When I first read about the Williamsburg piano bar and restaurant, Manhattan Inn, I had visions of men and women in formal wear, perhaps waltzing across a vast dining room. The restaurant itself tells a different story. Although it's dominated by a white piano under a large skylight, the floors, the tables and chairs are made from rough, cozy wood. And instead of being overly fussy, the food is more along the lines of upscale bar food.
Although listed under the Small Plates portion of the menu, the Mac n Cheese ($8) is big enough for an entrée, or for two people to share. Made with white cheddar and pepper jack cheeses, there's a pleasing spiciness to the sauce (though the pepper jack overwhelms the flavor of the cheddar). The crisp breadcrumbs on top make a nice contrast with the creamy interior, which is dotted with little strips of orange Amarillo peppers.
Deviled Eggs ($6) are a pretty straightforward interpretation of the classic. The filling has a slight bite from mustard and tiny bits of minced shallot. The only complaint (other than lack of originality) is that the eggs are served ice cold.
Brussels sprouts ($7) are similarly straightforward; halved and roasted until brown and crisp. They benefit greatly from a dunk in the spicy sauce left over from the Mac n Cheese.
I was quite taken with the pizzetta ($9). The crisp flatbread is spread with goat cheese, topped with mushrooms and caramelized onions, and baked until browned. Then it's topped with shavings of parmesan cheese. The combination of ingredients is fantastic: slightly sweet, slightly salty, nutty from the parmesan and rich from the goat cheese.
There are two vegetarian entrées at Manhattan Inn, spinach ravioli ($14) and grilled cheese ($9). The grilled cheese uses the same blend as the Mac n Cheese, but here the cheddar has more of an opportunity to shine. The spiciness of the pepper jack is offset by the barely detectable sweetness of paper-thin apple slices, and the mustard served alongside is extremely piquant. This sandwich is a great delivery system for that mustard.
As we finished our meal a piano-upright bass jazz combo began playing. The dining room, previously empty, began to fill up. I began to see Manhattan Inn the way it was meant to be seen: a romantic destination with good (if overpriced) food and great atmosphere. Vegetarians can safely bring a date there, and be spoiled for choice.
About the author: Howard Walfish is a Virginia native who has been living in New York since 2003. He is, in fact, a vegetarian, and is the co-founder of Eat to Blog and the creator of BrooklynVegetarian.