18 APRIL 23, 2004
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From its St. Augustine entry to its fresher than fresh
ingredients, Mantra on Main Street is impressive.
Mantra has pan-Asian flair
WHAT IS ON THE FLOOR, I WONDERED
as we walked into Mantra in the New
Main Street section of downtown.
In the dimly lit entryway, it was hard
to discern its origin, but it felt a lot like
grass. A quick check revealed that indeed
it was grass — St. Augustine sod. to be
When asked how they'd come up with
the idea of using grass to carpet the entry.
a manager told me that they want to be
memorable from the first step inside.
That won't be a problem for this luxurious restaurant and its inventive pan-
Asian cuisine. And not just because of
the flooring choice.
Mantra's decor is eye-popping opium-
den meets Bangkok chic. A lounge dominates the front section and is filled with
spacious lounging couches upholstered in
deep red velvet, and multitudes of throw
pillows and ottomans in rich silks.
Bejeweled Buddhas keep watch over
the area from nooks in the wall and a
dual propeller-blade inspired fan twists
A sushi bar and alcohol bar fill opposite walls in the middle of the restaurant,
and the back offers sleek tables, two richly upholstered booths in secluded alcoves
and two private dining rooms, one with
an impressive wine rack.
The opulent, sensual decor even continues outside, where plush, jewel-tone
upholstered chairs serve as patio furniture.
THE DECOR IS IMPRESSIVE, BUT IT'S
the food that really stands out at Mantra.
The fish is flown in fresh daily from
My dining companion and I started
with two orders of sashimi, which
arrived in generous four-ounce servings.
The yellow tail ($8) was firm and fresh,
but the unagi ($5) — smoked eel — really
stood out. Served warm, with both white
and black sesame seeds, its smooth, buttery flavor was a wonder.
For appetizers, we chose the jasmine
tea crusted shrimp ($9.99). The pan-seared
shrimp had a pleasant hint of jasmine tea
and the accompanying passion fruit
oralis provided a sweet contrast.
If I'm being truly picky, the shrimp
were just a tad overdone, but overall this
The smoked tofu with grilled mango
and avocado appetizer ($5.99) arrived layered, looking like a tropical lasagna. It
was a challenge to eat with chopsticks,
but the thinly sliced smoked tofu was a
wonder of rich smoky flavor and the
grilled mango complemented it nicely.
The avocado turned out to be more like
guacamole. which somewhat overpowered, but overall this dish was a lively,
For main courses we chose the ahi and
the Arctic char ($18.95 each). The seated
ahi was just-caught fresh. Served with a
crispy potato pancake and spicy Hunan
shrimp in a garlicky sauce, this dish
The slightly sweet Arctic char again
was extraordinarily fresh. Paired with
noodles in a light honey-miso sauce and
tatsoi (Japanese spinach), this dish was
our favorite, with each ingredient playing
perfectly off the others.
Mantra offers only two desserts, a
cheesecake and a chocolate mousse cake.
At the recommendation of our waiter, we
chose the chocolate mousse cake, which
turned out to be a decadent vertical layering of chocolate cake and milk chocolate
mousse, covered in a hard dark chocolate
Given its central downtown location.
Mantra is a good choice for a workday
lunch. The lunch menu is small, but it's
possible to order from the sushi bar as
I chose the fresh Tasmanian crab cakes
($13.95), which our waiter said was one of
their most popular dishes.
Unlike some crab cakes, these were
almost all fresh crab, with just a few bits
of red pepper, green onion and corn for
flavor. A roasted tomato sauce accented
the crab nicely, while roasted vegetables
and mashed potatoes rounded out the
My friend opted for the Maui fish tacos
($8.95). Two corn tortilla tacos filled with
fresh white fish, tomatoes, purple cabbage
and sweet caramelized onions were
topped with an otherworldly smoky
sauce. Accompanied by herbed rice and
roasted vegetables these tacos can almost
transport you to the islands.
Mantra is still a something of a secret,
despite having been open for two months.
They've kept a low profile while working
out kinks and honing the menu and
they're poised for an official grand opening in the near future. Once the word gets
out. this place will be packed.
711 Main St.
Food: W W W W
Comfort & Aesthetics: w W w w
Value: • • •
Scene: W w W w
r ■ Stay home and eat cereal
WW = Well, if you really must ■
WWW = Fine for all but the finicky
WW WWW Osgood as you'll
find in this city