When Cumin opened in East Hyde Park in 2002, it was something new in Indian dining here. The chef and owner, Yajan Upadhyaya, served food that was both more traditional and more modern than most Indian restaurants. He drew on regional traditions from all over the Indian subcontinent for inspiration, and sometimes used Indian flavors in brand-new dishes.
He was a curator and educator of Indian food, and much of what he served was delicious: fresh, cooked well, often in the tandoori oven, with a judicious use of spices and flavors that made each dish distinct.
Eventually, he sort of backed out of Cumin, and it became what it is now: an adventurous fine-dining restaurant. There hasn’t been another restaurant like the original here since.
Upadhyaya has been in Boston for awhile, but he returned to Cincinnati about a year ago and now he’s opening a new restaurant that will be very much in the spirit of the original Cumin.”People kept asking me if I’d try it again,” he said. “How could I say no?” The new place is called Mantra on the Hill.
It will be in the space that is being vacated by Daveed’s in Mt. Adams. He has a partner, businessman Kaezad Setna, who won’t be involved day to day but has collaborated in the concept. They get the key on May 1 and hope to by open by the end of that month. They’ll have to install a tandoor oven in the kitchen, and plan to have one outside on the patio, too. They’ll do some redecorating but not a major rehab. There should be 60 seats, plus more on the patio.
The menu is a tour of the very different regional styles of Indian cuisine: Goanese peri-peri, a Parsi lamb and apricot dish called sali boti, , Punjabai Lahori kofta, Mangalorean coconut scallops There will be Indochinese dishes, and spicy southern dishes.
Old fans will find a number of dishes from the original Cumin menu, such as masala mushrooms, masala lamb chops, tandoori salmon, papri chat, and mango chicken. After we talked, he decided to put the imli baingan on the menu, too: those crispy eggplant chips that were a holdover on the Cumin menu for a long time.
There will be excellent choices for vegetarians, with 11 vegetarian entrees, 3 appetizers, meatless Mulligatawny soup and salads. Lots of naan and other bread. They’ll have a liquor license, and will be happy to do take-out.
Upadhyaya said they hope to stay open late with a small late-night menu, including desserts.