I am thrilled to report that I had a wonderful dining experience at the new Ann Arbor restaurant called Mani Osteria. Before I knew anything about Mani Osteria, I had no idea what “Osteria” meant. My first guess was an oyster bar! And I was wrong. Here is how “Mani’s” website describes it: “An Osteria is an Italian eatery much like a tavern that emphasizes local ingredients, small production wines, and hospitality.” More website information:
“We are an independently owned, family friendly restaurant, specializing in artisanal pizzas and other creative Italian dishes prepared in wood-burning ovens. … Our menu is composed of small plates that are designed for you to share… Explore our menu and try new bites on each visit.”
We started with a pair of drinks for Happy Hour, which occurs Tuesday through Friday from 4:30 – 6:30 PM, and actually consists of great drink specials: $3 house wine, $3 draft beer, and $4 sangria. The huz ordered Dark House Raspberry Ale on draft. I love the appearance of this beer! I tried it and liked it. I ordered the White Sangria to started, and later enjoyed a glass of Red Sangria as well. My favorite of the two was the White Sangria. Do be warned though: the Happy Hour specials are only valid at the bar or in the tables located in the bar area. The hostess did inform us of this fact before being seated (impressive!), so we took one of the available two-seater high-tops in the bar area.
We were somewhat uncertain as to what quantities of food to order, but our server was helpful when I asked questions. We ultimately decided to start with three small plates to share, and one pizza to split, which turned out to be a perfect amount of food for two hungry people. Our first small plate was “Pickled Tomatoes.” The pickled cherry tomatoes were served in their own adorable little mason jar, with whipped ricotta and kalamata olive tapenade as accompaniments.
This was utterly incredible. One of the best things I’ve eaten in a long time! No joke! My only critique is that three pieces of bread did not seem like enough, but I imagine that I could have requested more. I layered my toasted bread with the whipped ricotta, a layer of tapenade, and then a few of the pickled tomatoes for absolute foodie bliss. Swoon-worthy.
I loved that our small plates were brought out one at a time, so I never felt overwhelmed. Our second small plate was “Isabel’s Meatballs,” with a highly flavorful tomato basil sauce and pine nuts. These were super!
Our third small plate was Calamari, served with a “spicy tomato broth, lemon aioli, and mint.” The calamari was yummy but it didn’t knock my socks off as the previous two dishes did. I told the huz that of the three small plates, this one probably had the least-bold flavor, and I would have liked to start with this dish instead. With that said, this was still a solid dish.
Oh.my.word, and then the pizza! These wood-fired pizzas are Mani’s signature dish, and they did not disappoint. We ordered the “Sausage and Peppers” pizza with “smoked scamorza, pepperonata, chili pesto.” Such a boldly flavored pizza – I loved it! Our pizza tray was served atop a large, empty can of Italian tomatoes. Cute touch. This pizza is definitely crave-able and I’m eager to try the other interesting combinations Mani has to offer.
The food was definitely the star of the show at Mani, but the great service we received took the experience over the top. I was extremely impressed by how perfectly timed each course was. Drinks were promptly delivered, and then after we ordered, each small plate was brought out individually, with our empty plates being removed prior to delivery of the next small plate, and we never had to wait long for our next item to arrive. It was the perfect balance between a constant array of food with brief pauses in between, and never feeling rushed. All of the food was also served piping hot and fresh. I think perfect timing is a very difficult task for a (new!) busy restaurant to accomplish, and this alone left me very impressed. With regards to the atmosphere, I would probably describe it as “chic” and “lively.” A great addition to the A2 dining scene.
All in all, the pricing was probably a bit steep with respect to portion size, at least for the small plates; however, the food was excellent, and the service was top-notch on the particular evening we visited (arrived around 5:30 PM on a Friday night). Will definitely be returning to Mani Osteria.
Currently listening to: Sail – AWOLNATION.