By Victoria Pesce Elliott
It's with gluttonous glee that I welcome Mint Leaf and bow to the self-proclaimed ambassador of Indian food, Mr. Ranjit Sood, who has managed to turn a pappadam-sized eatery into a thriving business in less than three months. He was aided, no doubt, by decades of experience in the U.K., where he launched Woodlands, a South Indian vegetarian chain.
The lengthy menu is enticing, with specialties from all over the Indian map, featuring hearty chicken, fish and exquisite lamb dishes. Essential dishes to sample include steamy mounds of basmati rice layered into intricate biryanis or steamed with coconut milk and peppered with fried lentils and sweet, caramelized onions. Coupled with a mysteriously perfect bowl of creamy, smoky rich and comforting black lentils, dal makhani, these pulses could be reason enough to love this place.
Sooki sabsi is made with velvety chunks of skin-on eggplant gently spiced with zingy mustard seeds and tender, baby curry leaves, while a sag paneer with house-made cheese is as tangy as it is silken. Breads, including naan, onion kulcha and roti are baked in the clay oven until divinely scorched, puffy, chewy and hot. Melted ghee makes them rich, but dunk them into any of the rich sauces like that of the complex and buttery curry chicken and they're divine.
More delightful dipping goes on with medu vada, or dry lentil donuts in a thick sambar, lentil puree. Also worth a try are their fancier twins soaked in sweet and sour cold yogurt sauce and flecked with raisins, ginger and tamarind. Remember to order the chutney tray, which includes vibrant green mint, musky tamarind, mango and a chunky coconut.
Chaat, Indian street snacks that are meant to be shared, come in various combinations of fried
potatoes, puffed rice, tamarind sauce, garlic, yogurt, mung beans, apples, bananas and peanuts. Golden dosas are made of a slightly fermented rice and lentil batter that turns into springy, buttery envelopes filled with your choice of stuffings. My favorite is the simple potato and onion classic.
Although tempting to try the combo platters, I suggest narrowing down what you really like and going for it. Lamb lovers can't go wrong with lamb rogan josh, a tomato-ey stew with tender chunks of flavorful meat. But even better is the lamb dhansak cooked with lentils in a creamy stew. Other standouts include a lemony shrimp lasooni and anything from the scorching tandoor oven.
As for sweets, I appreciated a few spoonfuls of the warm almond halwa, a hot porridge-like mash of pulverized almonds spiked with saffron or the subtle butterscotch-like jaggery dosa with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Mint Leaf Indian Brasserie, 276 Alhambra Circle, Coral Gables; 305-443-3769; noon-2:45 p.m. and 6-10:45 p.m. daily; appetizers $8-$10, breads $3-$7; entrees $13-$20; desserts $5.50-$8.
FYI: Metered self-parking out front; reservations suggested; limited but well-chosen wine list; no outside wines permitted. AE, MC, V.
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Mint Leaf Tokri Chaat: a crispy potato basket filled with a salad of vegetables, fruit, and sprouted mung beans drizzled with yoghurt, chutneys and special dry spices. Photo: Charlotte Southern.