I miss Higashi West. I miss the quality and size of the nigiri and the certainty that every Tuesday and Friday my friend Mike W. would be dining at the sushi bar. Sadly, Higashi West self-destructed, but like a phoenix rising a wonderful new restaurant has taken its place.
Mantra opened last month, and it features Indian-influenced California cuisine in a very swanky (for Palo Alto) atmosphere. The Daru Lounge is a perfect setting for cocktails, and the artwork in the main dining room is a great compliment to the presentations of the food.
The kitchen at Mantra is shockingly experienced. Chef Robert Cibrowski was locally trained at the CIA and worked at French Laundry before pursuing lucrative Executive Chef positions for the Ritz Carlton and then Atlantis. Thomas Horton was at Aqua, Fifth Floor, and most recently, Executive Chef for Left Bank. And, Ashwani Kumar, a chef with more than 40 years in the kitchen has worked at top restaurants in India and with Gaylords here on the Peninsula.
My first trip to Mantra was at Lisette's suggestion for brunch this afternoon, but I can’t wait to go again. Our meal began with a basket of warm, Mantra-made pastry. 2 small blueberry croissants, 2 plain croissants and 1 chocolate croissant were served with French butter and 1 oz. jars of Bonne Maman preserves: blueberry, apricot and strawberry. What a wonderful start!
Brunch continued with our entrees, a quiche and the Moroccan crepe. The quiche (above) was made with leek, pancetta and goat cheese and accompanied by a tomato coulis – a lovely match. The crust on the quiche was perfect: light, sweet and flaky. More unusual was the crisp Moroccan crepe (right) served with 2 eggs (lightly scrambled), baby spinach, bacon lardoons and balsamic vinegar. Delicious!
For dinner, the basket of pasty is replaced by Indian breaks and the sophistication of the entrees increases. I can’t wait to sample dishes photographed for their website like the sake-baked sea bass or the seared Tasmanian salmon, and the tasting menu’s seem irresistible. Anyone want to join me?
6/24 update: I returned to Mantra last night with Joy and Mike. I had enjoyed brunch so much that despite a very mixed review from my friends Brian and Jennifer, I had to sample the dinner menu. Sadly, dinner was a disappointment. It was that our food was bad; more that our $25 entrees were unexceptional, a grave sin at that price point. I do want to go back for brunch, and the bar seems like a reasonable choice for a late night snack, but I am unexcited about dinner. Perhaps the reason for the decline since my first visit is that Chef Robert Cibrowski left Mantra last month. Thomas Horton is running the kitchen while a search for a new chef is underway.
Mantra: 632 Emerson Street Palo Alto, CA