Mantra Indian Kitchen & Tap Room

Food: () Creamy, made-to-order curries and savory pastries with unique spices

Service: () Friendly servers help diners place counter orders, then deliver to tables

Atmosphere: () Bollywood music and videos play nonstop in this corner space

More Info

Location: 744 NW Bond St. (at Franklin Avenue), Suite A, Bend

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday to Monday. (Closed Tuesday.)

Cuisine: Indian

Price range: Small plates $5 to $8, rice-and-curry bowls $8 to $11, full thali meals $15

Credit cards: Master Card, Visa

Kids’ menu: Peanut butter-and-jelly roti $5

Vegetarian and gluten-free menu: Several vegan curries and gluten-free options

Alcoholic beverages: Beer and cider

Outdoor seating: Patio and sidewalk seating

Reservations: Large parties only

Contact: mantraindianbend.com, 541-241-7567

By definition, a mantra is a sound that is repeated to help one concentrate in Buddhist or Hindu meditation.

I am certain that smell and taste can serve the same function. Because when my senses are invaded by the aromas and flavors of the cuisine served at Bend’s Mantra Indian Kitchen & Tap Room, I feel as if I could levitate.

Chef-owners Jasvinder (Jassey) Uppal and Arun (Runi) Srikantaiah have added a new dimension to the growing diversity of Central Oregon’s dining scene. Bend’s second full-service Indian restaurant is the first to prepare its food to order, as opposed to the daily buffet service provided by Taj Palace on Wall Street.

Srikantaiah, originally from Mysore in southern India, is a former corporate engineer who moved to Bend five years ago after living in Portland for 12 years. He ran the Curry Shack food cart before opening Mantra on May 10, in a location (at Bond Street and Franklin Avenue) that previously held a pizza restaurant, yogurt shop and coffee shop.

Uppal, born in northern India’s Punjab region and raised in the Sikh community of Vancouver, British Columbia, came to Oregon with her family 14 years ago. For much of that time, she has been serving fast-food chicken and vegetarian curries at the Butler Market Store on South Third Street, which she owns with her husband, Kashmir Uppal.

Home cooking

Both of Mantra Kitchen’s owners were schooled in the flavors and textures of Indian cuisine by their mothers and grandmothers, in the homes where they grew up.

“Here, we make everything from scratch,” said Srikantaiah. “That even includes the yogurt for our raita and our mango lassi drinks.”

Garlic and ginger are the most important ingredients, said Uppal, even more than such curry spices as cumin, coriander and turmeric. Coconut milk easily substitutes for dairy in many creamy curries.

Mantra Kitchen also has a wood-fired pizza oven, left by the owners of Fire in Bend, its predecessor in this location. That oven may soon be converted to a northern Indian tandoori oven where unique chicken and fish dishes, as well as yeasty roti bread, could be made.

Mantra isn’t a big restaurant, but the owners make the most of the space with an outdoor seating area, especially popular this time of year. Diners order at the counter, where attendants assist with any questions about unfamiliar foods.

Meals are delivered to the tables, but diners are asked to clear their dishes. Behind a long bar, several taps offer local beers, ciders and Kombucha.

If there’s a theme here, it’s Bollywood. The Hindi film industry, one of the largest in the world, is based in the city of Mumbai. Its distinctive music — from old-school ballads to up-tempo bhangra — plays here at all hours, with videos on several televisions. Srikantaiah and Uppal have discussed the possibility of Bollywood movie nights in this space, with its high ceilings and large windows.

Curry courses

As far as food, my dining companion and I enjoyed Mantra’s thali plates, full meals priced at $15. These are focused around a choice of a main course, complemented by a pair of rotating side dishes with Basmati rice. The divided steel plate also holds cucumber-yogurt raita, freshly baked flatbread (paratha), a crispy rice cracker (papadum) and savory chutney.

I am a fan of the shrimp curry course, a dish typical of the south Indian enclave of Goa. Prepared with potatoes in a coconut sauce just spicy enough to tickle the tongue, it highlights a half-dozen plump, grilled shrimp.

My companion loves the butter chicken, bites of poultry in a creamy sauce. The Vindaloo pork is slow-cooked with vinegar and chilies but is not too hot. The vegetarian mutter paneer is delicious; it features a blend of peas with pressed paneer (a pressed curd cheese, sliced and cooked) in a tomato-based sauce spiced with garam masala. Each of these main courses is also available as a rice bowl for $8 to $11.

Side dishes may include some type of dhal, an Indian stew of stewed lentils, and chole, a Punjabi chickpea curry. The rice, colored with yellow saffron, is moist; the raita is a perfect choice to cut the heat of spicy curries, and the breads are delicious.

For light eaters, or merely for a savory snack, Mantra serves tiffin, a sort of “street food,” priced $5 to $8. The most popular of these are pakoras, vegetable fritters prepared in a gluten-free chickpea batter and served with a sweet tamarind sauce; and samosas, empanada-like pastries of peas, carrots and potatoes, offered both with tamarind and a green chutney of cilantro, crushed cashews and coconut water.

Typically, Mantra has a special dessert on the menu. On our last visit, this was seriya kheer, a version of rice pudding made by boiling grain (in this case, vermicelli) with milk and sugar, adding golden raisins, nuts and cardamom for flavor.

It’s enough to make you want to levitate.

— John Gottberg Anderson can be reached at janderson@bendbulletin.com.

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