Mati’s Indian Express

Posted on May 3, 2011 – 6:38 AM | by Admin
  • Share

By Liv Moe  Photos by Scott Duncan

About a year ago I found myself working in the culinary wasteland that is Natomas. Most days I bagged my lunch, but on the days I didn’t I had grocery store Chinese food, some sort of weird La Bou express, and a Mexican restaurant with a poor selection and high prices as my options. After months of slogging through this dismal fare I got wind of a take-out Indian restaurant off Truxel that was reported to be quite good. I promptly stopped whatever I was doing, jumped in my truck and made a beeline for Mati’s Indian Express.

The food was fantastic; flavorful, spicy, brimming with fresh veggies and served with an array of tasty chutneys. Just when I was feeling pretty alright about dining in Natomas, I learned that my first meal at Mati’s would be my last for quite awhile.

In order to better serve the needs of her most loyal diners, Mati’s owner, Ranjani Prasad, decided to pull stakes in Natomas and head to Midtown. Originally hoping for a short lapse in operations, the restaurant closed its doors in Natomas at the end of September but didn’t reopen in Midtown until early February. The transition – though a bit slower than anticipated -landed Mati’s a spot in the high visibility Fremont Building at 16th and P.

Given the array of dining options we have in Midtown it says a lot that Mati’s diners left the grid in large numbers for Prasad’s tasty Northern Indian fare. Although we have solid representation in the sandwich, burrito, and pizza-by-the-slice departments, Indian food has been served in a sit down atmosphere until Matis. Through her travels with her family prior to opening Mati’s, and with careful consideration of a chain of similar restaurants owned by family members in Australia, Prasad saw a niche waiting to be filled.

Prasad’s story thus far is one of the classic American dream gone right. About six years ago Prasad decided she wanted to open a restaurant based on a model of fast, convenient, and healthful Indian food to go. Upon unveiling this dream, everyone from her co-workers at Caltrans to her husband Anil warned against the idea. Given the high failure rate for most new restaurants their concerns were hardly unwarranted, but Prasad would not be deterred. After a year of research, Mati’s Indian Express opened its first location in Natomas.

Now, everyone from her husband (whose mother the restaurant is named after) to Prasad’s children, three of whom work in the restaurant, are fully on board. Prasad herself does most of the cooking, although her son Shawn steps in when needed.

Supporting a successful small business comes with its sacrifices, however. On the day I came to interview Prasad she was on the fourth day of a cold she couldn’t seem to shake. Though she seemed to weather the load pretty well there was a tone of fatigue in her voice as she described her typical twelve hour work day, which begins at 9AM and usually ends around 9PM.

The new location has doubled the seating capacity and with it the need for additional staff to handle the load. Though they are still interviewing and hiring more staff, Prasad and her current team are shouldering the load themselves for now. An official grand opening is in the works. The restaurant recently got a liquor license, and a selection of Indian beers will be available soon.

Prasad’s effort is evident in the solid fare that Mati’s churns out. The flavors are consistently rich and fresh vegetables flesh out the offerings. Meals come with naan, which can be ordered plain or with garlic. The aloo gobi is good, with a nice heat and a strong fennel finish. Mati’s has a way with fowl; both the chicken tikka masala and the butter chicken luxuriated in a creamy, spicy sauce.

On pretty much every visit I’ve made thus far samosas have been a must, as they are some of the best I’ve had in Sacramento. To match the crispy delight of the fried potato pockets, Mati’s offers a selection of delicious and inventive chutneys. Two of my favorites are an onion chutney with an intense heat and complex flavor, and a raita containing fresh herbs and a cucumber carrot puree. A fresh samosa from Mati’s with a couple of these chutneys could be a satisfying snack or meal in itself.

Mati’s offers four daily vegan items and a wealth of gluten-free menu options. Thus far I’ve found the flavor profile on the meat dishes to be more satisfying with the exception of the vegetarian aloo gobi. A green bean dish with crushed red chili and onion is also incredibly satisfying and complex given the sparse ingredients.

Really, if I had a complaint about Mati’s thus far it would be a minor one: the sturdy plasticware takeout food is currently offered in makes for convenient dining, however, it will probably take a lifetime or two to break down. Outside of this one small detail, Mati’s serves quality, freshly prepared food at a very reasonable price. I’ve had leftovers after nearly every visit and unlike some things that might languish in the fridge, Mati’s leftovers don’t last long.

As Midtown’s dining community continues to blossom, Mati’s family-owned personal touch is a perfect addition to a region that has seen an uptick in independently owned operations in recent years. Here’s to Prasad’s decision to follow her dream and her diner’s wishes! Natomas’ loss is Midtown’s gain.  

Mati’s Indian Express, 1501 16th Street, 916.341.0532

Post a Comment