The Spot: Manna Restaurant, 8640 Flower Ave., Takoma Park, (301) 589-9390
The Cuisine: Dominican, Latin American
The Go-To Dish: Mofongo de camarones (shrimp mofongo)
The Scoop: Even without a drop of Dominican or Puerto Rican blood in my body, I always thought of Caribbean/Latin America cuisine as my comfort food while growing up in the New York/New Jersey area. It started with my Puerto Rican neighbor, Grace, who used to watch me when my parents worked at night. I remember how the smells of Grace’s kitchen would blanket the block, as warm and inviting as a comforter on a cold night.
I was looking for that kind of comfort when I stumbled across Manna Restaurant, a Takoma Park spot serving up authentic Dominican fare. I was in a mofongo mood and when you’re in a mofongo mood, nothing will satisfy you besides, well, mofongo. If you’re not familiar with the dish, mofongo is made from fried plantains mashed together with broth, garlic, butter, olive oil, and bacon. It is usually served with either shrimp or some sort of fried meat on the side, often sitting in a pool of broth soup. If that sounds like a heart attack on a plate, you’re catching my drift.
Manna won’t win any style points — it is a hole in the wall with a few chairs, a TV, and an even smaller hole in the wall for takeout orders. But this is exactly why I thought I was in for a treat. It brought back memories of a great Dominican spot I used to frequent in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, called Gena’s Grill, where I would start my day with a breakfast of eggs and mashed plantains. I ordered Manna’s mofongo de camarones (shrimp mofongo) with a side of longaniza (Dominican sausage) and a pastelito Dominicano (Dominican beef patty).
The pastelito was scrumptious, but the longaniza was dry. I knew it wouldn’t matter in the end as long as the mofongo was good, which it was not. The outsides were overly fried, which made the dish way too chewy. The core was softer and had more flavor, but it still lacked spice and was served too cold for my liking. On top of that, my mofongo came over a full bed of salad! Never in my life had I seen that, definitely not in Grace’s kitchen.
The Verdict: I wanted to like Manna Restaurant, but I just couldn’t. The bottom line: The food just ain’t that good. Maybe it was an off day?