Drink of the week: White sangria with green grape juice
Where you can find it: Mana Food Bar
The damage: $8.
Why here? Chickens. My friend Anne got stuck behind a poultry truck while driving across Georgia a couple years back and hasn't touched meat since. She came to visit me from Nebraska, where saying you're a vegetarian will land you a look of shock and confusion, like you're championing cannibalism instead of just laying off meat. Even though I'm a full-on beef fan, I was happy to check out Mana, a small-plates, meat-free spot that I had heard nothing but raves about. And after trying its mini mushroom and brown rice burgers, I'm considering converting to vegetarianism so I have an excuse to keep going back.
How it went down: Though Mana's menu doesn't focus on a particular cuisine, its short drink list reflects a Japanese influence with chilled sake for sipping and sake cocktails, as well as about 10 wines. The white sangria with green grape juice immediately caught my eye. A mix of cold sake, a touch of agave nectar and lime juice, Patron Citronage and fresh-squeezed green grape juice, it's one of the most innovative takes on sangria I've seen. The bartender gives the blend a fierce shake, giving it a slight frothiness, before pouring it over ice and topping it was a handful of purple grapes.
The drink had a clean, refreshing flavor with a subtle tartness. It followed the typical sangria formula of not tasting alcoholic at all, with the fresh grape flavor adding a sweet touch. If Mana offered it, I could've sucked down a pitcher of the stuff.
Would I want to become a regular? When it was time to order the eats, we got a little out of control, ordering more food than could fit at the small table. The slightly spicy hummus was some of the tastiest I've ever come across; the chilled buckwheat soba noodles made me wonder why more food doesn't come doused in peanut sauce; and the mushroom-topped polenta was so creamy and cheesy. But those burgers—if I lived in Wicker Park, I would order them for takeout on a weekly basis. The size of Mana is its one downfall; with only a few small, wooden booths and a bar, the narrow space fills up quick. And I'm pretty sure it's not just vegetarians clamoring for a table.
Dana Kavan scours the city for drink deals so good you'll offer to buy a round and creative libations that outshine your average on-the-rocks concoctions. Want to give Dana tips on where to rack up a bar tab? Share your finds before her next night out.