Italian restaurants are plentiful in the Saarland and Rheinland-Pfalz countryside, but they often serve dishes that are best described by Goodfellas’ Henry Hill after his banishment from New York: “I ordered some spaghetti with marinara sauce and I got egg noodles and ketchup.”
An exception is Manin Pasta and Grill, a sleek new restaurant in St. Wendel’s main town square. There, you will be greeted with Buona sera by a friendly Italian headwaiter who speaks English and will happily help translate the menu, though most of the staples — steaks, sautéed meats and homemade pastas in fresh sauces — need no explanation.
The restaurant, which opened about two months ago, has already started attracting a crowd, making it difficult to get a table on rainy and cold nights when guests can’t spill out onto its outdoor patio — a perfect spot on a warm evenings.
Inside, Manin’s décor is butcher-shop chic, with an industrial but cozy feel. By the entrance, fresh pastas are stacked and drying. Nearby a chef artfully arranges antipasti, heaped with slices of cured salami, prosciutto, jumbo green olives, tomatoes and goat-cheese-stuffed peppers. These make excellent starters and can be easily shared.
The pastas come in a number of sauces, including a spicy ar-rabbiata, a non-greasy Bolognese, and a butter-and-sage — all of which are familiar and satisfying. Italian red wines — offered by the glass, bottle, or half carafe (called here a “Pot Lyonnaise”) — are taken seriously. Look to the chalkboard for daily choices that pair well with the pastas.
The restaurant bakes its own chewy mini-baguettes, which are handy for mopping up any leftovers and are especially good when served warm in a basket.
In addition to the pastas, there are also some wonderful main courses, including a chicken sautéed in a tomato-and-pepper sauce reminiscent of the Italian-American classic scarpariello, and a sautéed chicken stuffed with Parmesean and sage.
Specials are often noted on a lone chalkboard above the wine rack. A duck braised in a Barolo wine sauce — so tender it fell off the bone — was one of the restaurant’s recent offerings.
For dessert, gooey Italian classics such as tiramisu, panna cotta, and crème brûlée are served generously, in homey glass jars that can be passed around. The waiter will light your crème brûlée with a Bic. When you’re finished, head over to the crowded café next door for a cocktail or one of its many sweet and fluffy coffee concoctions, several of which involve candy-bar toppings.
At Manin, a dinner for two with wine and an appetizer usually costs between 40 and 50 euros, a more modest dinner of wine and pasta will be about 25 euros. For the authentic food, this seems about right, and the crowds evidently agree.
Location: Am Schlossplatz 10, 66606 St. Wendel
Hours: 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. weekdays; 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. weekends.
Prices: Appetizers and pastas cost between 5 and 9 euros; entrees cost between 10 and 13 euros but come with fresh pasta. Wine by the glass costs between 3 and 5 euros.
English menu: No. But the headwaiter speaks English and the menu is simple.
Dress: business casual.
Clientele: Local businessmen and young local residents.
Directions: From the Kaiserslautern/Ramstein/Landstuhl area, take Autobahn 62 toward Trier and exit at Kusel. Turn left and follow the highway toward St. Wendel.
From Baumholder, take L348 to the intersection of Eichenlaubstraße/L133 and turn left; then turn left at L132/Sankt-Wendeler-Strasse, right at L132/Mommstrass and finally left on Brühlstraße.
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