G. A. Benton
Korean cuisine has become hugely popular in Columbus — it’s even featured in chain restaurants — but browsing a large menu of Korean dishes can still be daunting for people who didn’t grow up eating the cuisine. Enter the Korean restaurant Manna.
Because it focuses on well-executed, crowd-pleasing classics—and shows them off in the menu photos—Manna Korean Restaurant is a great place to explore Korean cuisine. It will also appeal to cooking veterans looking for good values. Bonus: You can shop till you bop after dining at Korean restaurant Manna.
“Bop” – aka “bap” and “bob” – appears frequently on Korean menus because the word means “cooked rice”. Manna (like Momo Ghar and Ranchero Kitchen before it) is another highly successful restaurant launched in the global ingredients wonderland of Saraga International Grocery on Morse Road. After eating at Manna, you can buy bop and other ingredients a short walk from where you just ate them, then step up your education by trying to replicate the dishes at home.
Or you can just keep “studying” at Manna.
Occupying a niche on the right side of Saraga’s entrance with about half a dozen simple, well-spaced tables and a blond wood counter with about half a dozen stools, Manna is small but not cramped. Though unsophisticated, Manna offers very friendly service, and its largely wood-paneled space includes warm and endearing touches: lots of plants, strips of red paint, strings of multicolored lights, and (puzzle alert) plates. Norman Rockwell style ornaments on sale from $3 to $5.
Color photos of popular Korean dishes, most placed above the order counter with their cheap prices, serve as Manna’s decorative and easy-to-navigate menu.
The Kimbap ($7) – a Korean take on sushi without raw fish – was generally bigger and better than many local versions. The well-oiled, sesame-sweetened, lightly sweetened rice interior (the “bap” of the kimbap) of the maki-style roll, the fishcake, the omelette-shaped egg, and the marinated pickled vegetables (carrot, fern, daikon) have made it an easy dish to prepare. -like a delight.
Ditto for Manna’s signature beef bulgogi, perhaps Korea’s best-known dish (bulgogi deopbap, $12). Good seared and particularly tender meat was treated with a less sweet than average marinade that accentuated rather than overpowered the flavor of the beef steak. Carrots, green onions and sautéed onions are colorful and compatible partners.
If botanical heat calls you, the spicy pork bulgogi ($12) was just as good and different enough from the beef bulgogi to be worth ordering both if you’re not dining alone — or even if you are.
Both come with rice, and all entrees come with banchan – lovely little sides that can include semi-sweet pickled vegetables, garlicky greens, kimchi, or (if you’re lucky) a salad. full-size fiery blended with cabbage, cucumber and watercress.
Do you like botanical and thermal heat? The kimchi soondubu jjigae ($10) — a stew of kimchi, tofu and pork with vegetables and a whole egg under its spicy broth — arrived gurgling hot, as is the tradition with this healthy and delicious classic.
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The new “KFC” – Sweet and Spicy Korean Fried Chicken – has gained popularity lately. Manna’s version ($12) was solid: plentiful chunks of breast meat under a relatively light breading coated in a finger-lickin’ gochujang-based soy sauce.
Emphasizing its salad-like characteristics, Manna’s bibimbap ($12) was an outlier, and not in a bad way. One of the most colorful and vegetarian presentations of bibimbap, it featured rice topped with heavy toppings including raw and cooked greens and spinach, bracken, kimchi, carrots, daikon, cucumber, red and yellow pepper strips, bulgogi and a fried egg.
You’ll find many of the same vegetables – plus zucchini, shiitake and bulgogi – in the winning, umami-rich, Manna-served version of another old favourite: japchae with rice (here spelled “jbchae bob”; 12 $). You’ll find glass noodles made with sweet potatoes — like the ones that are cooked to firm but yield in this dish — on a grocery store shelf just steps from this welcome new eatery.
Manna Korean Restaurant
1265 Morse Road. (inside Saraga International Grocery), Northland