Cigar Aficionado

Manny's Steakhouse, Minneapolis

Manny's isn't designed for the Ladies Who Lunch. The first clue is the foyer's near-lifesized portrait of a bull in all its masculine glory. The second is the dimension of the portions, perhaps inspired by Manny's fellow Minnesotan, Paul Bunyan.

The dining room's appointments are equally grandiose, from double magnums of wine to produce displays featuring potatoes as big as boulders and a small forest of broccoli. The unabashedly macho Minneapolis steakhouse opened in 1988 to immediate acclaim, proving that the lust for top-flight red meat, and lots of it, was alive and well.

Two hands-on owners of Parasolé Restaurant Holdings Inc., operators of several successful Italian restaurants in the Twin Cities, designed the place to capture the feel of a traditional New York steakhouse: bare wood floors, burnished wainscoting bisected by a streak of jade-green marble, and a sea of see-and-be-seen tables, each set simply with a crisp white cloth, salt and pepper shakers, and a notepad to jot power memos--no candles, no flowers, no Muzak to detract from the trinity of red meat, red wine and choice cigars (in the cozy bar).

Manny's was the first establishment in the Twin Cities to introduce cigar nights. That was back in 1992, soon after Cigar Aficionado was launched. Manny's holds smokers on the first Tuesday of every month that attract more than 300 men and women. Guests are encouraged to bring their own cigars (many devotees bring five or six boxes for trading), or they may select from a rotation of half a dozen (including Partagas, Avo, Paul Garmirian, Oscar and H. Upmann, priced from $5 to $30) available in the bar. "It's getting harder to get good cigars," says general manager Randy Stanley, referring to supply and demand, "but we have good relationships with our purveyors, so they come through for us. I see no end to the trend; it appeals to our urge to indulge."

So do Manny's menus of food and drink. Single malts and Ports have become the beverage of choice at smokers, where most guests elect to cap their night with dinner.

In the dining room they're presented with an exemplary wine list that showcases new and limited-distribution California Cabernets such as Pezzi-King, Husch North Field Select, Justin Reserve, Vine Cliff and Seavey. Manny's wine list has won the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence seven years in a row.

When it comes to food, simplicity is the byword. Manny's chef shops well and then lets the viands make their own statement, never upstaged by designer presentations or fancy sauces.

Appetizers are almost redundant here; still, we couldn't resist. We started with a seafood platter bearing tender, buxom, perfectly cooked shrimp to dip in a lively tomato-horseradish sauce. Crab cakes--as good as I've ever had--came deftly fried, plump with rich meat and spared of pasty filler. A simple mustard mayo tempered their innate sweetness with a sassy little hit.

Waiters here are lifers. They're showmen, as proficient in their lippy banter as in serving expertise. Fans request their favorites when making reservations. Each starts his performance with a show-and-tell routine, lifting two-fisted hunks of meat, live lobsters and softball-size tomatoes from a tableside cart.

The filet mignon (choose 10 or 14 ounces), secured from a Kansas City purveyor and dry-aged for two weeks, is a best seller and justly so. Its charred crust, dancing with the tang of salt, gives way to a lode of ruby, mild-flavored flesh so tender the steak knives at each setting become mere visual props. The 20-ounce New York strip is a bit more strident in beefy flavor and fiber, while the 22-ounce Porterhouse represents the best of both.

A sirloin-cut veal chop, blushing a milky pink, bears a slender ribbon of fat beneath its crusty surface to moisten the tender meat. Three double-cut lamb chops (which buys you the whole rack) boast a sweet and slightly gamy flavor livened with a shake of salt.

Salads and side dishes are bountiful enough to share, as the waiters are quick to advise. Asparagus, stacked like Lincoln logs, arrived ideally al dente, its satiny Hollandaise more buttery than bright with lemon. Creamed garlic spinach proved as pungent as it was addictive.

Desserts, all classic steakhouse fare, are made for marathon eaters, too. We ordered a brownie sundae, and lived to tell about it. It's not a single brownie at all, but the whole six-inch pan--cakey rather than chewy, buried in an avalanche of premium ice cream, caramel sauce and pouring cream, gently whipped, with a shower of toasted macadamia nuts. To top this, our waiter did a two-handed pour of hot butterscotch and chocolate sauces. Then he stabbed a steak knife in the middle. Fitting.

Manny's is open for dinner only. "We're on the phone all day and on the floor all night," says Stanley.

Carla Waldemar is senior editor at Cuisine and writes on food for several other publications.

Manny's Steakhouse
Hyatt Regency Hotel
1300 Nicollet Mall
Phone: (612) 339-9900
Dinner: About $50 per person, without wine