It’s refreshing to find, on the East Side of Manhattan, a quiet, elegant, affordable midtown restaurant, a place to take clients for lunch or dinner, meet friends or have an after work drink. “Mint,” specializing in regional Indian food, in business at this location for over five years, fits the bill. Situated between Lexington and Third (within the San Carlos Hotel, although it has a separate entrance), the restaurant’s cool, soothing interior – modern and sleek — is a calm oasis in the middle of frenetic New York. Mint is often called upon by the Indian Embassy to cater its events. It also caters private and corporate events within the hotel. It’s an impressive culinary pedigree, and one that’s easy to understand, once one has dined there. The staff is knowledgeable and, given the pages of specialties, from Goat Rogan Josh to Mulligatawny Soup, extremely helpful in steering diners to the restaurant’s specialties.
Restaurateur/Chef Gary Sikka offers an enormous variety of Indian meat, seafood, and vegetarian specialties from high-end Tandoori Lobster ($36) to the more modestly priced but sensationally good Chili Fish ($14). As guests of Sikka, a number of us shared a delicious array of Appetizers and Main Courses, many of which I’d be more than happy to sample again.
Mint offers colorful specialty cocktails, such as Desi Gone Wild (above) which tastes as good as it looks, as well as a traditional selection of spirits, wine and beer. It’s not easy to find the right wine to go with Indian food, but our waiter suggested a Pinot Noir with dinner, which proved to be an excellent choice. Soft on the palate, it complemented the dishes that followed. I will definitely go that route again.
Indian food is an ideal restaurant for vegetarians, and among our first courses were Vegetable Samosas (crispy turnovers filled with potatoes and peas) and Aloo Tiki (potato fenugreek cakes, served on top of chickpeas.) Both dishes were well prepared and fairly mild. My favorite appetizers were: Chicken Malai Kebab ($12), large cubes of chicken marinated with herbs and spices that made the chicken meltingly moist and delicious, and Chicken Seekh Kebab ($12), Tandoori skewers of ground chicken with herbs and spices shaped into easy-to-pick up oblong shapes. For those who love spicy dishes, Jhinga Balchao ($12), a Goan shrimp dish in a fiery tomato sauce, is excellent.
Standouts among the main courses were Saag Paneer (16), India’s classic creamy spinach dish sautéed with home made Indian cottage cheese spiced with slivers of ginger. I could make a meal of it. Also, perhaps my favorite, the Chili Fish, a large chunk of white, mild fish tossed in a red sauce that is not really spicy at all. Our waiter said it was outstanding and he was right. Don’t miss it.
I preferred the hearty Lamb Pasanda, a specialty of Kashmir, with chunks of lamb in a mild cashew sauce to the Chicken Tikka Masala, cubes of Tandoori chicken in a fenugreek flavored tomato sauce. Our main courses were accompanied, as is traditional, by Basmati rice, as well as delicious Indian Naan breads.
I don’t think I’ve ever ordered dessert in an Indian restaurant, but Gulab Jasmun, an airy doughnut-like combination of warm cottage cheese and milk balls served in a sweet syrup, was absolutely delicious. I highly recommend it.
Mint offers a 4-Course Prix Fixe Lunch for $17 and a 3-Course Prix Fixe Dinner with wine/beer for $40. There is a full-service, sit-down bar, as well as a several semi-private and private dining rooms.
Mint: Indian Restaurant
150 East 50th Street (Between Lexington and Third Avenue)
Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Sunday
Dinner 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday
4 p.m. to Midnight, Friday and Saturday
Happy Hour 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Sunday