I was invited recently to a press dinner at Mint, an under-the-radar Indian restaurant in East Midtown. I dined there once, years ago, but have very little recollection of the meal, except that I liked the space and didn’t mind the food.
Whether you’d like the space now is a matter of taste. It’s far more comfortable and pleasant than the average neighborhood Indian spot, but the backlit minty-green interior is very much a product of its age. It may also reflect the sensibilities of its chef and owner, Gary Sikka: a new branch in Garden City is quite similar, except that the dominant color is lavender.
As a civilized place to enjoy classic Indian cuisine, free of the usual decorative clichés, I still like it here.
The menu offers most of the usual Indian specialties: your kebabs, paneers, naans, samosas, tikka masalas, and vindaloos. It also veers off the beaten path occasionally, and is more worthwhile for doing so.
Prices are modest by midtown standards, with soups and salads $6–10, appetizers $7–14, breads and rice $4–8. Entrées are in a wide range, with most in the low $20s, but vegetarian dishes are as low as $12, fish and tandoori dishes mostly in the high $20s, and one lobster dish is $36.
Everything we tried was done well, bearing in mind the context of an arranged visit. The fish and vegetarian dishes, it seemed to me, are the ones where the chef rises above the merely routine. (Prices below are from the menu; we didn’t pay for the meal.)
There’s the usual assortment of bread, but for this meal the kitchen sent out the simplest of them, the Roti ($4).
We all liked the Vegetable Samosas ($7; above left). I believe the chicken appetizer (above right) was the Malai Kebab ($12), marinated in herbs and spices, more tender and flavorful than that dish usually is.
The Aloo Methi Tikka ($9; above left), a spicy potato cake with chickpeas, tamarind and mint chutney, did not make any particular impression on me. But the “Chilly” [sic] Fish ($14; above right) was the hit of the evening, a spicy preparation of black sea bass.
The Bombay Masala Pao ($7; above left), a blend of tomato, herbs and spices on bread, could pass for Indian pizza. Fish Tikka Masala ($26; above right), marinated overnight in yogurt and garlic, was another of the evening’s highlights.
I’d also heartily recommend the Saag Paneer ($16; above left), a spinach base sautéed with Indian cheese, or the Yellow Tadka Dal ($12; above right), a preparation of yellow lentils with herbs and spices.
But Chicken Tikka Masala ($19; above left) was somewhat bland and forgettable, as was a Lamb Shahi Pasanda ($22; no photo).
The lone dessert was a Paneer cheese pastry puff with honey and rose water syrup (above right). I practically never order desserts at Indian restaurants, but my dining companions said that this was a very good exemplar of this well known dish.
If the chef is eager to to raise the restaurant’s profile, he might want to start with the beverage program. The cocktails are mostly sweet, vodka-based “–tini” drinks. The publicist recommended the wine program, but none of the wines on the by-the-glass list included the vintage, which I do not consider a good sign.
Mint is located in the San Carlos Hotel, although it is independently owned. Like any hotel restaurant, it has to offer safe and familiar dishes that can appeal to a wide variety of weary travelers. My sense of the place, on this limited sample, is that the farther the chef gets from the routine dishes that 1,000 other Indian restaurants serve, the better he does. You won’t go wrong here, but the fish and vegetarian dishes are especially worthwhile.
Mint (150 E. 50th Street between Lexington & Third Avenues, East Midtown)