INDIAN FARE COMES TO SAN GABRIEL
Located on the border of Altadena and Pasadena, Mint Leaf looks pretty casual from the outside—housed in the former space where a flower shop once stood in an industrial mini mall—but inside it’s charming and serves inspiring Indian fare.
I don’t know if was intentional, but everything I read on Mint Leaf claimed Pasadena, but it’s technically an Altadena property—I don’t know if that’s because the thinking is that Pasadena is a ritzier and loftier area. But the truth is that anyone tired of Old Town Pasadena or someone looking for top notch Indian cuisine will now be heading over to Altadena, which is only a few minutes away.
Mint Leaf serves a mix of traditional Indian fare and lighter vegan options, such as chicken korma, lamb saag, tofu vindaloo, vegetable pakoras (crispy cauliflower and potato fritters), dal makhni (black lentils and red kidney beans with butter and cream) and paneer tikka (marinated and grilled Indian cheese) wraps. The menu is kept current and selections rotate based on seasonal ingredients.
At Mint Leaf, the kitchen is run by Jayanta Paul, the former chef of Tanzore, the longtime Beverly Hills Indian restaurant that closed two years ago. And Paul has created dishes that highlight traditional Indian spices such as cinnamon, cumin, turmeric and cardamom.
“Indian cuisine is built around magnificent spices, which lend themselves beautifully to dishes that are simple and light yet still flavorful,” Paul explained.
During our recent visit for dinner, we ate family style and shared several dishes, which I find is the way to go with Indian food. We started with a delicious serving of Bhel Puri—a savory Indian snack made out of puff pastry, vegetables and a tangy tamarind sauce. This dish was a bevy of amazing flavors assaulting and then tantalizing our taste buds. What a way to start.
Next we shared the Corn Malai Tikkis—savory cakes made from a dough of corn, mozzarella cheese, boiled potatoes and red onions. I think of this dish as classic Indian comfort food; probably because of the starchy potatoes. You can fill up on this one if you’re not careful, but what a way to go.
Another great appetizer is the Shriimp Pakoras—tiger shrimp marinated with lemon juice, ginger, green chilies and cilantro, dipped in a special chickpea flour batter, which is then lightly fried. Let me tell you, these were some damn tasty tiger shrimp.
Looking for some greens, we opted for the Seared Citrus Scallop Salad prepared with seared masala flavored scallops served over baby mixed greens with hearts of palm, avocados and a citrus vinaigrette. Unfortunately the salad was bland, but the scallops, which they didn’t skimp on, were very nice. You’re probably better off ordering a veggie dish than going for a salad, or skip this one unless you’re really nuts about scallops.
Speaking of veggies, the Mushroom Matter is a solid option. Fresh button mushrooms and green peas in a golden curry with kasoori methi (dried fenugreek leaves), I absolutely loved the spiciness. These ‘shrooms had a very pleasant kick—if you’re a fan of spice. Likewise, the Matter Paneer—paneer cheese in a golden curry with kasoori methi—packed just the right amount of spice and flavor for me.
For our entrees, we had to get the Mint Leaf Chili Chicken. I always have to order a restaurant’s signature dish. Chicken breast stir-fried with green chilies, vegetables and a special blend of chilies and spices, this chicken dish was so flavorful. There are so many bread and naan options to choose from and I really liked the Feta Cheese and Olive Naan, which was definitely used to soak up every sauce, including the Mint Leaf Chili Chicken.
Our other entrée was the Kashmiri Lamb Curry, which is lamb slowly simmered in a traditional light curry sauce made of fresh onions, ginger, garlic and tomatoes and flavored with cardamom and cinnamon. I really liked the lamb but to be honest, I was pretty full by this time. With so many choices, and most dishes absolutely packed with delicious flavors and spices, I’ll need repeat visits to really work my way down the menu. I think Altadena just really upped its game with Mint Leaf, not to mention a new ice cream, and coffeehouse that recently opened on E. Washington Boulevard.
Mint Leaf is located at 2535 E Washington Blvd in Altadena. Call (626) 460-8776.
Story by Jose Martinez
Some Photography Courtesy of: Mint Leaf