My latest obsession is Mantee Mediterranean Cafe in Studio City, a decidedly atypical Armenian-Lebanese-Turkish restaurant.
The salads at Mantee are stupendous. At first, the Armenian salad appears to be a fairly typical Middle Eastern chopped salad of tomato, cucumber and lettuce; to be honest, I expected a throw-away dish, but this salad tastes far better than the description merits. The fresh lemon vinaigrette is super-tangy and loaded with spices. It's the perfect version of a very standard dish. The fattoush, a traditional Mediterranean salad with crisp bits of pita was composed of sumac, radish and mint with a similar dressing and was also quite good if not quite as wonderful as the Armenian salad.
You will find the standard mezze features on the menu, all done well: Hummous, a very smoky motabbal (baba ghanoush) and a slightly spicy muhamarra among them.
The centerpiece of any meal at Mantee though is the eponymous dish, Mantee, which comes in both regular and vegetarian. The menu describes the dish as ravioli in a yogurt sauce, but the culinary experience is more akin to escargot en croute. The small, pasta shells are firm and crunchy, almost as if they were made from phyllo dough. The yogurt sauce is thick, creamy and intensely garlicky. I used my pita to mop up every last drop; you don't want to miss this sauce or this dish. It may be my favorite new dish of the year.
Another star was the lamb chops, some of the most tender I've had; they are marinated in a heavily spiced sauce, but that opening spice yields to the smoothness of the lamb. They come with foil on the tips so you can pick them up and eat them as they deserve to be eaten.
The kabobs were also excellent. Mantee's sweet and sour kebab is a kafta-type sausage kebab in a sweet cherry sauce with dried cherries. I never would have thought to pair kafta with cherries, but the sweet and spicy contrast worked well.
The regular shish kebab, featuring a spiced, grilled filet was less exciting but tender, juicy and perfectly cooked.
Desserts were also well done. We had a very nice passion fruit mousse as well as a passion fruit-coconut chiffon. A tri-chocolate mousse cake was good if fairly standard dessert fare.
Mantee is decidedly different from most restaurants in the broad Middle Eastern category and offers a refreshing and innovative take on the cuisine. Check it out!
10962 Ventura Blvd, Studio City, CA 91604
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