Tuesday, March 18, 2008


It's one thing to do one type of cuisine well. And it is quite another to perfect two different national traditions. The latter would be the aim of fusion cooking, take two types of food and create a new culinary experience altogether. I remember going to a fusion restaurant in New York called Tabla (although I probably went when I was 11, so my palette wasn't quite as developped). I went to another self-proclaimed fusion restaurant last night in Boston with a bunch of friends for Restaurant Week. Mantra claimed to be Indian-French fusion.

While Restaurant Week should allow restaurants to flex their pan-wielding cooking muscles, it often leads to simple stock dishes. That set aside, it is lovely to be able to visit upscale restaurants at more reasonable prices and have a reasonably well-cooked meal in a swanky locale.

And swanky Mantra was. Set in what looked like a renovated bank, the funk-music-blaring locale featured everything from reflective stainless steel, flowing shimmering orange curtains, a larger than life buddha, an intricate wood dome-like structure and marble. The bathrooms get quite a bit of press, but it isn't anything ingenious or phenomenal: just a four-sided cube with two urinals and two sinks... a little off-putting.

Anyways, the food. I had a fine meal: salad in a parmesan ring, grilled sirloin over broccoli and fancy mashed potatoes, a creme brulee. If you are going to do Indian-French fusion, I should be able to taste either culture's signature taste or flair in every bite. Not so much. Don't get me wrong, the food was quite good and worth the money. However, I'm not exactly sure I got a real taste of what Mantra was all about. I felt like French and Indian just lay side by side on the menu, and side by side on the plate. If this was Fusion cooking, the blowtorch that welds the two together was definitely non-operational. The creme brulee, for example: chocolate cardamom... sounds exciting no? sounds fusion? To me, it was nothing more than chocolate pudding with a slightly crispy top. I did not taste the cardamom, if only but a hint. I did not get my satisfying creme-brulee crack on the dessert's surface. French, Indian... I was left somewhere else altogether.

Fusion aside (which I think was the point), I had a lovely time last night with all the roommates, it isn't often we bond and hang out all together. At least someone was fusin'.

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