Mantra Happy Hour Report - Palo Alto
We had a rare date night, and decided to try out the 50% off the entire menu at Mantra as reported in this thread:
We arrived at 5:45 or so, and there were plenty of seats open on a Tuesday night. IT was busier than other restaurants in Palo Alto when we left though.
We were able to do the tasting menu - $22 for a 4 course meal. Pretty good deal.
Service was fantastic - the barkeeper was very nice, even though we weren't drinking, just eating (even though we don't drink, being about ready to pop pregnant always makes it more palatable to servers used to making money on drinks : ) ). He was very kind, talking us through the menu, with allergies, and subbing out the dessert for fruit even though there are usually no substitutions.
With one hit, one decent, and the rest not great, don't know if I will be rushing back.
First course we had a "chaat edamame" salad - bland, potatoes still rather crispy, but not too starchy tasting. Beet salad, needed some acid - beets were not particularly flavorful.
Second course: tomato soup with ginger gelee. Pretty good - I didn't finish mine, but hubby did. Gelee was good.
Third course: Duck with risotto - risotto overly acidic, and duck didn't have much flavor - as tad overcooked. Didn't finish this dish.
Smoked tofu - this was excellent. Tons of flavor, good balance, served with a kind of unique cheesy basmati rice with tomato sauce and spinach.
Dessert: I had berries. Saffron creme brulee DH had was curdled some, and not particularly well executed - but he ate it. Served with berries, macerated raisins, and a tuile.
Turns out Mantra has a early and late happy our. Kitchen's open till about 11 and the bar's open past 12 or so, lingering is an option. Arrive after 9:30, sit in the bar area, and you get 25% off. I didn't know this, but my super-special-restaurant-spidey-sense said we should should sit in the bar area, so we moved before all our party arrived, and later inspection of the menu said we just triggered the "second happy hour" provision. Saved us a sweet $30.
We arrived after seeing a pan-asian music show at stanford with Kronos Quartet, lots of arabic / egyptian / mongolian / avant garde mashup, which is why I thought of Mantra. Our mood was to have a few drinks and enjoy a plate or two, not as much fine dining. The atmosphere was a good match, although I'll say the menu's quite short these days, shorter than I remember from a previous visit.
We had the duck as well, and I liked it. I found the preparation flavorful and the sauce in the risotto tasty, although in retrospect not as flavorful as duck should be. We ended up grabbing two orders of the scallop appetizer, although they weren't the best scallops of the week (naomi sushi beat them), they were good. I very much liked the cinnamon drumstick appetizer - kind of like a kefte kabob formed around a cinnamon stick.
We had some kind of fish. A salmon maybe. I didn't order it, and it was cooked in a dry fashion that made it almost lox-like, brought out the flavor. Might have even been a seared lox. If they were trying for a standard salmon preparation, the dish was poorly cooked, but I liked the flavor.
Drinks seemed a little light on the pouring, or maybe it was friday after a long week and I was thirsty. Not exceptional, and I remember better from a previous trip.
We were happy with our choice and our evening, but not a top-100-of-the-bay-area kind of thing (mantra made Bauer's list when it opened - along with Junoon that year - a clear violation of his stated goal to collect a broad selection of restaurant types). My go-to for late drinks and food has been iTapas, but I wasn't sure the new Bistro Asie is open the same hours, or the quality of the bartender. The 25% off was a good bonus.
I think the real difference between my experience and jsaimd's is our expectations. I was hoping for some food after a show, two people for a full meal, two for snacks, in a relaxed environment. They had a rare date night. We got more than just some random food, we got pretty good food. They were expecting excellent food, and got pretty good food.
I definitely agree that you must go only for the 50% off happy hour. I have been three times so far, twice on Friday nights, and have managed to sit at a table, which is surprising because it's been pretty crowded. Also, the waiters have been great about charging us half price as long as we ordered by 6:30 p.m., and they even come by with a last call for drinks and food.
The things I have enjoyed on the menu have been carrot ginger soup, the naanizza, the smoked tofu, and the wheat paratha with coconut chili sauce. They also have a great drink - a rosewater mojito that's non-alcoholic but can be made with alcohol if you ask. The not-so-great dishes have been the chaat masale edamame salad, the vegetarian hyderabadi biryani, and any of the three desserts I have tried (tiramisu, molten chocolate cake, and chocolate cigars).
I will also have to say that as a vegetarian, I like this place better than Junoon. However, my husband who is a meat-eater likes Junoon better. But considering the fact that the last time we went there and the bill was $100 for four people for appetizers, entrees, dessert, and two rounds of drinks for each of us, Mantra is hard to pass up for Junoon's prices.