Mention Manhattan to New Yorkers - or to most sophisticates from around the world - and you’ll conjure up images of Broadway shows, skyscrapers and fine cuisine.
In La Jolla, where the Manhattan restaurant has been happily ensconced for almost 20 years, Manhattan means New York-style steaks and chops and outstanding continental cuisine. Owner P.J. Macaluso and partner Bill Wolf created Manhattan as a throwback to the Big Apple steakhouses of the 1940s and 1950, and you’ll still find tableside service for classics like Caesar salad and chateaubriand.
Impeccable old-world service by experienced waiters in black tie is another tradition that makes Manhattan a standout on the local restaurant scene. And many of the people on the Manhattan staff have been with the restaurant for years.
Macaluso and Wolf are very much involved with the restaurant, and you might even find Wolf mixing the salad at your table, while Macaluso - a born raconteur - entertains guests with anecdotes about the superstars for whom he’s cooked. Michael Jordan, Vin Scully, Lee Travino and Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack are among that long list of celebrities.
As Macaluso said, “I want people to feel like they’re in New York’s Delmonico’s, the way it used to be in the ‘40s. I learned from my mother when I was 6 years old. This place is an extension of my kitchen. We even make our own breads and ice cream.”
Manhattan of La Jolla is tucked behind the lobby of the Empress Hotel, not very visible from Fay Avenue or Silverado, except for the small skyline logo on the corner of the building. Nevertheless, ask any savvy diner about Manhattan, and you’ll probably get enthusiastic comments about the cuisine and the ambiance. Brick walls, huge aquariums, soft lighting effects, photos of old New York on the walls and plush round booths provide a striking backdrop for culinary offerings that are more than a cut above.
The prestigious Zagat Survey dubbed Manhattan’s thick-cut veal chops the best in the world. You can’t get higher praise than that.
Start your dinner with oysters Rockefeller ($11.95), mussels marinara ($14.95) or P.J.'s shrimp scampi ($12.95) if you have a healthy appetite. Otherwise, share a Caesar or spinach salad ($16.95). Both salads are prepared tableside, and they’re wonderful.
The stuffed pastas are amazing. We love the cannelloni stuffed with ground veal, spinach and spices ($16.95). These homemade beauties are a signature dish of the restaurant, and are not to be missed.
Steak is the best seller on Manhattan’s generous menu, and all the beef is aged black angus. Of course, New York Delmonico steak is a favorite ($31.95), but the New York pepper steak flambe deglazed with cognac is very special as well ($31.95). Old Blue Eyes has a dish named for him, steak Sinatra ($27.95). It consists of filet mignon tips served over fettuccine and covered with a tasty pomodoro sauce. Share a chateaubriand ($65 for two) to make a celebration dinner a stellar event.
During the racing season at Del Mar, Manhattan is a popular hang-out for the racing crowd, and you’ll often find Macaluso - better known as P.J. - mingling with the jockeys, high rollers and visiting horse owners. The rest of the time, it’s all ours, so check out this unique restaurant when you’re looking for a very special dinner.
Manhattan of La Jolla is at 7766 Fay Ave. For information, call (858) 459-0700.