Monday, June 6, 2011

New restaurant Mani is the perfect man

That is, of course, if your perfect man gives you quality food that isn't so expensive that you feel guilty and is - most importantly - Mediterranean.

Fellow Damn Arborite Joshua Stoolman and I visited Mani Osteria and Bar on its two-week anniversary at 341 E. Liberty St., right across from Bar Louie and Liberty Plaza. Their location has been a great many things, according to Josh, including a furniture store, and all of them have failed. Before you tell me, "Uh, duh, they're not there anymore, of course they failed," let
me remind you that businesses can move. Check, mate. Anyway, the two of us are hoping that Mani proves to be the business that really makes a go of the place, considering it's shmamazing location.

Plus, the place is made for, well, us, I guess.

From the outside, Mani can look a little too posh to be affordable. They've got these huge windows surrounding most of the outside walls with their name etched in them like they're some sort of hair salon trying to look edgy (coughcoughVoxcough - what, I'd still go there). The inside looks like that too, and it really took until we sat down and got our menus to realize that yes, the place is nice and classy, but it also isn't ridonc expensive or pretentious.

Mani has this Italian thing going for it, which is where the word "osteria" comes from - it means that it's a place that, uh, hosts people. And if you know Italian, help me out by shutting up and letting me look smart. Servers bring out water in liter glass bottles and leave them on the table, and most of the dining choices are small plates, pizzas, pastas and entrees.

We each got a speciality drink, which I'm pretty sure our server Jana Pohorelsky, 22, from Brooklyn, N.Y., called "Il Postino." It had some simple syrup in it, lemon juice, a lot of grapefruit flavor and a twist of orange, as you can see.

Look how nice Josh's haircut is!

It was totes hot that day, so the drink was very welcome. Unfortunately, they were also $10 a piece, but such is the going rate for most bars down on Main Street, just a few blocks away. The prices for everything else, however, were not too bad, but not amazing. The most expensive thing on the entire food menu was a $22 entree, and those started at $15. These change fairly often though, so if you go back, prices will vary, but it sounds like they're trying to stick to this price range.

There was also an option that Josh and I plan on going back for called the Chef's Table. It's $30 for some select appetizers, pizzas, pastas, entrees and desserts, and owner Adam Baru said he could do a wine pairing for us that would go with it for $15. Fablam!

We opted to share four different appetizers this time, which were split into five categories: select cheeses and meats, fried, hot, cold and soup and salads. We had..

Crispy pork belly (hot - heh) - $10
with apricot marmaletta and oregano

Arugula and mizuna (soups and salad) - $8
with mushrooms, crispy shallots and parmigianno reggiano

Mussels (hot) - $12
with white wine, garlic and bread to dip in the broth (the nommest)

Crispy artichokes (fried) - $9
with lemon yogurt, sea salt and what appeared to be some sort of tapenade.

Man, that one mussel is looking pretty Georgia O'Keeffe.

The pork belly won first place, as it should every time. ; ) For serious though, it was amazing. Melted in your mouth. If I describe this any further, I'm afraid of what some of my friends may think of me, so all I'm going to say is that it's the tastiest thing I've had in Ann Arbor, save for when eve the restaurant (that was its actual name, lowercase and all) was open and pretty much everything I've had at Ann Arbor Cooks!, exclamation point theirs. Bottom line: this dish brings all the boys to the yard.

Second place went to the artichokes. I love me some artichokes, but Josh usually hates them. Like spits them out and does that tongue-scraping thing that cats do when they've got fur stuck on there. These, though, were friggin' heavenly and we both loved them. That's really saying something. This was the one thing we ordered that I thought was overpriced though, besides the drinks.

The mussels were third and the salad last because, as Josh said, "It's a salad." If you get the mussels, don't be a dumbass about the bread that comes with them - dip that shit in the broth! That's what it's there for! They were so, so good and surprisingly filling. Don't get us wrong though, the salad was nothing to sneeze at.

We ended our meals not too fat and happy. In fact, we both commented on the fact that we didn't feel like DYING like we usually do after going out. When we talked with Baru, he said that this was sort of his plan. He wants a place that anyone in the community feels like they could go to, whether it be for a date or just to hang out. He also said he wants people to have options of stopping by for a small bite (he mentioned that the Mani Chop would be a great take out thing for people on the go) or for full, all-out dinners.

We liked the place even more after talking to Baru; he's an Ann Arbor native (ooh, a Michigan man!) that has lived in Philadelphia for the past eight years or so, working in restaurants. He brought his wife and kid back here and had only been back in A2 for 12 days when we talked to him. Not exactly my cup of tea to move halfway across the country and start a business in the same week, but I gotta say, the guy looks happy.

Conclusion: Mani Osteria and Bar is pretty perfect for us 20-somethings. The prices, as Pohorelsky said, are "between Main Street and State Street." That sums it up pretty well. As far as the quality of the food, however, I'd have to say that it leans more toward Main Street than it does State, and I'd say the nicer side of Main. If you're going for drinks, I'd stick to happy hour, which is 4-6:30 p.m., Tuesday through Friday. Beer and wine for $3, and sangria for $4 y'all (this message has been approved by Paula Deen). Our service was some of the best in A2, and while the place was hip, I didn't feel bombarded by a weird number of people our own age (yes, this is a thing I care about). Also, the place is decorated with a bunch of mismatched mirrors, chandeliers, etc.

Gee, it's a good thing I'm longwinded! Otherwise, the word count would be atrocious. 10 points to Gryffindor!

May I recommend the pork belly?


  1. Awesome. Was just visiting some friends in Williamsburg last week and had some great pork belly at Fette Sau... was wondering where I could find some here. Now I know. Thanks!

  2. @Daniel: There are a few places in town to get some great pork belly, although I think Mani might be the only place I know of where you can get it as a dish by itself. Tomukun on Liberty has these pork belly buns that are shaped like a PacMan and are so, so good. I know they also have pork belly in some of their noodle dishes as well. However, if you want the best pork belly around, you'll have to head to Kalamazoo and stop and Food Dance! Amirite people?