I hadn't tried it yet but had heard about its popularity, largely because of the price. I had also heard from several of my middle cousins that the meat and panchan (Korean side dishes) quality was not very good. I figured this would be one of those places that's popular with the college-age crowd who care more about quantity than quality. But lil' sis and my cousins invited me, so I figured I might as well check it out and see for myself.
(As a funny little aside, when I started this blog, I really didn't figure my cousins would get so into it. Now they frequently stick their fingers or chopsticks into photos so they too can appear on the blog. So on this particular night, the middle '87, who doesn't much care for Korean food, wanted to come along only if I was going so she could be mentioned on the blog. Funny, huh? What's an '87? Ah, well, so dubbed by me because three girls were born that year. Lil' sis kept trying to come up with a good screen name until she realized she already had one. :) And the other two couldn't decide, and then I realized I was eating with all the girls born that year, and well, that's how it went.)
But anyway, back to the food.
When we pulled up, I could immediately smell the smoky meat. Hmm. That's a good sign. After we were seated, a big bowl of seasoned lettuce and half a dozen panchan were placed on the table. The panchan looked a little sparse. C'mon, it's all-you-can-eat and surely we were going to eat more than that. Heck, even the tofu houses give more than just six panchan. The rice noodle sheets weren't separated either so we had to manually do it ourselves. And the salad had quite a few mushy dark pieces of lettuce.
So far, not so good. The panchan and the salad had this overly sweet taste that lingered on my tongue. It wasn't sugar, but a fake sweetness that I didn't care for at all.
Our trio of dipping sauces.
My cousin just thought the way they wrapped the spoon looked nice so I took a picture.
As for atmosphere. We were seated in the outer area so it was smoky, grimy, and a little sticky. I wouldn't have minded all that if the food was justified but so far I wasn't digging this place.
Our initial meat order was for Bulgogi and Kalbi/Galbi (Korean Marinated and Barbecued Beef and Short Ribs), and beef brisket. Looks nice doesn't it? I'm a kalbi fan but these didn't have the usual marinade. A quick consultation with the menu has them listed with a jumulruc marinade. What? Well, that sweetness that lingered with the panchan and the salad also applied to the marinades as well.
We also got a steamed egg custard. Again. Sweet. What's up with that? Do they think they can mask the food by drenching everything in artificial sweetener?
Here we are grilling away. Yes, I ate. I was hungry. But I didn't really enjoy it as much as I normally enjoy Korean barbecue.
I think we went through three plates of meat. Just keep ringing the bell and a harried waiter will come out with another plate of meat or refill the panchan. Lil' sis and the oldest '87 being the big fans just ate and ate. The middle '87 and I only picked at our food halfway through. I was mostly grilling the meat. And that's one minor complaint. The tongs didn't have a hinge so they were really stiff. We had to take turns grilling simply because it actually hurt our hands to keep working those tongs.
All in all, lil' sis could tell I wasn't nearly as excited about Manna as she was.
And at $16.99 a person times 4 people, plus tax and tip, that's not that cheap at all. For the amount I spent on dinner, I could have taken the girls a few blocks further west to Chung Kiwa Korean BBQ Restaurant where we could have gotten several orders of black Angus beef, twice as many panchan of much better quality, and a much nicer ambiance. Throw in a bowl of really excellent naengmyun (Korean cold buckwheat noodles) and I would have been a much happier eater. I'll save that post for another day.
Eating here reminded me of the biblical story of manna from heaven. Sure it was plentiful, but after 40 years of eating only manna while wandering around in the desert, didn't the Israelites get sick of it too?
Who else ate at Manna?
Eat, Drink, & Be Merry ate at Manna two years ago and liked it, but then earlier this year said he stopped going because the meat quality was lacking.
Other Korean barbecue restaurants:
Chung Kiwa Korean BBQ Restaurant - Los Angeles (Koreatown)
Feedable BBQ Buffet - Rowland Heights
Gui Il Bun Ji BBQ Restaurant - Los Angeles (Koreatown)
Hae Jang Chon Korean BBQ Restaurant - Los Angeles (Koreatown)
Hwa Ro Korean BBQ and Tofu -San Gabriel
Hwang Hae Do Korean BBQ - Artesia
Light Town House Korean BBQ - Garden Grove (Korean Business District)
Miga Korean BBQ Restaurant - Rowland Heights
Ong Ga Nae Korean BBQ - Rowland Heights
San Ya Restaurant Korean BBQ & Noodle - Los Angeles (Koreatown)
Seol Ak San - Stanton
Soot Bul Gui Rim 2 Korean BBQ - Los Angeles (Koreatown)
Tahoe Galbi Restaurant - Los Angeles (Koreatown)
Manna Korean BBQ
3377 W. Olympic Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90019
Sunday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to midnight