You know how there’s always that one restaurant that you walk passed so many times, hidden in plain sight, but you just never got around to visiting? The one that makes you want to roundhouse kick yourself in the face for waiting so long when you finally visit? That’s how I feel about Manuel’s Vintage Room. Open for ten years now, they are a little piece of quiet intimate dining in a loud downtown located at 6 South Main Street. This small, unassuming restaurant provided one of the best dining experiences I’ve had in this town.
Before I talk about the food, I want to talk about the service. It was phenomenal. There are really only a handful of restaurants in town that truly understand the importance of service, and this is one of them. From the minute we walked in, right up to the point we left with happy full bellies, they were attentive, extremely polite, kept our table clean, and our glasses full. It’s a difficult thing to balance without being too intrusive on the guests. Of course, it only made the food better, not that it needed any help. The dining room is intimate, dimly lit white table clothes against red brick and wood floors, and a wonderful choice for either a romantic dinner or a nice night out with friends. With only about 12 small tables in the dining room, and a couple on the front patio, a reservation is definitely recommended.
Manuel (yes, he’s a real person) can be found at a corner table enjoying a glass of wine, keeping a watchful eye on his wait staff and dining room, while his son Marco oversees the kitchen as Executive Chef. Together, they’ve put together a delicious menu, along with a formidable wine list with over 150 bottles from the US, Spain, France, Argentina, Australia, and Italy. Manuel loves his wine, and prices range from $16 to $500 for a bottle.
On the menu, I had a hard time deciding because so many choices sounded great. For appetizers, there’s the usual calamari ($8), escargot ($9) simmered with butter, garlic, and fresh herbs, and a mushroom crostini ($9) amongst the highlights. My date and I opted for the Pear Purses ($8), which are small pasta purse filled with poached pear and ricotta, served in a herbed brown butter cream sauce. It was plated for us tableside, and pretty much everything I dreamed it would be. But if you’re looking for something lighter, there’s salads too if you’re into that sort of thing.
For entrees, the Pork Milanese ($19) is a tender bone-in pork loin pounded thin, breaded, and sautéed then topped with arugula, chopped tomatoes, and a balsamic reduction. The Macadamia Chicken ($18) is a macadamia encrusted chicken sautéed with a vanilla-cilantro cream sauce, and the Vintage Duck ($24) is a pan-seared duck breast served with a blackberry porcini mushroom sauce and a side of grilled asparagus. These are of course, only a couple highlights.
If you’re having a hard time choosing, opt for the Pasta Della Casa and create your own pasta dish. You can choose from Linguini, Capellini, Penne, Rigatoni, Whole Wheat, Rice, Tortellini, or house-made Gnocchi in a variety of sauces and choice of protein. This isn’t Olive Garden build-your-own-pasta, which is basically creamy vomit on a plate, so prices range from $15 to $18 for some goodness. Of course, you can always opt for a simple Lobster Ravioli ($21) served in a truffle cream sauce, or the Gnocchi Daniela ($17) made with house-made potato gnocchi served in a Fontina cream sauce and topped with marinara. We opted for the aforementioned Gnocchi Daniela, which was every bit the rich and creaminess it should be, and the Veal Porcini ($25 – sautéed veal scaloppini in a creamy porcini mushroom sauce served with a fried vegetable risotto cake).
While the menu does include some French influences, it is unmistakably Italian. It is also my new pick for Best Italian in town. Manuel’s is open from 5 PM to 9 PM from Tuesdays through Saturdays and until 8 PM on Sundays. So the next time you’re thinking about taking your date out to Carrabba’s, take them here instead. Or if you’re thinking about taking your date out to Olive Garden, they’re probably re-evaluating your relationship. Don’t make that mistake. I know it’s easy to walk right passed the place with two bad businesses flanking it, but go pay them a visit. It will never go unnoticed again.
(P.S. – It was really dark in there you guys, and my phone’s camera was sad because of it, so I stole two photos from their Facebook page. I’M SORRY!)