Update: no longer open.
Restaurant Week came and went, except, unlike the past, I actually made a reservation. I hate, hate, hate making reservations – something about commitment and lack of spontaneity. For $30 you get a three course meal, excluding gratuity and drinks (that’s where they get you) at participating restaurants.
Besides being on your toes and making a reservation in advance, vegetarians have to wade through all the menus of participating restaurants to see if there’s anything we can eat. (May I suggest a "V" next to restaurants with vegetarian options.) Sure, I could call and request something special, but I try not to be a pain in the ass, especially during what is a busy event for these restaurants. After sifting through all the menus, I came up with maybe ten restaurants that had a vegetarian appetizer and entrée.
In doing research of menus, it turns out that eating a vegetarian three course meal at restaurants participating in Restaurant Week any other week of the year will cost you about $30 anyway, and many times less than $30. After this revelation, I almost said,”Fuck it,” but in the spirit of participation, I, well, participated.
The field was further narrowed when I tried to make a reservation for Sunday at a reasonable hour (before , and before I turn into a starving pumpkin). Actually, the field was narrowed down to Mantra, as it was the only place from my list of ten restaurants that had an open slot.
It’s easy to miss Mantra, a restaurant that dubs itself as an Asian soul food bar, even though it’s just a block north of
My appetizer was the Long Life Green Salad with scallion dumplings. Now, I assumed this appetizer was vegetarian, since they included a very obvious vegetarian entrée (Vegetarian Bento Box), and the other appetizers were obviously not vegetarian. I’ve been assuming a lot lately, and it’s been getting me into trouble. The dumplings contained chicken, or some other gray meat. I pushed these to the side, and ate the yummy, ginger and soy sauce dressed pile of greens and vegetables. This salad was huge, and definitely would have been dragged through the mud on Top Chef for presentation.
The Vegetarian Bento Box was also huge. The lo mein was finished first on my plate, but tasted like any lo mein found at a Chinese joint, except maybe not quite as greasy. The Indian biryani tasted of curry powder from a jar (blech), but the sweet chutney-filled Indian bread on top of the rice was delicious. The fried tofu was as bland as tofu straight from the container, and the few drops of sriracha sauce it came with were not enough to assist in flavor. The sautéed greens tasted fine, but I swear mine had something gritty in it. My partner, who ordered the same thing, swore his had too much pepper. We switched plates, and neither of us agreed to the other’s findings. I guess we’re both crazy.
From the bento box, I ate the greens, the lo mein, and the Indian bread. I left the tofu and the biryani. The bento box at Mantra was like eating at a buffet – lots of choices, some good and some bad, but you’re full in the end.Poor lighting = poor pics. I've gotta start going out to eat for lunch.
For dessert, I went with the very friendly server’s suggestion of the cheesecake spring roll with strawberry sauce – or was it raspberry? I see this dessert on menus all the time at Asian restaurants, but have never ordered one. I said, “What the hey,” and went for it. If you like cheesecake and fried dough, this dessert is for you. The cheesecake was cool, perhaps due to our wait for dessert, which the server sincerely apologized for. I felt like the cheesecake was a little heavy, and maybe this was due to it being cold. After having my second cheesecake spring roll at a different restaurant almost exactly a week later, I will say that there are better cheesecake spring rolls out there than the one served at Mantra.
The service at Mantra was friendly. The wait between courses could have been perceived as long, but, for once, I was not in a hurry and appreciated not being forced with a new plate of food before finishing what was already in front of me.
The food at Mantra is nothing extraordinary, and it will not blow your mind, but there was something endearing about Mantra – maybe the inventive use of electrical plates, or the upside down Chinese characters. I walked away really not wanting to dis Mantra. She felt like a crafty sister that I don’t have trying to make it in the big city. I’d definitely go hang out in front of the glowing orange bar and have a drink and an appetizer, but not a full meal. The quality of the food at Mantra just doesn’t warrant the upscale prices.
By the way, while the Restaurant Week menu omitted this tidbit, the real menu says they’ll substitute any protein with firm tofu.
Mantra, 122 South 18th Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19103
Lunch: Tues.-Thurs., - 3; Fri. & Sat. -5
Dinner: Mon.-Wed., 5-11; Thurs.5-11; Fri. & Sat.