From guacamole to peking duck rolls, dishes prepared at your table somehow seem to elevate the dining experience. Now chaat-Indian snacks usually sold from street-vendor carts-has joined the pantheon of tableside-prep.
From guacamole to peking duck rolls, dishes prepared at your table somehow seem to elevate the dining experience. Now chaat-Indian snacks usually sold from street-vendor carts-has joined the pantheon of tableside-prep. At least that’s the case at Mantra, the sophisticated Indian eatery occupying the old Namaskaar spot on Route 4 West, where you can watch the ingredients get minced, chopped, diced, spiced and ultimately tossed together with a flourish.
Elegantly decorated in shades of saffron, from deep orange-red to golden yellow, the space feels posh to be sure. Arrive early if you like and have a specialty martini-like the Goan, a sweet and spicy orange vodka drink featuring fresh cardamom and pineapple juice, or a refreshing cucumber lemonade gin martini made sweet with Sprite-at the eatery’s "Nirvana" lounge.
Although it’s trying a tad too hard to be swanky, the spacious, boutique-like bar is perfect for meeting friends and enjoying the bites and nibbles that make Mantra so tantalizing.
Certainly, the aforementioned chaat-a blend of chickpeas, diced potatoes and papdi (fried dough crisps), tossed in a spicy sauce-is a temptation. Crispy, starchy, tangy, a touch sweet, it satisfies every texture and flavor craving. You’ll be prepped for that festival of flavor thanks to the complimentary bowl of bhel-a variety of chaat made here with puffed rice, onion and a mysterious blend of spices- served for you to munch as you ponder the menu. All these treats could certainly spoil your appetite, so practice restraint.
After all, you’ll want to order a bread basket, a bountiful array of the naan (we had the garlic kind), kulcha and paratha absolutely necessary for enjoying every last drop of the sauces. But fear not: This is not to say the preparations are in any way greasy, heavy or sodden, as can be the case with less skillfully prepared Indian cuisine. Instead, the dishes and accompaniments are fresh and delightful-like the mellow mango sauce gracing the succulent shrimp appetizer, as well as the chutney and coriander dips.
The bread also came in handy for savoring the baigan, chunks of eggplant stewed with peanuts, sesame and coconut. A hearty and filling vegetarian entrée, it boasts layers of flavor and texture-from the mild eggplant to the crunchy peanut to the sweet coconut.
You’ll want to try something from the tandoor, and we opted for the lahori seekh kebab: three minced lamb kebabs crusted with onions and spices then cooked in the clay oven for a simple yet nicely nuanced entrée. A side of raita, the refreshing yogurt-cucumber dip, was delicious scooped up with a bit of bread or atop a forkful of lamb. The three accompanying chutneys, however, were less successful- salty and overspiced.
If you’re still hungry after enjoying the big made-to-share portions at Mantra, you can pick from a modest assortment of traditional Indian desserts. We sampled the kulfi, a type of ice cream that came in three flavors (mango, vanilla and pistachio), and rasmalai, cottage cheese dumplings floating in a bowl of saffron-infused cream. While both are good, they’re entirely skippable.
So don’t feel bad if you fill up on savory and have no room for sweet-or if you’d prefer to cap off your evening with another cocktail amid the lounge’s merry buzz.
275 Route 4, Paramus
- LUNCH: daily, 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.
- DINNER: Sunday through Wednesday, 5:30-10 p.m.; Thursday through Saturday, 5:30-10:30 p.m.
- LOUNGE: daily, 5 p.m.-1 a.m.
What you should know
- Entrées average $17
- Full bar
- Reservations recommended
- 10 percent off for Mantra Facebook fans
- Handicapped accessible
- AMEX, MasterCard, Visa accepted