Mantra – an authentic Indian culinary experience in Chicago

One thing that I have always been skeptical about is how Indian food is represented outside India. There have been prejudices about Indian food being too oily, too spicy and too unhealthy when in reality it is quite the opposite. However, to my disappointment some restaurants outside India stand true to these prejudices. In reality, Indian food is not always oily, spicy and unhealthy. If made with the right ingredients and the perfect technique Indian food tends to be one of the most healthiest cuisine and for me one of the most delicious cuisine. With 29 states in India with innumerable regions in each state and each region having a different specialty food,  you are spoilt for choices when it comes to Indian food and no one can really categorize it as “oily” “spicy” and “unhealthy”.

So I was extremely glad when I realised that these prejudices are mightily smashed by one Indian restaurant in Chicago “ MANTRA – by Indian Garden”

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Mantra describes itself as an authentic yet innovative Indian restaurant with a menu that honors tradition while reinventing it.

Honestly, there is no better way of describing this restaurant. The restaurant is spot on with its decor and ambiance and their food is simply delightful. Right from the Appetizers we knew that the freshness of the food is something they never compromise with. The restaurant is located at 9438 W Irving Park Rd, Schiller Park, IL 60176.

We were graciously invited to the restaurant by its lovely owner Anu Sharma and her team for lunch. When we arrived there we were surprised by the decor of this restaurant, how well the place has been maintained and genuinely impressed by their attention to detail.

 

THE FOOD


Mantra specializes in providing an Indian  fine-dining experience. Their menu is curated to fit this experience. Mantra has a huge menu to offer and they specialize in preparing each item in the menu fresh for the patrons after it has been ordered. They do not promote the principle of “curry in a hurry” and they aim at serving the food which will transfer you in spirit to the region where it originated from.

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For drinks we tried their Mango Lassi – this being the mango season in India I was inclined to try the popular Indian drink in this season. The Lassi was rich, thick made with fresh mangoes. I was worried that it might stuff me up like most of the restaurant lassi’s do (since they have a large proportion of cream in it) but this one was very different. It refreshed me and I could taste the freshness of the ingredients here.

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From their Appetizers menu, we tried a wide array of dishes. We started off with Paneer ke Sholey – a dish I had never eaten before – it was spiced paneer cubes stir fried with bell peppers and onions. I must say here, the Paneer they serve at Mantra is exceptional. It is extremely fresh, has a lovely flavor and the way they make it melts in your mouth.

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We then tried the Papdi Chaat – an Indian street food speciality – which was served to us with freshly made Papdi / Crisps, whipped yogurt and garnished with the right amount of spices.

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We even sampled their Kebabs like the Adraki Chaamp – Grilled Lamb chops flavoured with Ginger, Prawn Angare – Carrom flavoured shrimps grilled in Clay Oven, Malai Kebab – Chicken Marinated with Cheese, Ginger- Garlic and White pepper and Pudina Paneer – grilled Paneer mildly spiced with mint.

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The Grilled Lamb chops were made to perfection, the meat tender with the right amount of spices. The Prawn Angare is my personal favorite – I have never tasted such fresh Shrimps in any restaurant before. The Malai Kebab were soft, tender and they literally melt in your mouth while the Pudina Paneer was extremely delightful. Their appetizers are a true delight and the team at Mantra takes special efforts to customize the food to your preference and liking.

We also tried a different assortments of breads – The Garlic Naan, Stuffed Paratha and Laccha Paratha. The Laccha Paratha is usually a tricky one, since the paratha has multiple layers usually the inner layers stay raw or the paratha gets burnt, but the paratha at Mantra was baked to perfection.

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The Garlic Naan was really fresh and extremely soft, it was so yum you can literally have it just by itself. Coming to the Stuffed Paratha  – this unique flatbread was stuffed and baked to perfection, the stuffed veggies and cheese added the perfect taste to the food when coupled with the gravies.

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In their Entrees we tried four different gravies – Mutton Curry, Chicken Bhuna, Shahi Paneer and Dal Bukhara. Each of this dish has a different technique used to prepare them and Mantra prepares them with the perfect technique.

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The Dal Bukhara requires slow and long cooking of Lentils till they are soft and creamy, we were informed that they take special efforts to ensure that the Lentils are cooked in the same slow cooker manner to perfection. The Mutton Curry was scrumptious, the meat well cooked and extremely tender and the gravy was spiced to perfection.  The Chicken Bhuna is an out of the world dish, the chicken is roasted yet tender and the spicies work perfect with the tomato based gravy. The Shahi Paneer is truly a dish for the royals. The dish has generous helpings of fresh paneer, mildly spiced gravy and has a lovely cardamom flavour. We paired the gravies with the different assortments of breads and their Saffron Flavoured rice – Kersariya Pulao which has a lovely mild saffron flavor, rich color and is topped with fried onions.

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To wrap up this lovely meal, we tried their Pistachio kulfi and Mango Kulfi – both we creamy and delicious and made with natural ingredients. We also tried their Kheer – Indian Rice pudding which was rich and creamy with a nice hint of spice.

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Finally as we were on our way out, Anu offered us to try their freshly made Jalebis which were – crispy , sweet soaked in sugar syrup which was the perfect end to our delicious meal.

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THE DECOR

The decor and interiors at Mantra are definitely worth mentioning. They have poured their heart and soul in every corner of the restaurant. Right from the entry to fresh flowers and the seating fit for royals. We were informed that the owner Anu Sharma has handpicked most of their decor over the years and they keep on developing it with many artistic pieces bought in specially from India. Mantra not only takes you on a culinary journey, the interiors of the restaurant give you a real feel of Indian Royal Dining.

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The entire restaurant is designed and decorated in an elegant fashion with stunning pieces of decor in every corner of the restaurant. Right from the waiting area to the seating, it is very apparent that Mantra has a magnificent taste in decor and they are dedicated to provide a splendid experience to its patrons.

 

THE EXPERIENCE 

A few other things worth mentioning about Mantra is their dedication to quality and customer service. We noticed that the team at Mantra was dedicated to ensure that the patrons got their choice of meals. They patiently asked us if there was a specific way in which the meal could be prepared or any ingredient which was wanted to be included or excluded from the meal.

 

We were also told that Mantra abides by a great “freshly prepared meals” policy. Which means that they avoid pre-cooking as much as possible (unless of course the recipe calls for longer marination and slow-cooking process), every meal is prepared from scratch only once it is ordered in. This way you get the freshest of food on your table. They also avoid unnecessary use of excess butter and cream which is an artificial flavor enhancer and concentrate more on perfecting the spice mix for every meal. This is the reason why at Mantra they do not give you your curry in a hurry but rather concentrate on the flavor and freshness of the food.

I would definitely go in for a second time here, the food and service is such that it calls for repeated visits without question. Keep up with the great culinary service Mantra, you are heaven for foodies like me.

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