Manna

Manna restaurant in downtown Wilmington NC.

The name of this downtown Wilmington restaurant is fitting. Manna (from Heaven) seems just right to describe the outstanding food, spot-on craft cocktails and swanky urban feel of this Princess Street spot between Front and Second streets. Billed as an American restaurant, chefs here have a wide range. They apply classic French technique to America’s melting pot of options in imaginative but not contrived ways. Nearly every ingredient is sourced from the United States, and much of what the kitchen uses is grown or raised locally.

Everything is homemade. Chefs even churn the butter. Food and drinks are served in a two-part urbane setting. The dining room’s minimalist design plays exposed red brick against simple black, white and a pop of tangerine. The theme carries into the elegant bar, which has a doorway leading to an eclectic, grown-ups’ lounge named Bourgie Nights, where gifted musicians perform everything from swing to Americana. The menu changes seasonally and according to the kitchen’s creative whims. Fine dining describes the experience, but Manna doesn’t take itself too seriously, as evidenced by amusing names for food selections. There’s the Clawed Howell (poached lobster, local braising greens, coconut-creamed butternut squash, sunflower seed pistou and fresh tarragon); the Beets Around the Bush (roasted & glazed North Carolina beets, arugula, fresh oranges, housemade cheese, candied pecans and fig sherry vinaigrette); and the Finger Lickin’ Pig Pickin’ (marinated and grilled N.C. pork chop, Anasazi bean ragout, maple-glazed N.C. sweet potatoes, arugula and smoked pimenton jus). Manna is known for its perfectly seared scallops, the presentation for which changes regularly. Chef Jameson Chavez is a New Mexico native, so chilies show up in dishes like Out of the Friar Pan and into the Fire (braised local monkfish in “Big Jim” red chili sauce, turnips, sweet potatoes, mussels and red cabbage). Pastry chef Rebeca Alvarado Paredes is considered by foodies to be the city’s best.

If you swoon for dessert, be prepared to have someone check your pulse after her sweet potato crème caramel or “peach melba” with caramelized peaches, frozen créme brulee and raspberry ice. Selections are seldom the same. Cocktails at Manna are notable. Bartenders take pride in making them exactly right each time, whether it’s a classic Sazerac or a house special.

Reservations are a good idea most nights, required most weekends. You may also dine at the bar. Add your email to the restaurant’s newsletter list to hear about wine dinners and other special events. Manna opens for dinner at 5 p.m. each day except Monday. The kitchen closes 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and at 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Manna is available for private events and large parties are fine.

For more information visit www.mannaavenue.com