When’s the last time your brunch plans included a chicken house and a 30-foot rose? Well at Manuela you get all that and more. You’ll find this restaurant tucked inside the open-air courtyard belonging to the Hauser Wirth & Schimmel art gallery, a large complex that was once a Pillsbury flourmill. The careful design of the place is a modern take on vintage details with marble, brass and large glass doors. The look definitely reels you in but the food will keep you in your seat. And you can thank Executive Chef Wes Whitsell for that as he heads a team dedicated to serving up locally-grown fare.
But this isn’t the team Whitsell thought he’d be leading when he first started looking at career paths. He wanted to be a baseball player but when he turned 30 he began to think about his next move,“I had to pay the bills and thought what am I good at?” The answer - cooking. He hopped around working for high-end restaurants on both the east and west coast, and slowly picked up the pieces of what it meant to be a good Chef — from how to manage staff to forging strong relationships with farmers.
“It’s going back to my roots since I grew up on farms (in Texas)… that connection with the farmer is so important, you’re supporting what’s right and what’s good.” And good is what you get, actually let’s bump that up to f’ing great. So let’s skip to the reason you’re readingthis — what to eat and drink here. Start with a cocktail, like the Somerset made from vodka distilled from cow’s milk — it’s fresh and easy — or order the Minerva because it’s named after one of the chickens living around the corner from the restaurant- a feisty drink with kick just like the chicken (she’s been known to escape and dig up herbs Whitsell’s gardner Jake Mumm is trying to keep alive).
Ok now let’s eat: The cornmeal pancakes are gritty and buttery and so good you’ll realize that syrup’s a sham. Here the pancakes are bare and legit with fresh berries on top. Next prepare your palette for the savory road ahead with the spicy greens and pear salad with Manuela’s very own cider vinegar — aged for nine months. “I tasted it after one month and nothing was happening. After two months I tasted something, three months it was better, four months, six months, seven months and finally at nine months it’s arrived,” Chef Whitsell describes the evolution of flavor when you apply a little patience. The reward? You’ll taste it when you get here. Next go for the crispy and creamy polenta with slivers of mushrooms fanned out for a tasty trip. Another must is the salmon salad with citrus, fennel and dill — it’s light and flavorful and it’ll be gone in one blink if you have greedy friends.
The only thing you’ll never see on the menu is beef. Whitsell’s adamant about how raising beef is taxing our environment. But trust that if you’re big on beef you won’t be missing it here, you’ll leave full and happy because Chef Whitsell is definitely hitting it out of the park, not just for weekend brunches but for any meal you enjoy at Manuela.
Written by Linda Hosmer
Photographed by Natasha Lee