On the Menu: Diners get Old World Italian favorites in a sophisticated setting that’s La Jolla Manhattan-style
By Will Parson
There are some things old and some things new at Manhattan of La Jolla. Owner Bill Wolf and executive chef PJ Macaluso have made their New York-Italian steakhouse inside the Empress Hotel one of the most reliable La Jolla favorites of the past 25 years. And some recent updates have only served to enhance the restaurant’s old-school charm.
The new additions include the jazzy piano of Tad Sisler, who plays from 7 to 10 on Thursday nights and 8 to 11 on Fridays and Saturdays. And if you are wondering what happened to Manny Silva Jr., formerly the popular maître d’ at La Valencia Hotel, he’s now at Manhattan. Wolf and Macaluso also brought in new partners Chuck Bauer and Nancy O’Donnell who helped renovate Manhattan without losing its characteristic charm. Brian O’Donnell represents the company and is the manager.
But Wolf notes that much hasn’t changed about Manhattan over two and a half decades.“The kitchen staff basically is the same as it was 25 years ago. A few of the waiters have retired but you know, there are still some old-timers here — me for instance!”
Indeed, the tuxedo-wearing staff lends their experience with a touch of class, and Manhattan is one of few restaurants that make a Caesar salad at your table. A long-time favorite has been the veal chop, which has even been called the best in the world. But the Cannelloni is very popular and the lobster ravioli is also recommended. As are all the Italian pastas — many recipes are old family favorites passed down from the mother of Chef Macaluso, an Italian-American from Brooklyn.
Aside from the food, perhaps what you’ll notice first about Manhattan is its romantic atmosphere. Set inside the Empress Hotel, the absence of windows leaves Manhattan muted and intimate, but still open enough to avoid feeling cloistered. If you don’t sit near the bar or the piano, you can gaze into a sleek saltwater aquarium on the opposite end of the restaurant. Walls adorned with depictions of New York-Italian icons, like Frank Sinatra, accentuate the feeling that you’ve been transported to a different place and time.
But you don’t have to be from New York to feel at home at Manhattan. Often you’ll find Wolf, looking sharp in his tuxedo, tending to his guests personally and keeping the experience special. “We cater to the La Jolla people,” he said.
Manhattan of La Jolla
- Address: 7766 Fay Ave.
- The Vibe: Old School, Romantic
- Signature Dish: Veal Chop
- Open Since: 1986
- Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; Dinner 5-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
- Web: manhattanoflajolla.com
- Phone: (858) 459-0700
- Reservations: Recommended
- Patio Seating: No
- Take Out: Yes
- Happy Hour: 4-6 p.m. Sunday-Friday
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