Area: City Hotel
. You probably haven't been here since you learned that there was a restaurant
with a mechanical bull on the fifth floor. Manigua takes up residence just off to the side of the hotel's lobby. There was probably some anonymous Chinese restaurant here before. To the south, we've got Maison Pourcel
and Jinxian Lu
. Due east on Julu Lu, is Maya
, probably Manigua's most direct competitor.
What it is:
Manigua is the brainchild of restaurateur / chef / salsa impresario / art enthusiast / over all renaissance man Leonardo Gandulfo. You may recognize his work from Maya when it first opened. He also managed the short-lived Van Gogh Cafe
on Yongjia Lu, which he turned into a hot-spot for salsa dancing. Gandulfo is striking out on his own this time with what he describes as a place for "Latin cuisine, rhythms, [and] fine arts." Equal parts restaurant, salsa bar, and art gallery.
His menu draws inspiration from all over Latin America. The bulk of it is a section titled "Tappetizers" -- a portmanteau that I will assume needs no explanation. Most of them are better than anything called a "tappetizer" deserves to be. From Argentina there is a beef emapanada. From Peru there is a sea bass ceviche with chilies, red onions and corn. If Mexico's your thing, they do a fork-tender pork carnitas over mashed purple potatoes with tomato jam -- definitely a highlight. They also enter fusion territory with varying degrees of success. Their "Octopus Shanghai" marinated with ginger, mango and habanero peppers is a hit. Their Beijing duck quesadilla with gouda and mushrooms a miss. As for their "Chipotle Caesar," you'll have to see for yourself. I didn't get around to trying it.
The menu also features a few full-sized main courses like Argentinian chimichurri beef tenderloin or ropa vieja
, a classic Cuban dish of shredded beef simmered with peppers, tomatoes, onions and olives. They also do a monkfish veracruz. The menu says they prepare the fish whole. I'm not sure they really mean that. No one in their right mind would put a whole fish that looks like this
on a plate and serve it. My guess is that they're just using the tail meat, which is the best part; it tastes like lobster.
With sweets, they stick to the basics -- tres leches, flan, arroz con leche and the like. That's a good thing. Latin American desserts have little to improve upon.
No big surprises with the drinks, either. Everything is familiar, approachable and needs no explanation. Their signatures are the sangria and the mojito. Both are yummy. You'll also find other Latin staples like the caipirinha and the margarita as well as other renamed textbook standards like the "Chongming Island Iced Tea" or the "Bloody Mani."
Festive. Vivid. A stark contrast from the dour off-white oblivion of the City Hotel's lobby. The walls are a warm hue of ochre, which complements the several original works of contemporary art hung up everywhere. Floor-to-ceiling windows let loads of natural light in during the day and give it an airy, open feel in spite of the low-hanging ceiling that covers most of the space. I expect that every Thursday night around 9.30 the place will be packed to the rafters with Shanghai's salsa dancing community.
"Tappetizers" start in the upper 60s and top off just shy of 100rmb. Soups and salads are in the neighborhood of 48 and 58. You see a substantial jump with the mains. They start at 135 for Cuban-style chicken and rice and can go as high 220 for a chimichurri steak. Desserts are uniformly 45rmb. They're asking pretty much the going rate for the cocktails: 60rmb for a glass of sangria, 160 for a jar, 60 or 70 for everything else.
Shanghai's Latino contingent and the sultry heat it radiates.