The food at Manzo is beautiful – a blend of modern and traditional Italian cooking. It’s a refreshing departure from the ‘rustic’ Italian food that, while delicious and perfect for quick neighborhood meals, is colonizing Manhattan. The focus is, unsurprisingly, on meat, and while there are of course pasta dishes, appetizers, desserts and so forth, the kitchen really shines when its preparing meat. The antipasti options are spruced-up renditions of familiar favorites: asparagus and parmesan with earthy chanterelle mushrooms, light and crispy sweetbreads with mushrooms, shrimp with a chunky walnut pesto and broccoli rabe, and of course pillowy mozzarela di bufala, paired with savory strands of prosciutto. The warm calf’s tongue, one of the many offal dishes offered, is meaty in the best of ways, firm, salty, unbelievably rich, and complemented with mellow potatoes and leeks in a deep red Barbaresco sauce. Aside from the ‘traditional’ antipasti, there are a few selections that ‘celebrate’ Piemontese beef, the crowning joy of Manzo. These preparations are generally simple, meant to let the famously high-quality beef shine on it’s own. The carne sala is a particularly artful dish – a carpaccio-style cut of cured beef that’s both sweet and savory, a truly complex flavor unlike anything I’ve had before, served with fiddlehead ferns, which are unusual and herbacious, and tart shavings of apple.
As any good Italian restaurant does, of course Manzo offers ‘primi’ or pasta options – none of which include their beloved beef. The offerings are tantalizing to say the least – spaghetti with lobster, tomato and basil, agnolotti in a brown butter sauce, pappardelle with sausage, and an beautifully-made gnocchi in a spicy tomato sauce that on it’s own is pretty average yet is given a major lift by a generous dollop of fresh ricotta cheese. The ‘secondi’ dishes are where the kitchen really seems to get excited. For carnivores, the options read like poetry: a classic ribeye with potatoes, grilled calf’s liver with sweet onions, roasted pork with rhubarb, sugar snap peas, cabbage and honey vinegar, veal chop that’s been smoked in hay and has a sweet aroma. The list goes on and on, each dish just as succulent as the next. My recommendation? The simple and utterly wonderful tagliata – grilled sliced beef – that’s served a deep pink with fava beans, mushrooms, and a complex bone marrow sauce; it’s well-balanced and tastes like a million bucks.
If you haven’t guessed yet, none of this stuff comes cheap. Manzo is expensive, very expensive – antipasti range from $13-18 each, pastas top out at $29 a plate, and the ‘secondi’ can reach the staggering heights of $45 for a veal chop or a ribeye. Do the math – it adds up quick, especially if you’re in the mood for one of the bar’s killer Negronis. Regardless, if you’re willing to spend the dough freely, Manzo is an experience, blending the magic of meticulously created and prepared Italian cuisine with the unique opportunity of leaving the restaurant, only to shop for the ingredients you just ate. For some people, it’s an unnecessary extravagance, but for those passionate about eating, cooking or both, there’s a certain wonder to it.
Perfect For: wow-ing out-of-towners, Batali groupies, Italian food aficionados, those who like to cook as much as they like to eat, special occasions, the ultimate meat experience, cocktails and dolce, being luxurious