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Restaurant Review: Mantra

It is no wonder why Mantra was named one of the seventy-five “most intriguing restaurants” in the world on Conde Nast’s Hot List last year. This is French-Indian fusion preeminence. Established by former chef Thomas John (America’s Best New Chefs 2002, Food & Wine), current resident chefs Quinone and Carolan skillfully marry sophistication with subtlety in both presentation and flavor, and leave little to be desired within an evening of haute-cuisine-couture bliss.

If indecisiveness is your weakness, you may feel slightly inadequate when perusing the menu. Filled with many innovative and enticing options, we become so entangled with choice that we opted for the five course tasting menu paired with picks from Sommelier David Singer (Best Sommelier of Manhattan 2000, formerly of the Federalist, Boston).

From the onset, the experience was as magnetic as the setting is avant-garde – a $3M transformation of the Old Colony Trust Bank (by Office dA, former Harvard Design School) that includes marble walls, high ceilings with rich moldings, and an opulent hookah den. To tease the palate, a small roasted red pepper and tomato cappuccino arrives, with a small dollop of crŠme fraiche. Warm rounds of soft naan are also served, complemented by an addictive cashew and cilantro spread.

We start with the Tuna and Salmon Raita, a combination tartare served with sesame lavash. The salmon is lightly marinated in a yogurt and ginger concoction, and served molded over a thinly sliced cucumber. The tuna is a phenomenal mix of flavors – the delicate essence of grapefruit, counterbalanced by the slight sting from flakes of red pepper. We indulge in the tartare with a couple of selections from the martini list – a slightly fizzy Bellinitini (peach nectar, vodka and undercurrents of champagne) and a very fruity Strawberry Shortcake. Brilliant.

Next to arrive are the scallops, served over a capsicum coulis and curried lobster, mushroom and endive salad. The subtle curry flavor brings the capsicum to life; the scallop is seared to perfection and captures a delicate essence of the sea. A pinot gris adds a honeysuckle and tangerine undertones.

However, the show stopper is unquestionably the fois gras, a dish so robust and complex that it could easily stand alone as a main. The multiple layers of taste are extremely versatile: the fois gras, served warm and slightly crisp on the exterior, melts in the mouth; the ravioli bursts with hearty lobster meat, which adds diversity and is further complimented by a touch of rich goat cheese; and the cherry reduction rounds the dish with its tart after-bite. What better to go with this magnificent creation than a 20-year Graham’s Tawny Port? This truly approaches culinary perfection.

A short interlude of peach sorbet purifies the palate – delicate enough to transition to the fish. The clay-oven roasted Monkfish and the pan-seared Black Bass both outdo themselves. The Monkfish is served on a bed of wilted spinach and capsicum chutney. The Black Bass, trapped, not farm raised, lies amongst a saut‚ed artichoke and purple potato mixture. A Hen-of-the-Woods mushroom is an accompanying delicacy, with a frothy pea emulsion to add an intricate, but subtle, dimension to the dish.

Without a doubt, the game selections are of similar high standards. The lamb is cooked just enough to preserve its velvety texture, served alongside fingerling potatoes, wilted spinach, and deep cinnamon-colored au jus. The Venison Tenderloin also offers a wonderful combination of flavors – bitter broccoli rabe offsets the molded aloo jeera (potato and cumin seeds), and all three sit within a racy peppercorn reduction.

The close of the tasting menu continues to exert its incomparability. The warm pumpkin soup and vanilla kulfi dessert, with a thin black and white sesame tuile, is light yet hearty – a perfect autumn finale. The chocolate tasters menu is an indulgent trio of Grand Marnier Chocolate Mousse, thick and rich dark chocolate sorbet, and a very dense chocolate truffle cake, presented in art-deco style with candied oranges and pulled sugar. We indulge in a glass of Veuve Cliquot, and for a few minutes lose all contact with the surrounding world.

But hours have passed and the tables are slowly being rearranged. A strong beat emerges from a newly set DJ area and the mystique of the night takes over where our culinary experience has ended. It has been a flawless evening of cuisine excellence. Mantra is truly unparalleled class and style; a rare find in Boston.

Details:
Dinner for two with moderately priced wine ~ $150
Dinner for two, five-course tasting with Sommelier’s pick: $200
Mantra
52 Temple Place
(Ladder District)
Boston, MA
(617) 542-8111

December 13, 2004
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