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Mantee’s Cafe – Don’t Delay, Go Today

May 2, 2011

The MHK makes its triumphant return from the West Coast, our bellies filled with new food experiences that we shall impart unto you. Today we present a review of Mantee Café, located on Ventura Boulevard near Universal City.

Restaurants that feature a blend of Armenian and Lebanese cuisine are not common, but based on the food being made at Mantee Café, it’s a winning combination. Greek and Middle Eastern flavors blend in marvelous ways at Mantee, creating a unique and utterly delicious dining experience.

The weather was warm enough to sit outside in Mantee’s picturesque garden area, with colorful lights and beautiful flowers surrounding the tables. It reflects the light and fresh ingredients featured in the dishes.  The owner greeted us with an enthusiastic smile and was very pleasant throughout the meal. The menu consists of many small plates, including salads, hot and cold appetizers, and signature dishes, along with a handful of entrees (most of which are various kebabs).  Our party of four tried the following dishes: the Armenian salad, King’s Delight, Bamia, Soujuk Flambe, Grilled Hallom, the Hot Feta, and Mantee’s Veggie.

The Armenian salad was very simple – chopped tomato, cucumber, and Romaine lettuce with fresh squeezed lemon and vinaigrette dressing. The flavors were beautiful, with the sweetness of the tomatoes matched perfectly with the lemon juice. It was bright and tasty.

The King’s Delight featured small slices of filet mignon sautéed with fresh garlic, tomato and parsley. Again, it was the freshness of the ingredients and wonderful seasoning that made this simple dish so delicious.

The Bamia consisted of okra cooked in a tomato sauce, served chilled. We’d never tried cold okra before, and it’s one of those ingredients that can easily be cooked improperly; undercooked and it’s hard, overcooked and it’s slimy. But Mantee did it just right; tender but not mushy, it had great texture and the flavor of the tomato sauce was great. The dish was almost like a salsa, almost like gazpacho. It was really tasty.

Soujuk is an Armenian beef sausage, and for this dish, our server brought out skewers of sliced soujuk over a bowl, lit some sort of liquid on fire in the bowl, and roasted the sausage slices over the flame right at our table. It was a nice presentation, but more importantly, the sausage was delicious. Full of flavor and a little spiciness, it was juicy and comforting, like a gourmet hot dog of sorts.

The two cheese dishes were very good, particularly the Feta. It was warm and crumbly, infused with seasoning and topped with chopped jalapenos for a nice kick. The grilled hallom cheese had a nice crust on the edges, sealing in the melty goodness of the cheese.

We at the MHK have had many impressive dishes over the years, but none in recent memory has been as amazing and extraordinary as the Mantee’s Veggie. Described as “Oven-baked artisan-made boat-shaped ravioli filled with seasoned spinach, served with garlic yogurt sauce, topped with red pepper powder,” we expected traditional soft ravioli pasta. When the dish arrived and we began spooning it on to our plates, we noticed the ravioli was actually very firm, even hard. With some trepidation, we took a bite, and the sense of delight and surprise overwhelmed us. The ravioli “shell” melted away in our mouths, flaking apart like phyllo dough, allowing the delicious spinach to burst forth. And the garlic yogurt sauce put the finishing touch on an incredible dish. We had never experienced anything like it – we asked the owner how it was made, and he told us that everyone asks, but it’s a Mantee secret. He did divulge that it was not made with traditional pasta dough, which we assumed after tasting it. They also make the dish with meat filling, which we’re sure is also fantastic.

The appetizers and small plates are all under $10, with entrees ranging from $14-$20. The one disappointment of the evening was that we could not get the Mantee’s Basterma, advertised as a baguette slice topped with Armenian beef prosciutto and a quail egg (they were all out of quail eggs).  But that just means we can try it next time.  Because there will be a next time. With food as fresh and flavorful as Mantee’s, we can’t find a reason not to go back.

The Mouse House Kitchen gives Mantee Café 4.5 out of 5 stars!

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