This week, Besha Rodell reviews Manuela, the Arts District restaurant that’s a part of the Hauser Wirth & Schimmel art gallery. The LA Weekly critic begins the review by noting that “food is, perhaps, the least important thing about Manuela. There's so much else that's so perfectly right for its time and place that it barely matters what you're eating.” That has a lot to do with the gorgeous art that adorns the walls of the restaurant, and with some “lucky-ass chickens:”
There's something genuinely magical about stepping in off the street, into the antique warehouse and down a wide hallway, and discovering an expansive space, open to the sky, with Manuela on one end, spilling out into the courtyard. Through an arching open doorway on another side is the raised-bed organic garden and the chicken coop, which is nicer and bigger than many apartments in the area. Those are some lucky-ass chickens. [LAW]
B. Rod does take issue with some rather pricey starters:
So, what of the food? Well, there are $10 hushpuppies. They're served with molasses butter and are made from antebellum cornmeal that costs $5 a pound, and they're hot and crisp and taste of corn, but still. I've filed them away for joke fodder the next time I see my Southern in-laws: "Guess what the artsy folks in Los Angeles eat? Ten-dollar hushpuppies!" [LAW]
And the mediocre entrees:
I had less success with larger dishes, particularly a cornmeal-dusted catfish that was watery and bland and did nothing to relieve that fish from its soggy, muddy-tasting reputation. A bacon-wrapped elk loin was very rare and almost disconcertingly tender — I assumed it was the product of a sous vide preparation, given its uniform bloody softness, but the chef says there's no sous vide at play. [LAW]
Although Besha also notes some pretty serious service flaws, it all seems besides the point, as the critic notes, “Manuela is a mighty success despite the food and service issues.” Ultimately she concludes, “it's the promise of what the Arts District is becoming, where magical spaces exist that combine art and food and drink and nightlife and architecture. And also chickens.”
Manuela earns two stars.