Thursday, October 4, 2012

Mint puts the cool in Indian cuisine

Mint Restaurant & Lounge
150 E. 50th St.
(212) 644-8888

What?  You mean this doesn't look like your typical samosa?  Well, that's because it isn't.  Unlike most Indian veggie pastries often cased in dried and crumbling parcels, this crust is flaky, delicate, and tears more like a golden-browned crescent roll stuffed with fluffy potatoes that have been whipped, spiced, and jeweled with plump peas--perfect for dunking into an accompanying coriander or tamarind chutney.

From the waterfall at the entrance, to the cool electric lounge, to the soothing yet vibrant dining room, to the recipes themselves, everything at Mint is precisely that... mint.  Often, Indian food is associated with heat, the unique and exotic spices, and the resulting fire that unfortunately often scares away newcomers, and often overpowers the nuances and flavors of the main ingredients.  Mint Restaurant and Lounge, however, is a refreshing departure from the daredevil spices and tongue-numbing curries.  Chef Gary Sikka has deliciously crafted a menu that maintains the integrity of traditional Indian cuisine, executing the dishes with a subtlety and awareness that should please lovers of Indian cuisine, yet graciously welcome newcomers to what can oftentimes be considered a polarizing culinary style.  It was a pleasant surprise to enjoy great renditions of some of my favorites without being forced to ask the server for extra napkins simply to wipe sweat and tears from my face.

A must-order for the table is the "Chilly Fish"--enormous cubes of sea bass marinated overnight in yogurt, rendering the fish extremely tender, juicy, and sweet, almost like jumbo pieces of lobster tossed in a tangy, herbed bell pepper sauce.

Another great starter, Bombay Masala Pao resembles a spiced bruschetta, with vibrant and chunky tomato spread on buttery focacia-like toast points.

The Aloo Methi Tikki is a jazzed up version of potato pancakes, instead spicy potato fenugreek fritters topped with stewed chick peas and dipping ramekins of mint and tamarind chutney.

Entrees arrive at the table in heaping bowls ideal for sharing family-style.  The sauces are decadent, thick, and creamy... and generously loaded with meat and seafood.  The chicken tikka masala rivals any in town.  The saag paneer is excellent, with inch-sized cubes of mild, soft Indian cheese accenting a creamed spinach so rich in flavor, you'll never order it in a steakhouse again.  Tender stewed lamb rounds out a mildy spiced yet brightly flavored dahiwala in a pumpkin colored yogurt curry.  Tear away pieces of their steaming, fluffy naan bread and pinch up finger sandwiches of a variety of dishes shared by the table for a true sampling of the best of what Mint has to offer.

But the real standouts at Mint are the meats and seafoods ever so perfectly grilled.  The cubes are some of most delicious I have ever enjoyed.  The secret?  They are marinated in yogurt with  few spices, trapping in the the flavors and moisture, and adding an unparalleled juiciness that makes even simple chicken skewers a real standout.  But again here, the most exciting dish was this sea bass tikka masala glistening in a charred fenugreek tomato glaze.

And no Indian feast is complete without gulab jamun, created by frying a special blend of dough and mild Indian cheeses into a warm, golden orb, which arrives at the table in a pool of rosewater syrup, like a honey-soaked oversized donut hole. The perfect ending to a fantastic meal!

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