Restaurant review: Manifesto

From the December 6, 2012 edition

You can read the writing on the walls inside of Manifesto — and there’s a lot of it. See, this brand new Downtown showpiece from the De-Novo team is filled with aphoristic quips appearing in large and loose script. Occasionally they’re accompanied by sketched portraits of presidents facing-up to their words, but the scrawl’s also authorless — or attributed to such people as Deepak Chopra (?!?). Earning pride-of-space among this verbiage is that shout-out to “The Crazy Ones” that served as the text for a series of famous Apple commercials (Synopsis: let’s praise the gifted misfits not fond of rules whom you can disagree with but not ignore).

Additionally decorating Manifesto’s deceptively compressed, high-ceilinged nooks-and-crannies is a jumble of bold and swanky, big-and-tall-sized accoutrements like: multi-tiered chandeliers; a horned bull’s skull; mismatched tables, booths and chairs varying from plush to leathery, metallic to rustically carved wood; glassy and brassy lamps; and a curved, inviting bar topped by handsome, scroll-y lanterns. Toss in early-morning through late-night service, a sometimes bluesy/sometimes Billy Joel-y soundtrack, self-described preferences for “Tuscan” cooking and Scotches (about 50 Scotches are offered, and the spirit haunts recipes like a stiff and buttery Butterscotch Panna Cotta) plus romantic, Scotch-like nighttime amber lighting and now you’ve got ... well, that’s a good question.

My first response might be: a captivating mishmash that, if at odds with Manifesto’s severe name, nonetheless shouts ”masculine!” But a better answer is: with impressive-out-of-the-gate dishes and deals like these, who cares?

First things first, though. Drinkwise, there are winter-appropriate beers on tap, an all-Italian wine list and uncommon Scotch-tails. From the latter, I tried a pleasantly floral and uncharacteristically feminine Scotch Flower ($10 — with Glenmorangie, Cocchi Americano and St. Germain) and a citrusy and viscous Smoked Bloody Mary with a Laphroaig-propelled iodine-y kick ($12).

From the currently in-flux, mostly tapas-y menu, the medium-rare seared tender Lamb Lollipop atop a nice (if incompatibly chilled) orzo/tomato/olive salad was the best $5 I’ve spent in awhile. Double that small cost, though, and value increases substantially with the wonderful Slow Braised Beef Cheek — the kind of thing you’d probably pay double again for if ordered at, say, Rigsby’s. This earthy and intense plate featured plenty of crusted yet alluringly unctuous meat, a terrific little shiitake risotto (properly loose — a Columbus rarity) and a boozy sauce from 12-year-old Glenkinchie.

Another steal was Chicken Saltimbocca ($8). Two lean, biggie poultry logs — tender and wrapped around goodies like prosciutto — were flattered by garlic and a rich chianti-and-mustard-tempered sauce.

If the Butternut Squash and Spinach Lasagna’s ($10) textures were a bit tired, its flavors were wide awake with its namesake ingredients — plus basil and cheese. Call it honorably homemade if slightly flawed.

On the snackier side, tomato, cheese and balsamic vinegar popped-up often in winners such as irresistible House-Crusted Mozzarella ($6; crunchily panko-blanketed and a major upgrade over the pubby favorite); rich, thick and acidic Spicy Tomato Bisque ($5; its aggressive flavors mitigated by Parmesan, orzo and basil); the busy but zesty and refreshing Manifesto House Salad ($5; with peppadews, kalamatas, roasted tomatoes and pignoli); and a thin and crispy Manifesto Flatbread ($8).

I smiled at that flatbread (an assembly of pesto, caramelized onions, goat cheese, crispy prosciutto, arugula and more) because, like Manifesto itself, it has ”over-thought” and “unfocused” written all over it, yet — I suppose similar to “The “Crazy Ones”— it overachieved.

Photo by Meghan Ralston