My Dinner at Manny’s

Last night, I put on my one decent shirt and headed out with my wife to Manny’s Steakhouse in its new Foshay Tower location. The goal: Celebrating our second anniversary with some pricey but world-class steaks. But within five minutes of being seated — immediately after the arrival of the bread basket — the two of us were headed out the door to the car, and then to Rainbow Foods, where we would purchase two of a particularly excellent brand of frozen Italian dinners.

One year ago, we’d had one of the best dinners of our lives at Manny’s. The service was exemplary — gracious, professional, friendly, prompt, jovial. I’d noted the anniversary on the OpenTable reservation; the maitre d’ heartily congratulated us on our first year of marriage on the way in. The food was meat and potatoes elevated to the peak of its potential. I’m not typically a steak guy. Manny’s steak, I’ll eat and enjoy, regardless of the price. The overall experience was impeccable, as in, there really wasn’t anything to criticize. Another visit, with friends, was equally great — a full, lively house at Manny’s, but a hell of a lot of convivial fun.

This time around, in the new location, the experience was different. After pushing our way through a churning scrum of customers milling around the podium, we were whisked off to a table for two — immediately next to another table for two, which in turn was next to another table of two, which in turn was surrounded by what felt like hundreds of tables wedged closely together, packed to capacity. The entire room was a sea of diners, all speaking incredibly loudly in order to be heard. In terms of volume, it was comparable to Grand Central Station in New York, or Town Talk Diner on a busy night.

To be fair: Grand Central Station has really, really high ceilings, and you can generally make yourself heard if you enunciate in a loud speaking voice, and the typical check at Town Talk is probably 1/4th that of Manny’s. When a busboy asked us how the weather was outside, we had to ask him to repeat himself and then shout our replies. The two-hour long $200 perfect dinner that we had been looking forward to had suddenly shaped up to be about as much fun as eating at Six Flags Great America.

It should be stated that we saw no evidence that Manny’s service has slipped (under the conditions, you can’t fault the maitre d’ for being to the point), nor the food. And the economics are impeccable — pack a place like Manny’s to the gills with business travelers utilizing expense accounts, and the few random local couples splurging on a romantic celebration look pretty insignificant by comparison.

That said: It’s a different restaurant now. If anyone knows a good place to celebrate a second anniversary, we’re in the market.

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James Norton

James Norton is editor and co-founder of the Heavy Table. He is also the co-author of Lake Superior Flavors, the co-author of a book about Wisconsin’s master cheesemakers, and a regular on-air contributor to Minnesota Public Radio.

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32 Comments

  1. Restaurant Alma.

  2. Oceanaire is always first-rate.

  3. bummer! loved manny’s the first go around but one thing i absolutely despise is going out for a nice dinner, where it’s going to cost me more than $100 for 2 people and i can’t hear my spouse from across the table.

  4. Murray’s?

  5. La Belle Vie, tasting menu + wine pairings. Much more enjoyable 2+ hour (ours was more like 3) meal. Quiet, romantic, fantastic service and yummy food. It will be a bit more than $200, but it was a great anniversary dinner for us last year.

  6. I second the Alma recommendation. Intimate, classy environment with excellent food.

  7. Did you seriously leave because it was loud? And then dismiss the place (even after talking about each previous meal being spectacular??) as being ruined by its new location? Wow. Moreover, you’re a food writer and you’re asking for recommendations on where to go to celebrate an anniversary? Was last night your first night in the city?

    Maybe instead of going out for your anniversary you should pick up some more frozen entrees, stick a candle in the box and call it a celebration?

  8. Author

    Call me crazy, but when I dine with my wife, I like to hear what she has to say from across the table. I’ve lived and dined in New York City, so I can handle noise and crowds. I can’t handle dining in the middle of a shouting match.

  9. Dedicated Reader05/14/2009Reply

    How about renting a room somewhere on Madeline Island for the weekend, then hitting Wild Rice in Bayfield?

    Locally, I don’t think one could go wrong with Heartland – either in the main room or in the wine bar.

    A truly loving husband would fly his wife back to Manhattan for a couple days, stay in a cool boutique hotel, and head out to Vong.

  10. Author

    Good ideas, but let’s not confuse “truly loving” and “independently wealthy.”

  11. James, thanks for the honest review. In my opinion, a restaurant like Morton’s with their very very deep pockets should be able to provide an acoustically welcoming environment for their customers, that is to say, NOT Grand Central Station.

  12. heartland is the perfect anniversary restaurant. the food is delicious, intelligent, and lovingly created. also, it has the best service of any restaurant in the twin cities. always on top of things, always considerate (but not cloying.) their wine list ain’t too shabby either.

  13. I highly recommend Giannis in Wayzata…the food is terrific and afterwards you can enjoy a stroll down the waterfront or sit on the docks at sunsets. The DelMonico and the hashbrown/cheese thing are great. You can split a steak then head down to ben and jerrys and get a cone.

    Quite a bit more relaxing than the scene that is the new W lounge/Mannys Steakhouse

    Of course I haven’t been since last summer…so I hope these suggestions are still in business?

  14. I would recommend the kitchen table at Corner Table. Intimate, low key, with amazing food and service.

  15. Alma is still one of the a romantic restaurants and with some great food. Go for a walk on the Stone Arch bridge afterwards and maybe even hit up the Guthrie. Never failed me before

  16. Grand Central Station is a post office. I think you mean Grand Central Terminal. You said you lived in New York, you’d think you would know that.

  17. Author
  18. May I recommend Risotto, reviewed in today’s Star Tribune?

    http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/taste/44882597.html?elr=KArksUUUU

  19. My top 3 romantic destination restaurants in the Twin Cities:
    LBV
    LBV
    LBV

    My mother-in-law always complains about the volume @ manny’s. I guess it must suck getting old.

    Manny’s is all about testosterone, anyhow. A lady deserves LBV.

  20. Adam Platt05/14/2009Reply

    James, I’ve had the same experience at Manny’s, vis-a-vis the din and the tightly packed two-tops. Though I like sitting in the bar there at lunch or hanging out in a roomy booth, it’s not a great place for a conversational two-person dinner in those two-tops. And its cheeky, sometimes pushy service isn’t always what you’re looking for.

    Since you are (were) in a steakhouse mood: I think Morton’s has the most gracious vibe, it is never too loud to hear, and there are very few two-tops. I like the food a lot at Capitol Grill; it can be noisier, but not Manny’s-esque. Murray’s can be too quiet at times.

  21. Author

    Thanks for the tips, all, and Adam specifically for the steakhouse suggestions. LBV or Morton’s are at the top of our list for our raincheck.

    The whole question of volume is generally pretty subjective — one guy’s “boisterous” or “convivial” is another fellow’s uncivilized din. The reason I saw fit to tee off on Manny’s is that I actually have a pretty high tolerance for noise — it’s a very rare occasion when the noise / chaos is enough to make me unhappy, and this time it was profound. Also, there’s an expectations game… at Manny’s, I came in with a pretty elevated opinion of the place.

  22. It’s completely understandable that at an establishment like Manny’s, where you expect an exemplary experience, that excessive noise and distraction will ruin your meal. I think it’s fair to say that you are paying for both the food and ambiance. Alma is a great suggestion.

  23. Heartland!!!

  24. “Grand Central Station is a post office. I think you mean Grand Central Terminal. You said you lived in New York, you’d think you would know that.”

    Really? Is this really necessary? I’m from NYC but didn’t realize there was a difference. Probably because I tried my hardest to never go near the place.

    @ James: I’d recommend The Strip Club if you’re in the mood for steaks and want a nice atmosphere with no rush (but you’ve probably already been).

  25. As a founding member of the Aaron Johnson Hospitality Fan Club, I love the Strip Club. But on a busy night the din and crowding factor is just as bad as manny’s, and the service doesn’t stack up. The price and bar “scene” (can you call it a scene if it only seats 8?)however, is hard to beat.

  26. I still don’t know what the big deal about Manny’s is. I’ve eatent there on numerous occasions and find it to be just another steak house. It’s steak for god sakes! Best restaurant my booty.

  27. I’ve been to manny’s 3 times for lunch since they moved last summer and I won’t go any more. Each time i had something new and each time it was over salted and often under cooked. as in under cooked bacon on the blt. blah. I agree with the others, I don’t understand the big deal. I suspect the dinner crowd is drinking a lot of wine and think they are eating good food although its less than average.

  28. James, my husband and I had the exact same experience at Manny’s. Granted, it wasn’t our anniversary but even so, being seated more or less on top of the couples dining next to us was highly awkward. The couple to my left was making out on the same side of the booth as I was sitting. I could’ve reached out and slapped them both in the face.

    Honestly if it wasn’t for the food and service, I would probably look for another dining option as well. But man those steaks are like buttah!

    I’ve always loved 112 for a special occasion. And by “special occasion” I mean “Tuesday.” I just love that place. Reasonably priced, great atmosphere, even better staff and, well, the food rocks.

    Happy Anniversary – better luck next time!

  29. The bar side at Manny’s always seems to be quieter than the dining room, I would have headed upstairs to Prohibition and tried out a couple of their little dishes or just had a liquid dinner, what fun is an anniversary if you can’t get sloppy drunk?

  30. FOREPAUGH’S!!!! It is our new favorite restaurant. Food is fabulous and desserts are to die for. Service is top notch. We have a favorite server, her name is Jenzee. Go check it out!!!

  31. We just celebrated our 22nd anniversary at Meritage in downtown St. Paul. Great service and atmosphere and my hangar steak with frites and Bernaise was fabulous!

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