Masala Mantra-The Indian Bistro (MM) is a restaurant in Cape Coral.and has been open about six weeks.
A mantra is a sound or phrase that can have spiritual power. Masala is an Indian word for a mix of spices. The restaurant is very aptly named.
My dining companion and I had heard very good things about MM and decided to take a look. MM has a bit warmer interior than the former tenant. I always find it interesting that sometimes just a few simple changes can make a big difference in restaurant ambiance.
After sitting down, we were pleased to find out that Sudev, someone we knew that worked for a competitor in Fort Myers, had taken the plunge and opened his first restaurant with his business partner. In the interest of full disclosure, our meal was provided gratis by MM.
Sudev was gracious enough to bring an order of papadum with chutneys from the Menu to start off our meal. Papadum is sort of a flatbread made from ground lentil flour and usually fried.
The chutneys served (left to right) were onion, mint and tamarind each being tangy, creamy and sweet, respectively. All of these were great, and very traditional accompaniments to things like papadum and the next starter item sampled off the menu, onion pakora.
With pakora, sliced vegetables (here sliced onions) are breaded in chickpea flour and fried. This was more great finger food and the closest analogy I can think of are the onion rings made in North America but with a bit heavier breading.
We finished our perusal of starters with a samosa chaat. Chaats are ubiquitous street food in India and are very popular. There are many types of chaat, but they all share one thing in common, fried dough. Our samosa chaat was no exception. Samosas are fried or baked pastry filled with savory ingredients; here potato and chickpea. These were excellent; very well spiced with ginger, garlic and coriander.
The remainder of the dish is basically a chickpea curry (chana masala) topped with mint and tamarind chutney and sev, small pieces of spiced noodles made from chickpea flour. The dish was delicious either using the channa masala/chaat as a topping or traditionally, pulling the samosas into small pieces and mixing the whole dish together. Highly recommended.
We then sampled a couple of curry dishes. The restaurant has 14 different curry varieties on its menu from those stir-fried (jalfrezi and Kadai) to stewed (rogan josh and korma) to the blisteringly hot, capsaicin lover’s phaal.
The first was Chicken Chettinad.
This is a classic curry from Southern India. Extremely flavorful from additions such as poppy, cumin, coriander and anise seed, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom and coconut, this dish just overflows with flavor. We ordered it at its maximum heat level and although somewhat spicy, was not bad and very tolerable. Highly recommended.
We also wanted to sample a vegan entry. The channa masala was “chaated up” in our samosa starter and we wanted to try it on its own.
This was another excellent curry. Another highly flavorful dish, it also incorporates ingredients like ginger, garlic, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, turmeric, garam masala and dried mango powder (amchoor).
All the curries come with a generous serving of basmati rice as seen above. There was an identical amount of rice with our chicken Chettinad which was far more than the two of us could eat.
Besides the food being exceptional, it is also quite reasonably priced. All of the curries served are in the $14.00 range. Both of the curries we ordered with rice will easily feed three and perhaps four diners. Doing the math, the food at MM is a very good value especially considering the quality. There are also quite a few vegan items on the menu, also reasonably priced.
There are numerous restaurants in the area serving Indian Cuisine. This is one of the better ones. The food is remarkably flavorful, in part by the use of freshly ground spices and high-quality ingredients. The servers were also very attentive, although at times too much so, and very knowledgeable about the menu items.
MM is Cape Coral’s first Indian restaurant which I think will become the standard which future Cape Coral Indian restaurants will be compared to. If you go, you will be pleasantly surprised, as we were, and will not walk away disappointed.
Open Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, 11am-230pm (lunch), 5-9PM (dinner), Friday, 11AM-230PM (lunch), 5-10PM (dinner), Saturday, 1130AM-3PM (lunch), 5-10PM (dinner), Sunday, 1130AM to 3PM (lunch) and 5-9PM (dinner), closed Tuesdays; All major credit cards accepted;Take out and delivery (third party) available.