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Mantra update

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  • thejulia Mar 16, 2006 12:18 PM
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A few nights ago, we went back for appetizers and drinks in the lounge, rather than the main dining room.

We shared a samosa medley (lamb, veg and something else) and oysters in champagne gelee. The samosas were good, not too oily, not too big, flaky dough, very nice chutney dribbled around it. Could have been a bit more spiced, but it wasn't bland. Pretty pricey though.

Our oysters in champagne gelee were horrific. Essentially, it was an oyster suspended in gelee (in a shot glass) that could have been anything (no strong champagne flavor), smothered with non-sugared whipped cream (maybe creme fraiche?) on top of it and a dollop of caviar. The cream overwhelmed whatever flavor there was except for the oyster. The oyster itself didn't taste as fresh as it could be. Was this supposed to be an haute version of an oyster shooter?

Also, service was very confused. One server set the shot glasses down and told it was dessert. Imagine if you were actually expecting dessert and got that!

I would still go back for that kobe wagyu steak, but I am very anti that oyster app and feeling a bit mixed in general about Mantra now.

If you're messing with raw oysters, you need a light hand to let the oyster shine through. Manresa's perfect oyster in it's own gelee with a touch of mignonette served in a shell was what I ended up comparing the poor Mantra version to.

Think I'll wait a bit longer before going back this time.

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  1. Where is Mantra?

    1 Reply
    1. re: Ch Addict

      Mantra = 632 Emerson Street in Palo Alto. (650) 332-3500

      Link: http://www.mantrapaloalto.com

    2. One of the worst restaurants I have even been to. Went there last night with some friends who had been there before. I knew we were in trouble when I looked at the menu. A random mish mash of overwrought flavors that you couldn't even imagine eating. Lamb T-bones with Chocolate Oil?

      We got Naan bread when we sat down and it was really oily - and the oil even tasted like it was off. Have had better at a hole in the wall curry place. We ordered the Lamb kebab 3 way appetizer and the Mixed Breads. The Lamb kebabs were three tiny pieces of lamb that basically looked like dog turds. Only one of the kebabs didn't taste weird. The bread basket was as greasy and tasteless as the "free" bread. We also order three entrees to share: Chicken Tikka, Salmon with Oyster Risotta, and some beef thing I can't remember.

      While they were presented with a flourish, the actual presentation on the plate was just not attractive. The portions were small which wasn't an issue - they just didn't look tasty.

      The chicken tikka was beige chunks of chicken in a beige sauce that I think was on something like polenta or potatoes - some beige tasteless thing. The salmon really fishy tasting - I could barely manage one bite. The beef thing was just ok.

      Put it this way, there was 5 of us at the table, three tiny entrees and there were leftovers because we all hated it.

      My friends and I won't go back. Too many other restaurants out there to waste our time.

      1. One of the worst restaurants I have even been to. Went there last night with some friends who had been there before. I knew we were in trouble when I looked at the menu. A random mish mash of overwrought flavors that you couldn't even imagine eating. Lamb T-bones with Chocolate Oil?

        We got Naan bread when we sat down and it was really oily - and the oil even tasted like it was off. Have had better at a hole in the wall curry place. We ordered the Lamb kebab 3 way appetizer and the Mixed Breads. The Lamb kebabs were three tiny pieces of lamb that basically looked like dog turds. Only one of the kebabs didn't taste weird. The bread basket was as greasy and tasteless as the "free" bread. We also order three entrees to share: Chicken Tikka, Salmon with Oyster Risotta, and some beef thing I can't remember.

        While they were presented with a flourish, the actual presentation on the plate was just not attractive. The portions were small which wasn't an issue - they just didn't look tasty.

        The chicken tikka was beige chunks of chicken in a beige sauce that I think was on something like polenta or potatoes - some beige tasteless thing. The salmon really fishy tasting - I could barely manage one bite. The beef thing was just ok.

        Put it this way, there was 5 of us at the table, three tiny entrees and there were leftovers because we all hated it.

        My friends and I won't go back. Too many other restaurants out there to waste our time.

        1. Why do restaurants like Mantra exist? Since the place has been uniformly panned on Chowhound, I had to investigate.

          Last night we went and had a full dinner. Before I get to the deeper question, I admit that it was a perfectly mediocre dinner -- everything edible; only one thing good, and that was liquid.

          We started with a In Zen martini. Strongly cucumber-flavored gin with sake for sweetness and a cucumber-skin twist. This is a fine drink, and a reminder that the squash family does indeed deserve a place at the bar. That's it for the good.

          The yellow dal was insipid. I brought our leftovers home so that I could examine it under daylight. I think it's just salt, dal, water, oil, maybe garlic, tumeric, nutmeg, cayenne pepper, and cilantro. I can't find a single black mustard or nigella seed, there doesn't seem to be any curry leaf flavor. It's really just what you might throw together in a saucepan for a quick dinner.

          Along with the dal, we had lamb naan. The ground lamb stuffing proved dry, overcooked, and redolent of absolute tastelessness. The naan outside had a sort of stiff feeling, like it had been rewarmed in a toaster. Again, not inedible, but without any inspiration at all.

          The three chutneys alongside were tamarind, which was syrupy sweet like a lot of jarred tamarind sauces; mango, which was a pretty orange and pretty completely forgettable; and mint, which tasted principally of the mainstay of a lot of the food: cilantro.

          The next dish was the one that came close to the despair that you read in other chowhound posts. Described as "Thinly sliced ahi grade tuna tossed with cilantro pesto. With radishes, yuzu, and micro greens," it is in fact an inferior form of inexpertly prepared tuna salad. The goopy, oily sauce on the tuna overshadowed everything else, and the only detectable microgreen flavor was that of the broad beans, somehow left out of the description. I have the leftovers, because the B-grade tuna is fairly fresh and it will make an edible sandwich once I have minced it all.

          Finally, we had the sense to finish with the tandoori mixed grill. It's a surf and turf mixed grill, and we got three overcooked lambchops, two chunks of chicken, a shrimp, and a nice piece of seabass. All very simple, and none of it amazing. The seabass, surprisingly, was cooked the right amount, still juice inside but cooked through. The shrimp looked big and impressively red, but had been overcooked just to the near side of gummi bear texture. Incongruously in the center of the platter was a cylinder of uninteresting potato and chickpea salad, slightly below room temperature. For surf and turf in Palo Alto, try La Bodeguita del Medio on California Ave.

          So why is Mantra with us?

          It can't be the food. It's not the attentive or knowledgeable service, which was friendly, almost ineffably slow, and slightly bumbling.

          I'd put money on the dim lights and well spaced tables. We had, in fact, a romantic dinner, weren't subjected to others' conversations, and got left to our devices. This kind of atmosphere is difficult to achieve. On one end you get the swank opulence of something like the Ritz-Carlton dining room, where you might wonder if you're using the wrong end of the fork. On the other end you get the hipper-than-your-bistro hubbub of, say, Boulevard. Given the right room-feel and at least edible food, for a lot of people the added quality would be mere gravy.

          Or it might be the drinks. Maybe if you make good enough, unusual enough $10 martinis, it doesn't matter at all what food you serve.

          Mantra, 632 Emerson, Palo Alto, 650 322 3500.