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Mantee in Studio City - Anyone Been?

omotosando Oct 24, 2009 08:57 PM

The L.A. Times gave Mantee, the Lebanese restaurant in Studio City, a rave review this week. I am shocked to find no mention of this restaurant on Chowhound.

Has anyone been?

Is it worth a drive from West L.A.?

10962 Ventura Blvd, Studio City, CA 91604

  1. p
    PandemicSoul Apr 26, 2010 12:57 PM

    Let me start by saying this: no one should be confused, when walking into a restaurant, about what the hell to do. And that's exactly what happened to not only me, but numerous other people I saw walk in.

    There are two entrances to this place. One is their "storefront" on Ventura, the other is the "real" entrance on the back of the building, where their parking-lot is. Now, it's great that they have a parking lot, but who the hell would know it if you didn't call ahead? So, me and my partner went to the front door of the place, on Ventura, and walked in. Immediately I was uncomfortable. There were two out of about eight tables that were being used, the rest empty. No hostess stand, no servers, no nothing. So we stood there for a minute, before I headed down the only interior hallway I saw. I emerged into a bustling patio, with almost every table full and servers all around.

    I asked one of the servers if there was a hostess, and his response was "No, why?" Um... because I've been standing at your entrance for five minutes now and no one has offered to seat me. He then turned to a wall-mounted shelf, where a seating chart was, and said that "Usually you'll need a reservation, but we're not THAT busy tonight, so we can seat you right here," and pointed to the table directly next to where we were. Okay, great. So, I went and got my partner, and we sat down.

    Over the course of the next hour, about a half-dozen parties entered the same way I did, looking tentatively around the corner of the hallway and trying to figure out where they were. From behind me, where the parking lot was, people were streaming in and continually sitting at the open table on the patio, which was apparently reserved. The servers and the very old owner of the place would then all bunch together around the seating chart and argue about whether or not the people that just sat down were the people who had reserved that table. Once they determined that they weren't the people who had reserved it, they would ask those people to get up and move to another table. WTF? Meanwhile, NONE of the tables in the room off Ventura had been seated -- we exited from there, and it was even more empty than when we entered.

    The place IS cute, yes. It looks like someone's house at which you're the guest. But the owner is one of those "authentic" types that likes to sit there and talk to you for a half hour while you're trying to eat, and frankly I don't like that. If I wanted to have dinner with you, I'd ask you to eat with me. Otherwise, go away.

    Meanwhile, the menu is not very intuitive. There are probably twenty appetizer dishes listed, and about seven main course. But the prices on the appetizers ranged from $6-$9, making them too expensive to eat like tapas. So are you supposed to order a bunch of appetizers and one main dish to share? No. The main course dishes are clearly for just one person.

    Overall, I just hate to feel like I'm "doing it wrong," and the unprofessional behavior of the wait staff, accompanied by the very "unique" menu had me both perplexed and frustrated. If you're going to do things completely different than your contemporary counterparts, please instruct your servers to guide me through the meal.

    As for the food, it WAS good. We had the table-side flambe of sausage to start, and then I had a filet mignon appetizer dish, while my partner had a meat kabob. All of it was good, but certainly not the mana of the gods that everyone seems to believe.

    Bottom line: make a reservation, park in the back, don't expect to be overwhelmed, and come with at least four people so that when you're all confused about WTF you're doing, you won't feel so alone.

    10962 Ventura Blvd, Studio City, CA 91604

    2 Replies
    1. re: PandemicSoul
      toitoi Apr 26, 2010 01:32 PM

      When I went back in January, I looked for a parking space on the side street - none to be found, so I drove into the alley, and saw parking. I walked past the outside tables - it was shady and cool that day - and went inside. A number of employees saw me, and I walked into the restaurant part. No one helped me, so I took a seat on the upper level. I was alone and wasn't in a hurry, thinking maybe I'm too early for service. Eventually, someone appeared and proferred a menu. I ordered while an elderly man hovered. I was served, and the elderly man appeared and reappeared many, many times. He was always polite, asking if I was enjoying the food, I wished he'd go away, as he never carried any of the food. He merely hovered.

      When I left, and walked through the patio area, it was packed and sunny. Forgot to say I was the only person in the front part for the approx. 1 1/2 hours I was there, however, a few people did come thru the front door.

      1. re: toitoi
        PandemicSoul Apr 26, 2010 01:54 PM

        Yeah, I made it pretty clear that I wasn't interested in having him hover over our table, because I get very uncomfortable with that type of thing. But there was another table just across the aisle from us, and he stood there with them for about 60% of the time between when they sat and when they got their food, and for some of the time after that. I remember thinking how glad I was that he wasn't at my table bothering me...

    2. toitoi Jan 20, 2010 03:02 PM

      I searched here too, when I read Jonathan Gold's review (Jan 8) of it. I plan having lunch there next week.

      I'll try the Tabbouleh, Kebbe Naye, and Mantee "Traditional".

      2 Replies
      1. re: toitoi
        jonplaywright Jan 21, 2010 06:45 PM

        I've eaten at Mantee twice. Delicious, well-executed food, and the Mantee appetizer is unique and very flavorful. Prices aren't super cheap, but not unreasonable, though desserts are strangely expensive (around $9).

        1. re: toitoi
          toitoi Jan 28, 2010 03:40 PM

          Went today. Friendliness abounds at Mantee's

          The tabbouleh was the most flavorful I've ever eaten. A large portion, I brought some home.

          The kebbe naye (eight small pieces) was too chilled to have a distinct taste, I should have waited until it warmed a bit. It was served with tangy onion mixture.

          The mantee 'traditional' knocked my socks off. Toasted beef dumplings topped with a light, garlic yogurt sauce, sprinkled with sumac, was an eating experience I've never encountered.

          I was alone, but all could be shared.. Cost, with tax: $26.70

          10962 Ventura Blvd, Studio City, CA 91604

        2. Maxmillion Jan 20, 2010 01:43 PM

          Mantee has marvellous food. It's the $15, $16 or so entrees that rack up the cost. Stick with their sig dish - beef mantee, veg is also avail - and other Mediterranean fare such as humous, muhammara etc and you'll love it.

          Dunno if it is worth the drive from W LA... But it is really fantastic fare.

          Service can be a bit slow... It's just a little cafe. Sit out back if you can. BYOG.

          *** Some free parking behind the resto -- enter alley just sth of Ventura, off Vineland ***

          Also, everyone seems to be calling it a Lebanese resto, which I don't understand as it is named after the restaurant's signature ARMENIAN dish (oven-baked 'ravioli' covered in garlic yogurt sauce) --- which you HAVE to order.

          I adore this dish.

          My Armenian friend took me and she said the mantee were better than her Mum's, which seems like high praise to me.

          10962 Ventura Blvd, Studio City, CA 91604

          1 Reply
          1. re: Maxmillion
            bulavinaka Apr 26, 2010 02:16 PM

            >>Also, everyone seems to be calling it a Lebanese resto, which I don't understand as it is named after the restaurant's signature ARMENIAN dish (oven-baked 'ravioli' covered in garlic yogurt sauce) --- which you HAVE to order.<<

            I think it's history clashing with culture and business. Armenians have been in and around Lebanon for centuries, starting with the culture's conversion to Christianity, and with another wave coming in after the Armenian Genocide and following diaspora in the early 1900s.

            Because of how sensitive the issue of religion and culture has been in the Middle East and parts of Central Europe, (e.g., countries like the former Yugoslavia and Lebanon) where substantial populations of Christians and Muslims used to coexist but split due to civil war, Armenians outside of their home country have often walked a tight rope between being true to their culture and adopting local ones. Many never openly displayed their differences in culture in order to be accepted at best, and to avoid severe hostility at worst. Many had changed their names (e.g., dropping the "ian" or "yan" at the end of their surnames) to blend in even more. If you're familiar with the ethnic Chinese population in many parts of SE Asia, they follow a similar path.

            Every Armenian that I grew up with in the Westside came from families where education was a major priority and the parents had a strong business acumen as well. Similarly, many Armenian-Lebanese excel in business and education, particularly in Beirut. I would guess that a fair share of the restaurants here in SoCal that serve Lebanese food are owned by Armenians whose lineage takes them back to Lebanon. The lack of identifying their food as Lebanese and Armenian could be a strategy not to exclude customers who would otherwise patronize their business had the issue of culture not come up. Many Lebanese may or may not truly believe this, but the country's ideal is that all Lebanese are Lebanese regardless of their culture or religion. And it could be now that the Armenian community has a very representative population here in SoCal, more Armenians with ties to other countries won't be so shy about it, like they did out of necessity in the past.

          2. bodie Nov 5, 2009 05:25 PM

            Mantee will make you rethink all the places you thought had the best middle-eastern food, and LA has plenty.
            It is a place that celebrates cuisine, not really comparable to places like Cedar House, Skaf's or Carnival - all of which I enjoy.

            Mantee isn't a dive. It is a serious restaurant with a serious chef who is working to distinguish himself in a city that has a lot of very good armenian/lebanese middle-eastern fare but has nothing like what he's doing.

            Mantee is simply on a higher plane. Also, aside from being delicious, it has an amazingly vegetarian friendly menu.

            One caveat though, they don't yet have their liquor license so you'll need to BYOB for now.

            10962 Ventura Blvd, Studio City, CA 91604

            1. Muhlyssa Oct 25, 2009 06:22 AM

              I'm not sure it's worth the drive, it depends on what you are looking for, I guess. I've never had mantee before, never seen it on a menu. It was VERY very good. Everything we had was very good, and felt unique.

              The place is charming, beautiful back patio, so if it's warm, try to sit back there. The owners are extremely sweet (parents of the chef). The father was a little too attentive and kind of wouldn't leave us alone which got annoying after awhile.

              It was not inexpensive, we split a mantee and each got an entree and nothing to drink and the bill was over $60. While both were great, I think next time we go I'm going to opt for more appetizers and no entree.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Muhlyssa
                carter Oct 25, 2009 10:09 AM

                Muhlyssa - what entree did you have that might have run the tab up that high?
                While I do not live in that area, meaning around the corner from Carnival, how do you compare Mantee to Carnival, as both are Lebanese?
                Love middle eastern food, yet differences are hard to detect in any meaningful way. Actually probably going to Carnival tomorrow night to celebrate a friend's birthday. but is Mantee a potential alternative?

                1. re: carter
                  Muhlyssa Oct 25, 2009 03:11 PM

                  Hey Carter. I'm no expert on this type of food. I didn't recognize a lot of things on the Mantee menu as being strictly Lebanese. At least I didn't recognize them as being on other Lebanese menus. I love Carnival, but they can be surly. I think Mantee may have more Armenian food and some Lebanese. You should check out their website and look at the menu. The Mantee is an app, and it's not cheap, it's about $9 and I did get lamb chops that was over $16. My husband got one that was $15. I'd go back for the mantee again and try more apps.


                  10962 Ventura Blvd, Studio City, CA 91604

                  1. re: carter
                    bodie Nov 5, 2009 05:46 PM

                    Believe me Carter, you won't mention Carnival in the same breath with Mantee once you've tried it. It is little slice of foodie heaven.

                    10962 Ventura Blvd, Studio City, CA 91604

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