Manos Nouveau: A Handcrafted Experience

Transcribed from SF Weekly, by  A. K. Carroll


Roughly translated as “new and inventive hands,” Manos Nouveau is a restaurant that lives up to its name. An upscale space with black-clothed tables, a candle-lit ambiance and an intimate feel, it isn’t a location for dinner on the go. Think of it as more of a gallery for the senses — a dining experience that betrays personal touch — from the handprints on the pottery (crafted by creative director-partner Caitlin James) to the pea puree beneath the salmon, to the paintings that line the staircase.

Opened in January 2015 and relocated from its previous space on 22nd St. and South Van Ness Ave. (current home of Californios), the artistic eatery and event space has fleshed out its offerings, orchestrating an ensemble of artists to be featured on a rotating basis and adding a carefully curated prix fixe to a menu of exotic entrees.

“The trolleys sold me,” James says as she shows me the view from a large upstairs window. On the other side I see them on the street, stopped at red lights, frozen in time. It is the late-summer celebration of Manos’ new artistic season, and the space has been converted to accommodate for guests.

“Art wasn’t as feasible at the other space,” says James. “Here I can do group shows.”

A slew of featured and forthcoming artists are present that evening, including mixed media pieces, paintings and photography from Deborah KimseyAyesha SamdaniJeffrey Tover, and Sara Moynier. Manos features up to three artists at a time, rotating the work roughly every two months. Some artists create pieces exclusively for the space, a few of which have been added to the restaurant’s collection.

While James curates the visual aesthetic and atmosphere, chef-owner Manuel Montalban is the artist of culinary creations, with a dinner menu that leans towards Latin America, but evidences a heavy French flair. Montalban likes to bring in flavors from lesser-known portions of Central and South America—adding mango, chayote and latin peppers to a tropical gazpacho, infusing a white wine butter sauce with a spicy hint of the Yucatan, or adding chimole spices from Belize to the rice beneath his seared chilean salmon.

The $50 three-course prix fixe (available Tuesday-Thursday) offers six apertivos, ranging from ahi tartare to Latin French onion soup, four platos de fondo, including fresh fish and prawns and Manos’ famed chicken cordon bleu, and four desserts from which to choose. Drink pairing isn’t provided, but can easily be suggested from a hand-selected list of over two dozen wines (most of which are available by the glass).

Though the entrees are plated with savvy and style, it is in his dessert that Montalban most showcases his artistic talents. A sweet lucuma mousse is wrapped in sheet of plantain, topped with strawberries and decorated with an fragile nest of cartelized sugar. It is the delicacy of the details, a hand-crafted experience from beginning to end.

Manos Nouveau: 3970 17th St, 415-872-5507.

      ©2021 Manos Nouveau | Artistic Latin-French Restaurant & Wine Bar in the Heart of the Castro

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