With a chalkboard outside its entrance reading “A Melting Pot of Mixed Cuisines,” the newly opened Mandala Bistro prides itself in a menu that incorporates cuisines from around the world. Indeed, this new Indian/Italian/American/Everything spot on Temple Street tries its hardest to back up that claim.
Before I picked up the menu, never did I expect to find such a varied assortment of foods crammed on to one piece of paper: seafood mango curry, turkey clubs, chana masala, chicken tenders and cavatelli with broccoli. After I finished perusing, I found myself asking two questions: “What the fuck?” and “Can they pull it off?”
While the first question was never answered, the second question was upon my first bite of food: “No, they can’t really pull it off.” But not from lack of effort. The moment you enter Mandala Bistro, you can’t help but root for it to succeed, even if its chances of failure are made obvious by the countless empty tables. Yet the prime location, funky décor, and attentive service set high expectations.
But despite Mandala’s best efforts to convince you otherwise, there are very few dishes on the menu that are actual fusions of two types of cuisines. Which is a shame, because their fusion dishes tend to be the more successful ones. The basil naan, for example, plays with Italian flavors, like garlic, black pepper, and basil, on the classic Indian bread. The naan is flaky, chewy, and slightly charred, and only lasted fifteen seconds on my table. The Mandala quesadilla, which attempts to marry Indian and Mexican flavors, is moderately decent in the sense that anything with melty cheese is. The addition of spicy, Indian style chicken, however, makes these quesadillas slightly more exciting.
The majority of dishes on the menu are not “mixed cuisines” and either fall in the category of Indian, Italian, American or Say Wuhh?? The Indian dishes, which seem to be the restaurant’s specialty, do not impress. Let’s start with the starters. The grilled aloo tikki potato patties lack the characteristic crispiness common associated with the dish, and the overly sweet and tangy sauce drown out the flavor. The baked samosas are solid but lack the awesomeness that can only come through deep-frying. The complimentary Indian salsa brought out upon arrival is zesty and spicy, but the saltine crackers that accompany them are anything but.
But those are only mild offenses. Their attempt at Italian actually makes me cry a little. I warn you and your loved ones to stay far away from the cavatelli with broccoli. The flavor, texture, and presentation of this dish are offensive to me as a) an Italian-American and b) a human. The pasta itself is chewy and undercooked, the broccoli is miniscule and flavorless, and the sauce is watery and sits in a pool at the bottom of the plate. I would choose Olive Garden’s standard Parmesan-Alfredo-Garlic-Butter pasta over this any day.
That brings me to the Say Wuhh?? category, in which you’ll find dishes like sweet potato rounds, fried fish, Chicken Momo, Greek souvlaki and Exciting Mango Tango. There’s also an entire breakfast menu and a late night menu offered from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. that covers your standard drunken cravings (onion rings, mozzarella sticks and, of course, mango lassis).
Mandala Bistro has a lot of heart. It is always refreshing to see a restaurant entirely devoid of pretension, just trying to serve good food and satisfy its customers. But heart is not always enough. Were Mandala to hone in on fewer, better-executed dishes, this spot would have potential to “enlighten my taste buds,” as the Web site claims it should.