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Curry in a Hurry

Mango Grove’s Indian Fare Can Be Worth Savoring--But You Might Not Have the Time

Christopher Myers

Mango Grove

Address:6365 B Dobbin Road
Dobbin Center
Columbia, MD 21045

More on Mango Grove.

By Richard Gorelick | Posted 5/11/2005

I finally made the pilgrimage to Mango Grove, a restaurant friends had long been encouraging me to try, as they steadily connived to come along with me. The menu, they had told me, even within its vegetarian confines, was much more expressive and varied than the city’s Indian restaurants, which tend to trot out the same curries and tandoors. Since I have left many Indian tables feeling logy and bloated, Mango Grove’s promise of “light, healthy, delicious” Indian cuisine intrigued me—but, as it turned out, ultimately eluded me.

Mango Grove’s printed menu includes a discussion of ayurvedic nutrition. Based on millennia-old Vedic principles, this way of eating promotes balanced meals combining six basic tastes—sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent—all of which have their own therapeutic or digestive qualities. It’s the absence of one or more of these flavors that can cause, among other things, the gastric maladies so often felt by undisciplined diners. Unfortunately, Mango Grove’s menu is reticent about which dishes hold what flavors, and diners are left to their own devices in assembling this perfectly balanced meal. As a result, we ordered what sounded good, interesting, and representative, and ended up feeling dazed and grumpy.

But even a perfectly designed meal would have gone awry this evening. Our meal was paced far too aggressively, which is to say badly, and we said so when entrées began to tumble out of the kitchen before we’d finished our appetizers. The elegant gentleman who brings food from the kitchen proved to be more sympathetic to our request to hold off on the entrées than was the woman who took our orders, who informed us that we had been given ample time to finish our appetizers.

An assorted appetizer platter ($7.95) started us off wrong. Potato-stuffed samosas and crispy vegetable fritters, or pakodas, were no lighter in touch or taste than any I’ve met before. More pleasing, and worth ordering singly, were the spiced minced vegetable cutlet and especially the aloo chaat, a light potato patty saturated with aromatic ginger and cilantro. But one must-shun, at least for reasons of comfort, was the mysore vadai, a fried doughnut made from the nutty flour urud dhal that yielded not much flavor to compensate for its soddenness.

The special thali ($15.25) provides diners with a choice of soup, either idli (ground lentil/rice cakes) or vadai, and, along with coffee and dessert, one dosai or oothappam (a rice/lentil pancake). Dosai, or Indian crêpes, envelop a scoop of masala or chutney in a baby-blanket-sized stretch of soaked flour, which the diner breaks or tears off to eat with the insides. A marbleized plain-spiced dosai comes filled with a smooth purée of spicy potato and onion. It’s delicious, new, and special, and I wish it hadn’t materialized only seconds after I finished my soup and appetizers. The show-stopper, though, is the paper masala dosai, fashioned out of extra crispy rice and lentil crêpes, and rolled into a cone the size of a Victrola horn.

From an extensive list of curries, we ordered, instead of the ordinary channa masala or palak paneer, two selections that sounded more intriguing—aloo bainghan ($8.25), which mixes cubes of eggplant and potato with fresh coriander leaves, and the daal curry ($8.25), which Mango Grove seasons with onions, coconut, mustard, and curry leaves. These both were beautifully nuanced and aromatic, subtle in their effect, accumulative in their affect.

Having brought up the principle of six complementary flavors, Mango Grove’s menu and staff should do a better job helping diners construct the “light, healthy and delicious” meals they aim to offer. Even more helpful would be giving guests the time to enjoy their meal.

Tikka me Elmo

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