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Mantee: 99 Essential Restaurants 2011 

Thursday, Nov 10 2011
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There is something about Mantee that can occasionally inspire a reasonable man to run screaming into the street: an overdecorated stuffiness; a plague of houseplants; an overfondness for the Gipsy Kings. It feels like being trapped for an hour with that friend of your mom's who always insisted that you call her Auntie. Mantee is a million miles from the brash good cheer of places like Carnival and Skaf's. But tan, the thick, salted yogurt drink that is standard at Lebanese joints — it's rich here, barely soured, almost buttery, like fresh mozzarella sipped through a straw. The hummus is complexly nutty, expressing the round, toasty taste of chickpeas instead of concealing it with sesame paste, and it's even better sprinkled with Lebanese pine nuts fried in olive oil. Mantee is run by Jonathan Darakjian, whose family owns one of the best-known Armenian restaurants in Beirut, and his menu turns out to be pretty close to that of the Lebanese original. So while the pomegranate-sweetened walnut-pepper dip muhammara may be stodgy, and the stuffed grape leaves are exactly like every other stuffed grape leaf you've tasted, the raw, pounded-beef kibbe nayeh has a sinewy presence behind its smoothness, and Mantee's namesake dish is pretty spectacular, a white-hot gratin bubbling with garlic-infused yogurt and a handful of crunchy little beef dumplings. The comparison is inexact, but you may be reminded of the sensation, after years of eating polished Hunanese dishes in the San Gabriel Valley, of running into the rough, sturdy cooking of a chef freshly arrived from Hunan. 10962 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. (818) 761-6565, manteecafe.com. Sun., Tues.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Street parking. MC, V. Lebanese.

99 Essential L.A. Restaurants 2011:

Jonathan Gold's Introduction
Anne Fishbein's Photos
The Google Map

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The List:

A-Frame
Akasha
Alcazar
Angeli Caffe
Angelini Osteria
Animal
Antojitos Carmen
Attari
Babita
Bludso's
Border Grill
Bottega Louie
Bulgarini Gelato
Cacao
Campanile
Casa Bianca
Chang's Garden
Chego
Chichén Itzá
Chung King
Church & State
Ciro's
Comme Ça
Cut
Dae Bok
Din Tai Fung
Drago Centro
El Huarache Azteca
El Parian
Elvirita's
Euro Pane Bakery
Eva
Fab Hot Dogs
Father's Office
Fig
Gjelina
Golden Deli
Golden State
Good Girl Dinette
The Gorbals
Guelaguetza
Guisados
Huckleberry
Hungry Cat
Ink.
Jar
Jitlada
Kiriko
Kobawoo
La Casita Mexicana
Langer's
Larkin's
Lazy Ox Canteen
Le Comptoir
Little Dom's
Lou
Lucques
LudoBites
Lukshon
Mantee
Marouch
Mayura
Meals by Genet
Mélisse
Mezze
Mo-Chica
Mother Dough
Mozza
Musso & Frank Grill
Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa
Newport Tan Cang Seafood Restaurant
The Nickel
Night + Market
Oinkster
101 Noodle Express
Palate Food + Wine
Park's Barbecue
Picca
Playa
Pollos a la Brasa
Providence
Ray's
Red Medicine
Rivera
Rustic Canyon
Salt's Cure
Sapp Coffee Shop
Sea Harbour
Son of a Gun
Sotto
Spago
Spice Table
Street
Tacos Baja Ensenada
Tasting Kitchen
Terroni
Tsujita L.A.
Vincenti
Waterloo & City

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