Change is good. David and Liz Cook of Daveed’s at 934 decided this year to try a new concept in Loveland, Daveed’s Next. I haven’t been yet, but it sounds like it will fit well with what David Cook does best. The best meal I ever had at Daveed’s was one in which he cooked a bunch of dishes for a crowd of people and everything was casually presented in almost a dinner-party setting. Next is based on that concept.
Anyway, the Mount Adams space Daveed’s had occupied at 934 Hatch St. was not vacant long. Mantra on the Hill opened in late May, lead by Chef Yajan Upadhyaya, originally chef/owner of Cumin in Hyde Park. Plus ça change, eh?
It was a lovely evening when we visited Mantra. We would have preferred to be seated outside, but we arrived close to 8 p.m. and the patio was still filled with early diners. Indoors, though, we got a chance to see how the dining spaces seem calmer than they were, with less visual distraction. The earth tones are almost like subdued curry, fitting for a sophisticated exploration of Indian cuisine.
Our server was very sweet and offered good recommendations, including the Papri Chaat ($6) salad. It was one of our favorite dishes of the evening, a delightful mix of chickpeas with halved cherry tomatoes, lovely red pomegranate seeds and perfectly diced potatoes. Someone in the kitchen at Mantra has terrific knife skills. It’s an art, really, and the impact wasn’t lost on the pretty plates.
Mantra salad ($7) wasn’t as successful. My friend jumped to order it when she saw the ingredients (arugula, almonds, fennel and oranges), but the dressing was so strongly seasoned that all the nuances were lost.
Our server had suggested the Imli Bangain ($7), house-made eggplant chips that are a carryover from Cumin.
The Coconut Scallops ($9) were almost painfully salty. I wanted to explore this dish a little more because it’s made with curry leaves — a green leaf that’s used in Southern Indian cooking and is distinct from curry powder — but I couldn’t get past the saltiness.
The naan bread ($3), though, was another hit — so buttery and very pleasant. The menu offers several naan variations that sound interesting, including cheese naan with cheddar and roasted cumin that would be nice to try with a cocktail at the bar.
The dish that really grabbed both of us from the menu description was Kashmiri Duck ($19). This duck breast was nicely moist, not dried out by the tandoor oven’s heat like chicken so often is, and it came with a roasted apple — a pleasant enough surprise. I’d try this dish again but order it a little past the medium rare that we asked for.
We wanted to balance the duck with a seafood entrée, so we selected the Patrani Matchi ($19), the fish of the day, which in our case was bass. The small fillet was seasoned with cilantro and ground nuts, then wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed. It’s a sophisticated presentation, and the fish was delicious — perfectly tender and moist, nicely complemented by the seasoning. The mango chutney that accompanied it, jewel-toned and fresh, again showed those disciplined knife skills to full advantage.
The Chocolate Crème Brulee ($7) had Indian spices crisped into the top, and I liked it on first bite. My friend reacted with, “Oh, I don’t like that!” But after a few more nibbles, she did a complete 180-degree turn. The spices actually worked well in this sweet dish, bringing out the chocolate flavor instead of overwhelming it. I’m glad we tried it. The Lemon Thyme tart ($7) didn’t really zing, but it was served with a poached pear topped with glazed slices of fresh strawberry, and that combination was refreshing and delicious.
A mantra is a word or a chant, a prayer, really, that brings spiritual peace. After our dinner at Mantra on the Hill, I asked my guest what she thought their mantra ought to be.
“Breathe,” she replied. “The operation was steeped in newness and I think when they settle in to it, breathe a bit, and back off the salt, it will all be more satisfying.”
I’d say hide the salt-shaker and keep the knives sharp. It’s great to have Mantra in Mount Adams, and we’ll enjoy having something a little more exotic in the local dining mix.
Mantra on the Hill
Go: 934 Hatch St., Mount Adams
Hours: Dinner: 5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, late night menu of appetizers and kebabs: 10 p.m.
Accessibility: Two steps at the entrance