When my worldly daughters were in search of authentic Indian food during a visit to the Triangle, our Internet searches led us to Mantra where our palates were challenged and delighted.
The Location: The restaurant and bar is conveniently located just off Raleigh's Glenwood South stretch, which means ample free parking and a bustling atmosphere. We dined on a Monday, and took advantage of bar specials in the neighborhood after our dinner.
The Meal: We started with creative cocktails, and that's where we saw the single disappointment of our visit. The watermelon mojito was bland and, after we returned it and asked for more simple syrup, still uninspired.
Our other two choices – Basil Cucumber Infusion and Kachumber Cooler – more than made up the difference. The cucumber dominated when mixed with vodka, club soda, basil, nutmeg and fresh ginger in the first and proved soothing and simple. The Kachumber was a knockout of a different sort. It too beguiled with the cooling sensations of cucumber and cilantro, but green chili muddled into gin made for a sneaky, spicy back-end bite. How can a drink be both cool and hot? This one strikes that note.
We started with naan, of course, and a combination appetizer of Samosa, Paneer Tikka resonant of mozzarella, Subz Corn Shammi and a fruity chutney. Our server Ken was knowledgeable about the menu, and described the ingredients and cooking method of each before we took a bite. Split three ways, it was enough to whet the appetite and indicate that Mantra is serious about Indian flavors.
Ken let us linger on the outdoor patio, refilling our drinks but not hovering, until we were ready for our entrees.
We got the gamut of spiciness from mellow, fragrant Chicken Korma through smoky, garlicky Chicken Tikka Masala to vicious Lamb Vindaloo bathed in a sauce of chili and black pepper. Each featured large chunks of tender meat and was served with the requisite basmati rice.
The Final Bill: Mantra is not Indian fast food, but discounts can be had. Signs around the hostess stand indicated that the restaurant participates in Groupon and other group buying offers, and Ken mentioned a push to grow the lunch crowd working downtown.
The Verdict: A trip outside the ordinary for those with adventurous tastebuds!