Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Very Vegan Friendly Mana Organic in NYC a Maybe

I came across Mana Organic on Happy Cow a few weeks ago and although I thought I knew of all the vegan options in uptown Manhattan apparently you're never too smart to keep learning.  Well, not really UP up town, (speaking of which I think the Uptown Juice Bar on 125th Street is due for another visit), but Upper East and West Side uptown.  Anyway, I had never heard of Mana, never heard anyone talk about Mana and it ended up on my radar.  Dinner was a combination of hits, misses, and some things I didn't know where to put.  It's a restaurant that seems to hold out it's arms to a wide target market serving organic and vegan and some fish dishes.

Amsterdam between 91st and 92nd Streets.
Nice brick walls, not as bright as it looks but there's not enough room between the two front doors to have one close before the other opens, so at times, it's freezing!

There were a few more people than in the pics.  Although never crowded there was a steady 1/3 full crowd.

One of the first questions that comes to mind looking at the menu is, "Is Mana an Asian, Italian, or what kind of cuisine?"  I don't know if that's important.  If you start with dumplings you don't have to move on to a stir fry.  Fusion cuisine is all the rage but we generally don't mix a plate of edamame with a parmigiana entree like we did.

Every single plate, however, was sent out of the kitchen with balance and color.  There was nothing just "thrown" on a plate and the care in plating was very evident.
Seitan-Tempeh Sticks, beet dipping sauce and a bright slaw.

We started with Edamame which was pretty standard.  It didn't come covered in sea salt which is unusual but in thinking about it is probably a good thing.  It did come with a side of salt shaker which I caved in and used eventually so perhaps we should just relent and let the kitchen throw on a dish what goes on a dish.

You can see how crispy these are.

The Seitan-Tempeh Sticks are breaded and deep fried to tempura like crispness although the batter was a bit thicker than the seitan at Kate's Joint.  I found the center protein perhaps overly breaded.  It was crisp yes but there was a lot compared to the size of what it was coating.  The red sauce was interesting.  I could taste the onions and a hint of citrus but had to ask what the main ingredient was.  It was a beet based sauce and so refreshing not to get the same old tomato dipping sauce.

A small steamed Kale salad makes this a colorful and interesting plate.

Some foods in all likelihood aren't going to knock your socks off no matter how good they are.  Dumplings probably fall into that category where they can be done wrong and thick and soggy but these were light and cooked just right.  The dough was thin and light and the filling had a note of sweet which was nice.  The filling was pretty standard vegetables.

Side of sauteed greens, broccoli, shitake mushrooms and garlic. (Can be ordered with ginger.)

The greens were fresh and sauteed to perfection with just the right amount of garlic to announce its presence but not befriend you for the evening.

My entree was the Tempeh-Tofu Teriyaki and here was a dish that landed right in the middling ground. It had a nice teriyaki flavor but that's about it.  There was nothing bad in this dish at all but to me it was just a piece of tempeh and a piece of tofu in sauce.  There was no coating, no crisp and nothing unusual or particularly interesting about the preparation, just coated slabs of protein.  The rice and veggies were cooked perfectly but you really expect nothing less.  Not really impressive or inspiring.

Another pretty plate, tempeh on left, tofu center.  
'm a big fan of seitan and it always gets at least a second or third look when I see it on a menu so we really couldn't resist ordering a "Seitan Parmigiana - Deep fried with tofu stuffing and noodles."  This dish was a mixed bag.  It was again a beet based sauce and with no melted "cheese" on top calling it parmigiana was probably a misnomer, milanese perhaps more accurately reflecting the target.  The noodles were a whole wheat noodle but much lighter, I actually thought they might have been a combination of rice noodles.  The seitan was an absolute hit.  It was slathered in the sauce and when you cut it and bit on it had an amazing crunch, then a meaty-ness chew and finally a melt in your mouth texture from the tofu stuffing.  I wasn't impressed with the sauce on the noodles which had a strong tahini flavor.  It might have worked with a few falafel balls but I found it out of place on this dish and a tad gritty, sort of like there was a tiny bit of halavah-ish texture worked into it.

Colorful no doubt but a confusing combination of flavors and textures.  Great seitan parm though!

You can see the layers in the parm.

Can I get to the microscopic level?

This was sort of interesting.  The service was very good, attentive without being doting but while I was taking this previous picture the waiter just removed the plate.  I wasn't even sure the picture came out the way I wanted, (it didn't with the big shadow in front), but I was so surprised I couldn't say anything in time to prevent another plate from being put on top of it.  This was sort of unusual but still left a, "What the ... ?" in my mind until the water was refilled again and the tea pot was refilled with hot water without being asked. Oh well.  Just stuck with me as odd.

The two desserts we ordered were fine.  The first was a lemon poppy cake and the frosting was no doubt lemony.  Pow!  It was sweet and not clawing and the cake itself was moist.

And a little itsy bitsy lemon wedge to keep the cake from weather-vaning in a strong wind I suppose.

The parfait was a mango mousse with tahini.  This just totally confused my palate and I think there probably would have been better combinations than the bite of sesame.  It wasn't bad but just not a favorite of mine.

I think there could have been better choices than tahini to go with the rich delicious mango mousse.

The desserts that weren't really over the top left us, for some strange reason, craving more so we ordered, possibly more out of curiosity than desire, the Tofu Cake with Cranberry Sauce.  (Mango available also.)  This was a faux cheese cake and was ok.  I guess you have to take my dessert reviews with a view that if I'm going to spend calories on dessert it had better either blow me out of the water or be chocolaty on chocolate goodness.

There's a burger on the menu that's homemade that I'd like to go back and try perhaps when I'm alone for lunch one day and the parmigiana was definitely something I'd order again but I'd hold the tahini "cheese," if I remember.  We had a lot of varied dishes all over the line of good but not really a high percentage of greats.  For a restaurant that's been around for a while I thought I'd be more impressed than I was.  If you're with someone who absolutely must have an animal dish and are ok with fish I think this place absolutely hits the target for your choice for vegan/omnivore choices.  It's worth another visit and I will, but for now, for me,  there are other places that need to punch my dance card.

Mana on Urbanspoon


JL goes Vegan said...

Thanks for this review! I haven't heard of this place. Will have to keep it in mind!

Marty said...

This place is very under the radar. Let me know what you think when you make it there.