It’s mid-winter and nothing satisfies like “comfort food.” Mana’s Chef Jill Barron joined WBEZ to share her thoughts on food that comforts. Click the link to hear her conversation and to download her famous Sautéed Mushrooms and Creamy Polenta Recipe.
Listen to Chef Jill here
Michelin Guide –
Feeling like your body needs a jump-start? Mana, whose name translates to “the life force coursing through nature,” is a good place to get your mojo back. Though welcoming to vegans, vegetarians, gluten-free diners, and anyone who’s looking for a nutrient boost, it’s not just health food: the small space also offers a full bar with sake cocktails, smoothies, and freshly squeezed juices. Mana may be a tiny spot, but its diverse menu of vegetarian dishes is big on taste—and spice. Korean bibimbap mixes a roster of vegetables like pea pods, roasted carrots, and pickled daikon with a fresh sunny side-up egg; while horseradish and cracked black pepper sneak into macaroni and cheese. House-made hot sauce with serranos and jalapeños adds extra pep to any dish.
Forbes – No doubt, this is the trend of the year. Beyond the 90% increase in vegan searches on Google in the past year, even McDonald’s rolled out a vegan burger as part of its permanent menu in select countries and Pizza Hut is testing vegan cheese in England. In 2018, the powerful influence of plant-based foods continues. From dropping the quotes around “cheese” for the commonplace vegan “cheese” on burgers to more plant-based meat entrees on the menu: Restaurants are finally catching on. Expectedly, vegetarian-focused chains such as By Chloe and Veggie Grill will continue to grow. More chains will join the likes of Ben & Jerry’s and Haagen-Dazs in providing vegan or vegetarian frozen dessert options. One of the most exciting developments is Google’s “plant-forward” menu, which sees the tech giant working along with Panera Bread, Hilton Hotels, Stanford University, Unilever, and Sodexo to changing the way its employees eat.
TRY THIS AT: Mana Food Bar in Chicago
Chicago Magazine –
If you’ve strolled past Mana Food Bar lately, you’ve seen the first signs of Anaba Handroll Bar (1742 W. Division St., Wicker Park), the 15-seater that’s about to set up shop in the front section of Mana’s dining room.
Mana (which is open during renovations) will continue its meatless business as usual, and Anaba—a two-sided bar in the middle of the room—will get rolling in mid-October.
The project is a collaboration between Mana owners Jill Barron and Susan Thompson and Soon Park, who owns Chef Soon in Woodbridge. Soon’s menu at Anaba, predictably, will comprise hand rolls—roughly a dozen—packed with sustainable seafood such as salmon, crab, and hamachi, plus veggie handrolls by Jill Barron. Warm rice will accompany the fillings, and toasted nori will hold things together. An array of sauces with varying spice levels will be yours for the dipping. Rolls will be priced from $4 to $8 apiece, or sold in predetermined groupings of three or five. A daily nigiri or two rounds out the food offerings, and drinks will include tap sake, tap beer, and cocktails.
Thompson says hand roll aficionados should prepare to be dazzled. “Ours will be especially delicious because the nori will be toasted, nice and crunchy and crisp. The rice will be warm and the fish cold. It’s the perfect combination,” she says.
An entirely vegetarian-friendly menu, which is also mostly vegan-safe, satisfies non-meat-eaters with a variety of options. There’s a heavy Korean influence while sliders, gyoza, and green curry noodles are some of the globally-inspired favorites.
What is a petite and apparently unassuming establishment from the outside, hidden away among the bustling throng of stylish bars and boutiques which dominate the area, is in reality one of the best vegetarian restaurants in Wicker Park and Bucktown. The adorably quaint Mana Food Bar specializes in small, flavorful and healthy dishes, ideal for sharing and, as meat-lovers are so pleasantly surprised to discover, exceptionally filling. Choose from a diverse menu of veggie and vegan options from all over the world including hot and cold dishes such as sesame noodles and peanut sauce, sweet potato pancakes with chutney or the famous Mana slider burger, in simple, stylish surroundings, and thankfully at a decent price. There is even a covered outdoor patio when the weather is fine. Translated ‘the life force in nature,’ Mana is certainly a force to be reckoned with.
Mana Food Bar shocked Wicker Park when it opened in 2008, shattering expectations to what a vegetarian restaurant could accomplish. Executive chef/partner Jill Barron crafted a menu the fused flavors from all across the world, with a focus on Korea.
Naomi Beckwith and William J. O’Brien toast the Chicago art scene.
Since joining the Museum of Contemporary Art in 2011, Marilyn and Larry Fields Curator Naomi Beckwith has gained renown for thought-provoking exhibits like “Homebodies,” an examination of the role of domesticity in art. Beckwith’s latest project is “William J. O’Brien,” the artist’s first major survey exhibition, which opens January 25 at the MCA. In addition to their mutual passion for art, Beckwith and O’Brien—whose preferred media include drawings, paintings, ceramics, and textiles—share a foodie’s enthusiasm for vegetarian fare. Recently the duo met with Michigan Avenue at Division Street’s Mana Food Bar, where the discussion centered on staying mindful of both appetite and art as they welcome the New Year.
Naomi, why did you suggest we meet here?
NAOMI BECKWITH: Bill suggested that we come here. It had been on my list, but I hadn’t been yet.
WILLIAM O’BRIEN: They have a really good selection of smaller and larger plates. It’s hard to find good vegetarian restaurants; a lot of people come here who aren’t vegetarian, but the food is so good.
Are you both vegetarian?
WO: I’m mostly, but not all. Are you?
NB: I’m completely vegetarian. I’ve been veggie—like a lot of folks—since high school. My mother’s side of the family is vegetarian, so some of my vegetarianism is family-based, but for me there were all sorts of ethical reasons to keep with it. It’s better for the earth, but above all—
WO: Nutrition, and balance…. A lot of yoga practitioners come here. It’s healthy, and they have a sake list, too—a little bit of everything.
[Pickled fruit; avocado, arugula, and tomato salad; and maki are served]
Asian-influenced dishes such as maki are served.
How did you two meet?
WO: Naomi had just moved back to Chicago for her position. Eventually, we started working on this [survey] project, and that evolved into this show [at the MCA]. I wrote an e-mail that basically said, “If you want to hang out and not talk about work, we don’t have to talk business.” We’re both involved in the art world, but we also hadn’t crossed paths for whatever reason. I was a little intimidated because there was this aura about you coming back to your hometown and taking over.
NB: [Laughs] Which is really funny because I’m always starstruck when I meet artists.
WO: Really? [Eating salad] The curry seasoning in this dish has a wonderful crispness to it, but it also has a nice aftertaste.
NB: [Eating pickled fruit] I’m a big fan of pickles; I pickle all the time. I just grab stuff and throw it in a Mason jar. [Laughs] I love the flavors.
[Sesame noodles are served]
Mana Food Bar’s dining room.
How would you describe William’s exhibit?
NB: The first word I would use is “collaboration.” I’m very much the curator, but the most exciting thing for me in working with relatively young artists is to be able to promote, and I get to work with them. You get to build a narrative together.
WO: It’s important to have another person involved to negotiate this idea of what other people see. What’s nice about being able to work together on this project is that we’re able to go into each other’s world, and that collaboration is reflected in the show, where neither of us has full autonomy.
NB: The key in that collaborative mode is we’ll trust the viewers to come to their own conclusions to address the objects.
WO: Art is the starting point. The objects are the vehicle for greater conversation and discussion, and the discussions that come of that are impeccable or not, depending on each person, which is the object and their way of viewing it.
NB: You almost need to tell your audience that coming into the show: “This is the beginning of a conversation.” [Eating sesame noodles] This is super well-executed. There’s a salad underneath, so you get the starch and protein on top, and then you lighten the palate with a bit of salad.
WO: There’s a variety of taste between the items, so you can design flavors from eating here.
NB: That’s a lovely way of putting it. Do you cook?
WO: Not very much.
NB: I cook all the time.
WO: Well, that goes with curating. Art is about subtle listening, and cooking is related to this idea of listening—being aware of what you’re adding, and balancing that out.
NB: And I don’t dine out for convenience; I dine out for the experience. You want to go someplace where they’re really thoughtful—
WO: How they choose the ingredients, and mindful portions.
What else is in store in 2014—any resolutions?
NB: I resolve not to resolve—mostly because I forget, so then I feel like I’m lying to myself.
WO: As they say in yoga and meditation practice, if you have a daily practice, you have a daily intention, so this idea of resolution is more effective on a more subtle level than it is on a grander.
NB: It’s more to reassess.
[Bi Bim Bop is served]
Mana Food Bar’s Bi Bim Bop, a lighter version of the traditional Korean dish.
NB: Speaking of resolutions, I think you’ve got to resolve your work for this show! [Laughs]
WO: There’s this perception of vegetarian dishes being bland or overly processed—
NB: And having to sacrifice taste for eating well. [Tofu is served]
NB: The tofu, by the way—is it made here?
SERVER: We outsource our tofu; it’s based in Uptown.
NB: I love it. It’s local. [Laughs] Grilled to perfection. Tofu is interesting: People say it’s flavorless, but it totally absorbs the flavor if done right, and they have done it right.
WO: It’s very good. I like a little bit of the shiitake seasoning—it’s savory, but also light. You have to prepare it very lightly, and you don’t have to overdo it.
NB: Well, the key also is getting the water out. Get the water out, and then it literally acts like a sponge. ’Cause I can make it—I told you, I can cook!