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Posted on Thu, Jun 16, 2011 : 5:56 a.m.

Mani Osteria a great addition to downtown - especially the pizza

By Julie Halpert


A margherita pizza in the oven at Mani Osteria & Bar.

Melanie Maxwell |

The atmosphere at the new Mani Osteria & Bar is vibrant and alive. It reminds me of a cosmopolitan European bistro in an upscale city — without the pretentiousness.

On a recent Friday night, the place was filled with customers standing around for tables, happily waiting as much as an hour to be seated. Long before I had gotten to it, the word was out that Mani was the new hip place to be.

My children had no patience for the wait so we returned two days later. Though virtually every table was full, we were promptly seated.

What is most impressive here is the diverse range of customers, from the senior set, to young professionals out for a post-work dinner, to families with young children. Owner Adam Baru has filled an appealing niche here.

Baru expertly transformed this space from an office furniture store, and the results are spectacular: sleek, sophisticated and simple. It's open and welcoming, surrounded by windows and interior burnt orange walls, along with stark hanging light fixtures.

Tables overlook the open kitchen, where you can see a small army of chefs hand-tossing pizza and placing it into the brick ovens. The dark concrete floors add to that contemporary feel, though they do little to absorb the sound; it's so noisy you have to speak loudly to be heard.

Mani's menu focuses on unusual appetizers, like pickled tomatoes and crispy pork belly, along with brick oven pizza and pastas. At lunch, there is a more limited menu.

Though there's a choice of several vegetarian options in the pizza, there are only two vegetarian entrees, with pork products as ingredients in many of the dishes.

We tried the flavorful mussels appetizer. The mussels were easy to peel from their shells and were served with crusty bread, amazing when dipped in the superb garlic and white wine sauce.

What I most appreciate about Mani is the way the chef pairs fresh and more exotic ingredients in so many dishes that yield a healthful yet tasty result. Though I'm not a huge beet fan, the chunks of beets, along with fresh tarragon and fennel, in one of the restaurant's salads were wonderful. The same goes for the ribolita soup, with kale and beans. Despite the fact that I burned my tongue because it was so hot, it was a light and delicious soup.


Mani Osteria
341 E. Liberty St.

  • Hours: Tuesday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday, 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Closed Mondays.
  • Plastic: Visa, Discover, Mastercard, American Express.
  • Liquor: Yes.
  • Prices: Moderate. Most pastas are in the $12 range. Pizza is in the $11-$16 range.
  • Value: Fair. Most portions are small.
  • Noise level: Can be quite loud.
  • Wheelchair access: Yes.

This is the kind of place that offers nearly guilt-free eating, not only because the chef uses so many types of vegetables, but because portion sizes are so petite, you're not tempted to overindulge.

The garlic shrimp, smothered in an assortment of spices, was top-notch, but there were only two of them. The Isabel's meatballs were mouth-watering, lightly topped with a heavenly sauce of tomatoes, pine nuts and sage, but there were three in all.

The pasta comes in a dish not bigger than a few inches wide, and is served solo, without bread. This means that ordering enough food to satisfy heartier appetites can result in an expensive meal.

The pizza is the one dish that's a generous size, and it is outstanding. It benefits from the brick oven cooking process, which makes the dough crispy, yet spongy on the inside. Basil leaves were scattered on top of the margherita pizza, giving it a wonderful, pungent flavor. Still, it was a bit dry, and I would have preferred more of the sauce.

I found that same issue in the otherwise delightful canneloni, which also could have used more tomatoes. Unlike heavier Italian versions which are dense and doused with cheese, this had the consistency and taste of a light crepe.

The farmer's market pizza, made of seasonal vegetables, was a combination of caramelized onions, kale, pancetta and a light amount of cheese. It was a fantastic melding of ingredients.

The garganelli pasta was my least favorite, and the ragu had a bitter, off-putting taste. The gnocci was heavenly, soft pasta, surrounded by appealing gravy, but I tiptoed around the lamb, which didn't measure up to the brilliant pasta.

For dessert, I preferred the cannoli plate, which presented three bite-size cannoli in lemon, chocolate and pistachio. The pistachio was the best, with a refreshing, full-bodied, rich flavor. The gelato tasted more like chocolate ice cream, lacking the rich, dense consistency and taste of premier gelato.

Servers here are particularly attentive, checking in on us frequently. We never felt neglected, despite the large number of dining parties who were there on our first visit. They're eager to please, urging you to fill out a written form with feedback.

Mani Osteria is a great new dining spot where you can bring the kids, and still feel like you're having a sophisticated night on the town. But my comments are already being overshadowed by the many customers who have already made this discovery.

Julie Halpert reviews restaurants for


Le chat

Tue, Apr 9, 2013 : 3:38 a.m.

Complete rip off ! Food quality is low quantities are pathetic drinks are stingy Service varies dramatically It is a place for the pretentious Ann Arbor People who pretend to know what a restaurant is Peopl go there to be seen if it was for their pizzas They will never come back It will be short lived just like a great number of restaurant in this town It is a money maker that runs the show not a Restaurateur


Fri, Jun 17, 2011 : 9:35 p.m.

We tried this place tonight and I had two major problems. Problem #1- The menu has 12 different pizzas on it. But every pizza that is listed on the menu is slightly not quite what I want. My favorite pizza is some combination that includes mushroom and onions, but definitely no meat. Of the 12 pizza choices, there was a "onion and pistachio" pizza, and also a "wild mushroom and ham" pizza. I attempt to place my order and ask if I can get onions on the "wild mushroom and ham" pizza instead of ham. The server states that "they don't make substitutions". So I then ask if I can get the "onion and pistachio" pizza and add mushrooms to it.... no I get told again "they don't do additions". I confirmed that this was not just a policy for Restaurant Week, but was indeed always their policy. NO ADDITIONS AND NO SUBSTITUTIONS. I would have had no problem paying the common "upcharge" for an addition or substitution" but this is not an option at Mani Osteria. This I found very disappointing and extremely pretentious. Problem #2- Im looking at the drink menu and see that they have red and white sangria. $8.00/Glass or $24.00 for a carafe. I like a glass or two of sangria and so does my wife, so we order the carafe. The carafe arrives along with two glasses with ice. I pour sangria into my wife's glass and then into mine....the carafe is empty! So I get to spend an extra $8.00 just to pour the sangria myself out of a carafe instead of just ordering two glasses of sangria at $8.00 a piece? We were finished with this nonsense. We canceled our food order, paid for our drinks and left. We plan to never set foot in this place again.


Mon, Jun 20, 2011 : 4:04 a.m.

Sorry, RoeB, but wrong on both counts--the conspiratorial mindset just does not work here. I have eaten in restaurants of various levels all over the world, and I have absolutely no connection with this place-I have no idea what the owner even looks like. As for expectations: there are all sorts of restaurants around, some do this, some do that. The restaurant proposes, and if you do not like it, you eat somewhere else, as you indicate you will do. You want mushrooms or whatever every time you eat a pizza, so go where they serve that. There is nothing pretentious about having a strict menu; that can be done for organizational reasons or because the chef has a very specific vision. To call this pretentious is silly, and especially so because we are speaking about pizza, of all things. This is hardly a very important topic, even from a culinary point of view, and Ann Arbor is saturated with the damned thing anyway. I could also point out that when you go to a concert you do not ask the orchestra to substitute a tuba for a cello because you would prefer it that way, pretentious or not. You had problems with the sangria--it seems your point was well taken--but fortunately, I do not like the stuff anyway, so it seems I am safe. I still think life is too short to make a big deal about pizza, and to stick to one kind, but others apparently disagree, so we can just agree to lead different lives. Basta!


Sun, Jun 19, 2011 : 8:33 p.m.

You know whats interesting PersonX? Its that Ive spent my words describing what I should expect from a restaurant, and you've spent your words also describing what I should expect from a restaurant. You push your views onto me and assume that I have an uneducated palate and a "small vision". I have one of two thoughts for you... A- That this is your first real dining experience. If this is the case then I am very happy for you that you found a restaurant that can tell you what you should eat and like. Hopefully in time you will gain a worldly view of food and approach your dining experience with a knowledgeable assertiveness. B- That you are either the chef, the owner, or someone with high stakes in the restaurant. Part of the reason I didn't enjoy my experience was that I do not like being told what I should like (the other is the rip off on sangria which you still haven't addressed). You feel comfortable enforcing your pretentious vision upon me just as Mani Osteria did with the menu and restaurant policies. It is this convenient relationship of shared opinions, along with your wordage when describing the vision of the restaurant, that makes it easier for me to believe that you lie in this camp.


Sun, Jun 19, 2011 : 2:02 p.m.

First of all, I made a comment, not a review (and I do not consider this blog to be a real review either). Second, there are many different ways of creating a restaurant--if you want to mix and match, go elsewhere, but why does every place have to be the same? Unfortunately, the low level of restaurant food in Ann Arbor, especially on Main Street, has conditioned us--and the supposed reviewers-- to accept mediocrity. If someone is trying to cook imaginative and precisely cooked food and thinks that substitutions will ruin the concept and execution, then so be it. I certainly hope that the owners will ignore such griping and stick to their ambitions. We need places like this to up the bar of what a restaurant really is. There is a place for other kinds of pizzerias--we certainly have enough of them--so why not let this one be different? As for "life is too short for that"--I stick by it. It is ridiculous to create eating habits early in life and just limit yourself to them; you are, of course, free to do so, but if you do, then stick to your "favorite" eatery and do not impose your small vision on others.


Sun, Jun 19, 2011 : 3:08 a.m.

"try something new"? I can assure you that there isn't an ingredient on that menu that I haven't tried on its own or in some combination. That is the beauty of pizza, mix and create! "That is, a chef brings to you his vision and invites you to try it" They do offer that, and its called the "Chef's Tasting Menu" for 30$ on page two of the menu.

Jody Durkacs

Sat, Jun 18, 2011 : 9:31 p.m.

No. You don't open a restaurant with pizza as a focus item and then claim you don't do additions or substitutions. This isn't about Americans, this is about what one comes to expect from PIZZA, one of the simplest foods on the planet to make alterations to. "Life is too short for that." Man, you guys have no idea what a restaurant review is, do you?


Sat, Jun 18, 2011 : 1:17 p.m.

I'd echo exactly what personx said. That is, a chef brings to you his vision and invites you to try it. If it doesn't sound appealing, then move to something more fitting on the menu, which is usually a broad and diverse enough offering that everyone can find something attractive. Do Americans always feel everything should be customizable? I'm sure many would put pink lip gloss on the Mona Lisa if that were possible...


Sat, Jun 18, 2011 : 1 p.m.

Try something new and forget about having a "favorite pizza;" life is too short for that.

Ben Connor Barrie

Fri, Jun 17, 2011 : 1:35 a.m.

I've been meaning to stop by Mani. I hear the pork belly is really good. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>

Jessica Webster

Thu, Jun 16, 2011 : 2:52 p.m.

I've become a far too regular patron of Mani. I found the pasta portions to be just right, but we usually get one pizza and a pasta and share them both. The pickled tomatoes are among the best things I have ever eaten in Ann Arbor, and the Bolognese is better than mine - and I think I make a really good Bolognese. I also agree with the comments about the drinks. My favorite is their Negroni, which is by far the best Negroni in town.

Mike D.

Thu, Jun 16, 2011 : 6:54 p.m.

Apparently, you've never had my Negroni!

Mike D.

Thu, Jun 16, 2011 : 1:09 p.m.

P.S. I've heard a lot of people complaining that Mani's pastas are expensive and small. I find them perfectly sized, and they are rich enough that they are filling. Sadly, they have started to increase the portion sizes, which I pray isn't ultimately accompanied by a reduction in quality. People who buy their pasta dishes like their SUVs (maximization of pounds per dollar) already have a place to go: Macaroni Grill!

Adam Jaskiewicz

Thu, Jun 16, 2011 : 10:38 p.m.

Agreed. I'd rather have two or three smaller dishes and get an assortment of flavors than fill up on a giant plate of pasta.

Mike D.

Thu, Jun 16, 2011 : 1:06 p.m.

Finally, an Italian place in Ann Arbor with food that's interesting and consistently well prepared! The pickled tomatoes are like basil explosions, the Bolognese has the complex, subtle flavors you find in Italy, and the pizzas are light and delicious. The Roman Holiday is the best new cocktail I've had in a very long time, including all the trendiest bars on the L.E.S. of Manhattan. Despite its death location in the purgatory between real downtown and campus downtown, it's been consistently packed, and there's a reason for that!

lindsay erin

Thu, Jun 16, 2011 : 1:02 p.m.

Any news on whether Mani Osteria &amp; Bar offers gluten-free options or has a gluten-free menu? I'd love to try it if so, but otherwise, pizza and pasta are generally off limits to me. (Thank goodness for Paesano's, Carson's, and a few others that have GF pasta!)

Adam Jaskiewicz

Thu, Jun 16, 2011 : 11:51 a.m.

I was there on Monday with my girlfriend, sister, and her roommate to take advantage of the Restaurant Week deal---two &quot;small plates&quot; and a pizza or pasta dish for $25. The pork belly was incredible; salty, crispy, and tender, served with a sweet and tangy sauce made from apricots. My girlfriend had the arancini (fried balls of risotto), which was also very good. They serve it with a romesco sauce, which was a really nice touch. I also had the crispy artichokes, which were good if not especially impressive. I liked that they came with a drizzle of yogurt and a dollop of tapanade; it was a great change from the more typical ranch dressing. For my entrée, I had the tagliatelle with pork sugo. The pasta was perfectly al dente, and the sauce was quite flavorful. The portion was just about right for me after the two starters, but I tend to be a big eater. The rest of the table had pizzas, and half of each went into a box. If you're getting a pizza, it might be prudent to keep it to one small plate. Mani's drinks are GREAT. It's worth a trip just to sit at the bar and have a cocktail or three. I had the &quot;Sergio Leone&quot;, (seemed like just a rye Manhattan, made with orange bitters, but very well done; perfectly balanced), and my girlfriend had the &quot;Il Postiino&quot;, which was very true to its name, starting out sweet and a little sour from the lemonade, with a bittersweet finish from the aperol.

Jessica Webster

Thu, Jun 16, 2011 : 3 p.m.

I noticed the saltiness in the pickled tomatoes the first time I had them - I think the main culprit was the tapenade. The next time I had them, though, either my expectations were adjusted, or they had solved the salt issue.

Adam Jaskiewicz

Thu, Jun 16, 2011 : 11:55 a.m.

My only complaint with the food is that I found everything just a little salty for my taste. Not extremely, but right on the edge of what I would consider &quot;too salty&quot;. I tend to use a lot of salt in my own cooking, so I'm sure others will feel the same way.


Thu, Jun 16, 2011 : 10:48 a.m.

We went shortly after it opened and were very impressed with both food and the service, despite the crowds... it should be a great long-term success and is a fine addition to the ever- improving restaurant scene in town, which has gotten immeasurably better during the 11 years we've been here.