I always feel good after a meal at Mana Food Bar, even when I overdo it. I might be painfully full, having left behind a leaning tower of small plates. But I know that, in spite of my gorging on all the artfully prepared pan-Asian goodness, I've probably improved my health overall. It's like trying to o.d. on vitamin C pills or beta carotene—the worst that happens is, what, you ward off a cold? Your vision improves?
The same held true on a recent visit, when I did a moderate survey of the current menu. Chef Jill Barron has developed an eclectic range of dishes that draw on Indian, Mediterranean and East Asian flavors, to name just a few influences. I tried a newcomer or two, as well as some popular mainstays. With one exception, the food was superb as usual.
Mana's menu is broken up into cold, hot and side dishes, with most cold and hot items available in either small or large portions. The season being what it is, I stuck to the hot plates. The mushroom saute over creamy polenta ($8.25 small/$15.50 large), shown above, was delightfully warming and rich. The polenta had a creamy yet hearty texture, perfectly suited to complement the meaty 'shrooms.
The spiced cauliflower "vindaloo" with chickpeas over coconut basmati rice ($6/$11) showed off Barron's expert hand with spice. She lets the vegetables in her dishes shine. For those unfamiliar with Indian vindaloo, it may as well translate as "five-alarm," although in this case the chef has shown a thoughtful degree of restraint with the heat.
The seared collard greens with lemon and garlic ($3), off the sides menu, is one of many deceptively simple winners, highlighting the smoky-bitter qualities of just-cooked greenery.
A dish that was new to me on the night of my visit was the pumpkin tamale ($4). It's no longer on the menu posted on the restaurant's website, which could either mean it was a brief seasonal addition or, perhaps, not all that well received. I, for one, didn't care for it; surprisingly bland, this dish made me further appreciate what heroics the Tamale Guy achieves with steamed corn.
But, of course, Mana quickly made up for its misstep with its namesake sliders ($3.50 each). The patty of brown rice and mushroom, kissed with spicy mayo, gives any veggie burger in town a run for its money.
Truth of the matter is, Mana gives any veggie restaurant in town a run for its money, too.
Mana Food Bar
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