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Published: Friday, 5/16/2003

Restaurant review: Manhattan's ***

Manhattan's. When the ethos of New York City, the biggest, richest, most cosmopolitan braggart in the country, is invoked upon Toledo, what does it mean?

This reflection came to me as I picked my way through Manhattan's menu of “classic Italian-American dishes” brought to you by “two guys serving you a slice of Manhattan!” This magic is whipped up six nights a week in the imaginative kitchen at the intersection of Adams and Jackson Streets.

To say, as the menu does, that the two guys who do this are from New York needs to be slightly qualified. The master of the kitchen, Mike Petrillo, is an authentic New Yorker, but his partner, Zach Lahey, is a Toledoan born and bred, reconsidering his ambitions after an unsuccessful assault on the New York stage.

Well, what influence does New York City - “a great place to visit, but ...” - have on life in Toledo? The bar and dining rooms are attractive, showcasing the original structure rather than being overly decorated. Hardly New York.

Live music after 9 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, with a different theme - for example, jazz on Thursdays, Irish music on Fridays - would not be alien all up and down Manhattan, but no part of the world has an exclusive lock on dinner music that varies with place and culture.

Picking one's way through the menu is not to be avoided. Quite apart from covering the day from 6 a.m. to midnight, six days a week means that several disparate items - from dry cereal with milk to filet mignon - have to find fine-print space. (What a strain that schedule has to put on both kitchen and waitstaff; can they keep it up? And will the business from 6 to 10:30 a.m. pay for itself?)

Besides, while the breakfast menu is spread neatly across the top of the first page, followed down to the bottom of the page by the lunch section, I've kept wanting to rearrange the blocks of pizza slices, pastas, entrees, and dinners from the grill, together with appetizers, soups, and salads, all on the facing page.

The print, as I say, is not large enough to leap off the page. It is my fervent wish that Manhattan's menu be enlarged and redesigned.

Is there a distinctive New York City cuisine? I can't think of any one dish that says New York. Even though culinary prodigies create elaborate dishes for the few who have the prestige and the price of admission, these do not sing “New York, New York” as they are borne to the table.

What is characteristic of Manhattan's menu and its inspiration, I believe, is an agreeable mix of ethnic and standard American cooking, all well prepared and presented. I had stuffed mushroom caps one evening, plump with bread crumbs binding bits of shrimp and crab under a blob of melted provolone; a very common appetizer, but in this instance quite fresh and judiciously seasoned;

Beware, however, of an antipasto plate among the appetizers. A conventional assortment of hard salami, provolone slices, olives, pepperoni, and ham, it is a model of the type. What the menu doesn't indicate, however, is that it's adequate for two or three. Even with help from my dinner companion - who was happily engaged in the enjoyment of his grilled eggplant - several antipasto items didn't get eaten.

The entree lists are thoughtfully balanced among veal, seafood, chicken, and pasta, with two grilled steaks and pork chops for the red meat lover. Other diners enthused over the varied pasta dishes - especially sausage tortellini and penne primavera with vegetables and shrimp. My one criticism of a dinner was a plate of spinach ravioli, served in an alfredo-like white sauce. While the fine-shredded spinach was a delight, the sauce, which in its abundance rather took over, wanted a bit of piquancy; I found it distinctly bland.

Another reservation turned on the pattern of service. I was uncomfortable - I always am - with the manner of a server's well-intentioned but painfully artificial assumption of intimacy. It my impression that a restaurant should define for the waitstaff a manner of interaction with guests that is neither too distant nor too obtrusive.

Do put Manhattan's on your short list. In business for only a couple months, it does almost everything well and promises us another setting for dinner out. Curbside parking usually is open, and a lot for Manhattan's customers, clearly marked, is just across Adams Street



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