A Tale of Two Cities

Coast-to-coast deliciousness at the recently opened Manhattan House

When I first moved to California from New York, it was meant to be temporary. I was renovating a brownstone back home in the city and figured I’d crash rent-free with my big brother for a few months while trying to figure out how to keep paying that damn contractor from afar. I’d also met a guy in the meantime who lived in some beach town south of LA, also called Manhattan.  

Thirteen summers later, I found myself recently sitting at Manhattan House with that same guy and two small children who suspiciously look a whole lot like him. My kids aren’t New Yorkers, and I sold that brownstone years ago. I’ve changed dramatically, and so has that sleepy little beach town which now boasts some fantastic restaurants that can go head-to-head with the finest in the Big Apple.  

For me, Manhattan House is the neighborhood restaurant we all deserve and rarely get—the one where you can walk (or stroller) on over and find exactly what the day’s occasion requires. While we dined early on a recent Saturday, I scanned the room.

An awkward first date, perhaps pre-movie, gradually loosened up over a glass or two of wine. An older couple watched the USC/Stanford game at the bar while contentedly sharing some appetizers. A family of eight celebrated a child’s birthday in an alcove dining area. Three ladies of a certain age giggled over a second round of very good Manhattans.

All were made to feel welcome by what has to be one of the nicest front-of-the-house teams I’ve lately seen in action. Co-owners Jeff and Brett worked the floor as cheerfully as the servers, and I watched them run food, bus tables and serve drinks alongside their staff. It sets a tone of true collaboration that sometimes is all too rare.  

 

 

But on to the food, which from Chef Diana Stavaridis elevates a cheerful neighborhood pub into a place where you can find carrots lovingly prepared 11 ways in one dish. Really.

Chef D, as she is called by most—including the elementary kids who help grow her veggies, is keen on produce.

From Frog Hollow peaches and candystripe figs to “Shiitake Happens” mushrooms and baby radish pickles, her menu puts fruits and vegetables center stage. This is a menu that offers a multitude of vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free choices, prepared with the same level of thoughtfulness as any other item.  

Our tiny tribe added some meaty research: My 5-year-old’s burger, ordered off the charming kids menu, was frankly huge and was pronounced “super yummy.” Ditto on my husband’s dry-aged, bone-in ribeye with smoked blue cheese butter—oh so yummy and oh so dangerous.

My daughter and I shared the more virtuous Alaskan halibut, roasted to perfection and served with a tasty caponata compote with local Deep Roots tomatoes. It was the ideal late-summer dish, heralding the last of the season’s tomatoes with smoky, autumn tones. We devoured it.

Wines by the glass are tightly edited and fairly priced.  The décor is a whimsical nod to both Manhattans, with chalkboard murals of landmark spots on both coasts. I liked the alternating prints of the Brooklyn Bridge and local lifeguard stations.

A tale of two cities indeed: The list of Manhattans at the bar speaks to the point quite eloquently—and the result is a laid-back, beach-y vibe that reflects a New York chef’s commitment to excellence in the kitchen. Chef D and the Manhattan House team deserve the success they are earning, one carrot and one customer at a time. It’s a lovely spot.

 

 

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