cooks on a flat metal grill.
Bose served us several of his new specialties, including mussels masala, steamed with tomato, garlic, cumin, coriander and rose petal water, and Goa prawn curry, done with a coconut chutney and a secret five spice blend he wouldn’t divulge.
Naturally, there was fragrant Basmati rice and several tandoori breads on the side. For dessert, we had chikoo (an Indian fruit) ice cream, and warm gulab jamun, cheese balls in syrup. The accompanying beverage was Taj, Indian lager beer.
If I were you, I’d hightail it over to Mantra Masala. You’ll leave happy-and possibly even healthier than you were when you arrived.
Mantra Masala, at 8530 Warm Springs, Rd. 898-3666.
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