Monday, May 21, 2018

First Look: The Yin and Yang of Mandala

South Lamar's Lamar Union complex has had a hard time keeping restaurants. Cantine, El Burro, VOX Table, Delicious have all cycled in and out in relatively short periods of time. TLC Austin (which I like very much, see this blog post for info on them) appears to be holding its own, Soto has replaced Cantine, Shake Shack and the Highball are still there too. Mandala, with its Thai and Vietnamese influences, opened in March at the old El Burro spot. Let's hope they can make it last!

I met a group of friends there on a weeknight for dinner; ironically, our same group of four had previously eaten at El Burro too. Another foodie friend had told me about a passion fruit cocktail, but it wasn't on the menu this evening. Our waiter, who seemed relatively new, didn't seem to have a full grasp of the liquors available at the bar, because when asked if they had Tito's Vodka he said no, but one of our group went to check with the bartender who confirmed its presence. They did have some half price bottles of wine held over from Mother's Day so we split a bottle of rose.
Mandala Kitchen + Bar Austin
We started with their mini rice pancakes, which come seven per order. I inquired when we ordered if we could get eight since there were four of us. The waiter said no, but offered no explanation. I understood it when they arrived; they are not pancakes in the flat sense or something that is cooked on a griddle. They are a version of kanon krok, a type of Thai dessert that uses a pan not unlike those for Japanese takoyaki or Danish abelskivers. Anyhow, they were nice, crispy on the bottom from the rice flour, with a savoriness mixed with a sweetness from coconut milk. Could have used a dash of chile or at least one bold flavor.
Mandala Kitchen + Bar Austin rice pancakes
Red curry with vegetables and shrimp also had good flavor. Lots of veggies and just enough kick in the red curry. (This made an excellent leftover dish the following day; I pan sauteed some red fish, added green beans and poured the remains of the curry over it. On my Instagram!)
Mandala Kitchen + Bar Austin red curry
These mussels were also done with a red curry sauce, and it was quite tasty. What I am noticing though, the menu online says they are served with garlic toast, and this was served with plain bread. Needed more of it too to sop up that delicious sauce.
Mandala Kitchen + Bar Austin mussels
I love Thai noodle dishes, and was excited to try the pad kee mao with chicken, especially after our waiter said it was one of his favorites. What arrived was a plate with clumpy, undercooked noodles that were in short little choppy sections. While I wasn't anticipating the rice noodles to be long and slurpy like ramen, I did expect them to be more than two inches in length! I asked for the manager to come over, and when he did, his attitude was more like "yeah, what's up" as opposed to "how can I help you?". I inquired if this dish was normally served this way; I don't recall what his specific words were but he did imply that no it did not look quite right and took it back to the kitchen.
Mandala Kitchen + Bar Austin pad kee mao noodles
This is the second version (below) of pad kee mao that arrived. You can at least see that some of the noodles are in longer lengths. Taste was okay, but for my likes, it could have used a little more sauce and not to mention flavor. Not much spice, though the menu says "spicy brown sauce." The manager did not come back to check on us.
Mandala Kitchen + Bar Austin pad kee mao noodles
As you can see, there is some yin and yang at play here. There are some dishes on the menu I really want to try, like the rice pie and the crispy fish with pineapple tamarind sauce. But after the noodle debacle, I am not certain that I would order it again. I know they have only been open about two months but if they are going to survive, especially at Lamar Union, Mandala needs their universes to be in sync.

Have you been to Mandala, and what was your experience with the food and service?

2 comments:

  1. I'm relieved that I didn't get the drunken noodles but sad you didn't get the pie! i forgot to suggest the pie when I emailed you. We all quite enjoyed the pie, the pancakes, and the egg rolls.

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    1. I would really like to try the rice pie; Michelle had mentioned it to me. But some in our group are not a fan of truffle so I didn't push for it!

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