Review: At Manuela in DTLA, Jonathan Gold enjoys a ‘Redneck’ platter surrounded by fine art
If you should find yourself at Manuela, the sprawling new small-plates restaurant at the heart of Hauser & Wirth, you should probably poke around the museum-size galleries, take a look at the chickens out back and order a “Redneck” platter as soon as you sit down. That platter is a statement of intent disguised as a crudités arrangement, appropriate with either a blackberry smash or a Japanese hefeweizen. The “Redneck” is where chef Wes Whitsell, who grew up working on his father’s North Texas farm, shows his hand.
There is a small heap of country ham, sliced so thinly that it falls apart in your fingers, a mound of soft pimento cheese, and deviled eggs that would not be out of place at a proper Georgia funeral. You are in the small-town mid-South, nibbling on genteel staples more associated with church suppers than with ambitious restaurants.
But if you’re keeping score, the ham comes from Tennessee’s cult smokehouse Benton’s. The pickled vegetables seem to have each been brined separately, ranging from sharply spicy carrots to crisp cucumber pickles to mellow lacto-fermented turnips — Whitsell is clearly into the fermentation thing. The dense, flaky biscuits, pre-buttered, owe more to New South chefs like Sean Brock than to Grandma — Whitsell likes craft baking too.