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1421 Bishop

Open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Licensed. Accepts major credit cards except Visa. 288-1703.
Lately I have been drawn to Korean cooking. This is a surprise to me because there have been Korean restaurants in town for more than a decade. I hadn't really enjoyed this cooking. I found the flavours harsh, the waiters unable to explain the dishes to the uninitiated and the menu undecipherable.

Happily, that has changed. With a growing Korean community, we have had a wider variety of Korean restaurants from those with linen-laden tables to homey kitchen counters.

Man-na falls somewhere in between. It perches above street level on Bishop and has great window seating for a downtown spot.

The restaurant opens into a fairly large bar and seating area. Korean popular songs play in the background. The menu should be large enough to satisfy the adventurous (sea squid salad) or those just hankering for basic comfort food (spicy noodle soup or wonton with ramen). There is a daily luncheon special that comes in at less than $10 (tax included).

On Friday, when I came by, the lunch special was a bento box. This red and black laquered-style box has six compartments with rice, a vegetable and faux-crab tampura, sweet and sour breaded chicken, a large scoop of beef bulgogi (a kind of Korean barbecue,) a weak soy sauce for dipping, and a shredded carrot and lettuce salad with a pleasant sweet vinaigrette.

This was preceded by an excellent miso soup and—the hallmark of Korean cooking—great condiments. In this case: a home-made kimchi (slightly fermented cabbage with hot red pepper), delicious cubes of potatoes that had been simmered in water, soy sauce and sugar, bean sprouts and a peppery julienned turnip.

I have had better bulgogi. This seemed more of a beef and onions stew than marinated and grilled meat. It is best when it is served raw and grilled at the table. The rest of the bento box was uninspiring. But I was reminded of why I now search out Korean food. First, the textures and colours are superb. Then there is the mix of heat and cool—good kimchi works this way. The cabbage is wet and cool in the mouth and then there is a little burst of fiery pepper. The rest of the meal and play as a foil off these two themes.

Manna tries to do this and I will go back to try other dishes. The service and prices make it worthwhile.

The restaurant's name, by the way, is taken from the book of Exodus. Wandering through the desert, the Israelites were nourished by manna. I've often tried to imagine what manna tasted like. Now I wonder if it came with kimchi.—
Reviewed by Barry Lazar

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