Playing it safe

Photo By David Robert

Manouk’s Restaurant and Sports Lounge

In the restaurant business, vision is key. Coming up with menus that will please as many people as possible while still appealing to the upscale clientele you want is actually quite difficult. The local scene is made all the more tricky due to the presence of the many casinos that tend to drive prices all over town. Independent restaurateurs really have an uphill battle in this regard, and the one thing that they can bring to the table—literally—is imagination.

Manouk’s adds to the challenges already mentioned by taking on the space once occupied by the creative but troubled Midtowne Market. A dramatic revamp has transformed the interior, moving the bar and redefining the space with a series of walls and some new booths. The building still has interesting architectural features, but the effect has been softened with muted earth tones and the bizarre non sequitur of actual lace doily table coverings. I must admit here that I found the lace an odd pairing with the sports bar thing going on in the bar. I guess that this is just an attempt to divide the space to perform different functions.

It was pretty quiet the night Tony and I went—just a few small groups in the bar and a small party in a side banquet room. We pretty much had the yawning hollow dining room to ourselves.

The menu is basic. There are relatively few risks taken that would distinguish the food items from those on menus elsewhere. Classic bar appetizers such as chicken wings and nachos predictably start the selections, followed by burgers, sandwiches, a few pasta dishes and steaks. There are, however, some tasty-looking salads and a bread pudding the size of an alarm clock.

We started by sharing a chicken quesadilla ($6.95). The warm, extra-large tortilla was stuffed with grilled chicken, cheese, scallions, tomatoes, onions and chilies. Fresh cilantro gives it a little kick that makes this a pretty darn good start.

From there, we had a choice of soup or salad with our entrees. The soup that day was cream of asparagus, and although it was a little thick for my taste, it had a nice flavor. My salad was a pleasant, colorful mix of baby and bitter greens with cherry tomatoes, onion, croutons and cucumber.

Tony had the pork chops ($15.95). They were single-cut T-bone style, grilled and slathered with a sweet, sticky orange glaze. They were tender, and the sweetness of the marmalade was a nice counterpoint. The mashed potatoes needed the influence of salt and pepper but were otherwise satisfying.

I selected the scampi ($15.95). The shrimp were cooked just right and sat up perkily in the garlicky sauce, tails pointing to the rather beige pile of pilaf in the center of the plate. It was a nice presentation, and the accompanying squash was not a bit squishy.

The server we had that evening was courteous and friendly. He had his service basics down pat and timed our courses expertly. We never wanted for water or the proper utensils, and we were even tempted by his presentation of the dessert tray, but alas, we had no room to eat any.

Manouk’s has at least some of the tools to take off and be great. All it would take are a few well-timed gutsy moves and a bit of luck.