Food: Three stars
Service: Four stars
Ambience: Three stars
Address: 4479 N. Broadway, Boulder
Contact: 720-370-5800 mandalainfusion.com
9 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday
3:30-10 p.m. Sunday-Monday
3:30-11 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday
Credit cards: Yes
Noise level: Low to moderate, and even though there was a soundtrack reminiscent of the jazzy beats you'd hear in an early 1980s Banana Republic store, it was easy to carry on a conversation.
Boulderites who have been here more than a few years may remember the now defunct coffee shop, a popular breakfast spot, on North Broadway's west side, called the North Boulder Cafe. But times change, and as of August, Mandala Infusion has occupied the former cafe space. This Tibetan bistro has swapped out the cafe trappings for such fixtures as an impressive prayer wheel and sangha tables for diners who wish to sit on the carpeted floor.
The menu here, like that of many Boulder spots, touts ingredients that are local, organic and free range. Where Mandala Infusion parts company from the rest is that it looks to Tibetan cuisine as a starting point, but it also offers a number of intriguing choices from around the world. Momos dumplings and thukpa noodle soups share menu space with mahi mahi with quinoa and brick chicken as dinner options. There's also such vegan and gluten-free selections as a combination plate of lentil soup, vegetables and basmati, as well as a rice noodle soup with tofu. Chef's soup of the day at Mandala Infusion. (Paul Aiken / Staff Photographer)
During a recent Friday night dinner, service was gracious, informative, and attentive, and our server was clearly knowledgable about the menu. The conscientious nature of the service quickly became apparent when a starter plate of fried $6 lamb momos dumplings arrived. We had ordered these appetizers steamed, and before we had a chance to notice, the staff let us know they had made an error. Additionally, they informed us we would receive two orders of momos, one steamed, and one fried, at no additional cost.
Momos are similar to gyoza or potstickers, and are also available here in a vegan version. The lamb consisted of local ground meat, shiitake mushroom, ginger, cilantro and basil.
Spicing was balanced, with cilantro and basil complementing the earthy lamb in a manner similar to a traditional mint condiment. Lamb fans will enjoy this course, which was accompanied by an addictive garnish of bright carrot, onion, ginger and daikon pickles.
Less successful was the $6 starter plate of falafel and tahini sauce. The falafel balls were large and dense, but lacking in overall flavor, and the sauce didn't do much to improve these chickpea fritters.
Out of culinary curiosity, we also sampled a $4 side of imported yak cheese, a specialty of both Nepal and Tibet. Our server described the flavor as being that of a cross between Swiss and goat cheeses, and we couldn't fault her analysis. The firm textured cheese carried a creamy smoothness, as well as a tangy sharpness that was less pronounced than that of a goat chèvre.
If this had been presented as a small batch artisanal domestic or European cheese, I would have been none the wiser.
My dining companion's gluten-free and vegan entree was the $17 Awesome Autumn Curry. The heat wasn't as pronounced as one would find in a more incendiary Thai or Indian interpretation and the spice was tempered by suave coconut sauce. Warming chunks of pumpkin and butternut squash significantly pumped up the heartiness quotient and supported the autumnal, if not the awesome, label. Zucchini and red pepper made for dashes of color, and also made for a lighter counterpoint to the squash. An appealingly aromatic side of basmati rice nicely rounded out the course.
A bone broth thukpa, or noodle soup, is available in chicken, pork belly, or beef varieties for $17. I thoroughly enjoyed my packed bowl, which highlighted a rich and clear broth. Pork belly had been crisped up, making for thick bacon-like slabs, but without the overly processed taste.
Cellophane rice noodles were soft and comforting, and provided a textural contrast to crisp tender bell pepper, daikon and zucchini. This bowl was as satisfying as any bowl of gourmet ramen and stood out by virtue of the quality of the meat and slow-cooked broth.
So far, Mandala Infusion's $9 apricot and toasted coconut tart with honeydew sorbet ranks as the top dessert of 2017. The sorbet was delicate and refreshing. This presented an appealing contrast to the nutty richness of the pleasingly chewy pastry, which was topped with an apricot preserve that was intensely fruity but not too sweet.
Mandala Infusion's flavors focus more on the subtle than the complex or fiery, and the kitchen's approach appears to be to let quality ingredients speak for themselves. While an argument can be made that the entree pricing could be a little less, impeccable service and an original menu make this relative newcomer worthy of a visit.
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