By Amy Reyes
The goods: If you’ve ever been to London, you probably know that the best food in town is usually being served in a restaurant that specializes in Indian fare. Maybe it’s because teatime is the only “meal” the Brits really dig. Most likely it’s just that Indians have mastered the art of stimulating the senses with their incredible mix of spices. Miami is now the American outpost for London restaurateur Ranjit Sood, who brings us Mint Leaf in Coral Gables. Seating around fifty, this little spot fills its dance card Thursday through Sunday nights with folks who have been feeling the need to deviate from the steakhouse/Italian-inspired fare common in the City Beautiful’s culinary repertoire.
Tables covered with white linens, square-shaped white plates decorated with tiny mint leaves and a new-agey water feature give Mint Leaf a posh yet relaxing vibe. Of course, there’s a television — plasma, no less — playing the great dance scenes from all the hottest Bollywood hits from Arandhana (your favorite, what a classic!) to Devdas (the remake with Aishwarya Rai). There’s your icebreaker for that blind date: “Check out how the actors almost kiss, but never do!”
Ranjit patrols the tables, making recommendations for the unsure and reminding the enthusiastic to make their reservations for the next visit. Saturday nights, he says, he has folks who wait up to an hour to be seated. That’s some serious dedication to chutney and naan.
The grub: The menu focuses mainly on North Indian cuisine, with a mix of vegetarian and meat-based dishes. For starters, try the lasooni jingha, shrimp marinated with ginger and garlic and a bit of yogurt, then baked in the clay oven. Or the Mint Leaf tokri chaat, which is a unique dish made with grated potato deep fried in the shape of a small bowl, then filled with a mixture of fruit, yogurt, chutneys and lentil doughnuts. As for the entrees, the tandoori lamb chops are tender and served floating in a spicy red sauce that’s delicious over their lemon rice. A nice choice for vegetarians is the makhani matar paneer, with fluffy cubes of fresh cheese floating in a spicy sauce that you can wipe clean with a piece of warm garlic naan.
All of the cheeses, yogurts and chutneys are prepared at the restaurant. The desserts are innovative and in perfect proportion, especially considering you’ve just eaten like a wolf. The gajjar ka halwa is a small bowl of mashed carrots mixed with sugar, pistachios and almonds served warm and topped with vanilla ice cream. Their signature dessert is the badam halwa, made from ground almonds, milk, sugar, butter and saffron.
The Verdict: There’s always room for a high-quality Indian restaurant in Miami, and Mint Leaf is a welcome addition to the Coral Gables culinary scene. Just make sure you call ahead.
Mint Leaf, 276 Alhambra Circle, Coral Gables; 305-443-3739