Mint Indian Bistro is really Nepalese but doesn’t want to seem too foreign

I didn’t know much about Mint Indian Bistro, and as I approached the door, I had some serious second thoughts. It had been pretty tough to locate, and the strip center was dark and unwelcoming (although the parking-lot lights were brighter when we left). What little I had heard had been positive, though, so I took a flier.

And wow; talk about books being completely the opposite of their covers. Walking through the door, we were transported to a serene environment of earth tones and, yes, some mint accents, with soft lighting and Eastern music. A server showed up immediately to offer us a choice of tables, and as we settled into a comfortable booth, he filled our water glasses. And the best definitely was yet to come.

Mint uses "Indian" in its name, but most of the dishes on its menu reference Nepal, which shares its southern border with India. For the most part, this is food that has become very familiar to, and is very accessible to, Americans.

Exhibit one would have to be the Lassi Bar. You may know lassi, the yogurt-based drink that’s as likely to be flavored with salt as with mango or another fruit. Mint serves a line of them but also bumps them up a bit with its lassi cocktails, something we just had to try. A mango rum lassi ($8) was perfect, the tang of yogurt balanced by the sweetness of the fruit, the rum smoothing out the edges.

Complimentary pappadum arrived quickly, with two smooth chutneys, tamarind and, of course, mint. Pappadum is a pretty standard item, but we were struck at how exceptionally crisp this was, the lightly bubbled surface of the folded discs generously flecked with cumin seed.

The same two chutneys were served with a starter of potato-pea samosas ($4.99 for two), the creamy filling enfolded by the crisp pastry in a perfect tetrahedral form. As was the case with the pappadum, they were artful enough to leave a strong impression.

Which was the case, as well, with the naan with fire-roasted garlic ($2.99), beautifully blistered, lightly charred, perfectly stretchy and blessed with a generous amount of garlic.

And perusing the menu, we were struck, also, by a sense of whimsy (Karma Korma, anyone?) — the same sense, we’re guessing, that inspired the Lassi Bar. Mint is near various parts of the campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas — sort of across from one part, around the corner from another, up the street from still another — and no doubt numerous members of the university community find their way there on a regular basis, maybe for the lunch buffet. It’s particularly fitting, then, that the menu includes the Rebel Curry ($13.99 for a full serving, $9.99 for a half for lamb, or $12.99/$8.99 for chicken). "The Nepalese Gurkas are known for their prowess in battle and so are the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels," it reads. Well, all right, then, we couldn’t pass this one up.

The lamb chunks were plentiful and cloaked in a sauce with complex levels of flavor, plus melted chunks of tomato and green pepper. Our only quibble of the evening involved this dish, because the meat hadn’t been well trimmed, but it was indeed a quibble, and we were happy to keep spooning the curry over the accompanying basmati rice. And, in a nice touch, we were offered additional rice by two separate employees, and when we said we’d like a to-go box, we were brought a container with a large mound of hot rice.

Chicken biryani ($8.99 for a half, $11.99 for a whole for chicken; lamb, shrimp and veggie variations also available) and the carrot pudding gajar halwa ($2.99) rounded things out, raisins and nuts adding richness and texture to the former, sweetness and texture to the latter. The gajar halwa was served in a lovely little glass cylinder and accompanied by demitasse spoons, which scooped up perfect measures of the creamy carrots, raisins, cashews and pistachios.

So there we were, in a Nepalese restaurant that uses "Indian" in its name for familiarity (who would’ve dreamed that 20 years ago?), is just off the Strip and has prices we can actually afford, and where the Himalayan-expat servers took orders on their iPhones before bringing us something from the Lassi Bar.

Is this a great country or what?

Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at 383-0474 or email her at hrinella@ reviewjournal.com.

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