Don’t let the garish and almost comically blood red exterior fool you, Hunan Manor in Columbia is worth a visit. If you’ve got a group of eight or more, try the family-style dining. It’s a very reasonable way to try a lot of different dishes and it feels more like home even when you’re eating out. This option is not on the lunch menu, the dinner menu, or either set of take-out menus. Ask for a round table and ask your server for the family-style menu. Trust me.
Immediately upon entering, there’s a nice multi-layer fountain in the center of the room. To the left is a small dining room. To the right is a small but amply stocked bar. Off to the right behind the fountain is the hostess booth. Past the fountain are a dozen tanks stocked with fresh aquatic life — crab, shrimp, and fish — soon to be harvested, prepared, and enjoyed. To the right is a medium-sized dining room that wraps around the bar area in an L-shape. Continuing is a large dining room with tables and booths, followed by another similar dining room. The two are separated by a floor-to-ceiling aquarium, set in oak. They don’t take reservations for 7, so I assume that the various dining rooms can be reserved if you have a large enough group. In short, there’s a dining room of suitable size for most any occasion; a casual dinner for a few couples, a large group or party, or an intimate dinner for two.
Beyond my immediate surroundings, the first thing I noticed was the staff. First, they were all very well dressed. Second, and more importantly there were a lot of them. That’s a good thing, meaning you’re probably not going to wait long for a table or for service once you’re seated. There are only a few round tables, with a three foot glass Lazy Susan in the center. These seat 8-10 people. These are the tables that I would recommend. If you’re doing lunch, arrive early because the place starts to get really busy after noon.
We opted for family-style dining. For lunch, there’s an 8-person minimum at $8-9/person. You get to pick from a few sets of dishes, each sufficiently large to give everyone a more than ample share. When the dishes come out they’re placed on the Lazy Susan and you serve yourself, spinning the table around whenever you want a second helping.
I may be forgetting a dish, but here’s what we had.
General Tso Chicken
Sesame Crusted Shrimp
Broccoli and Bean Curd
Shredded Pork in Hot Garlic Sauce
Service was prompt and attentive, from placing our order to refilling glasses to answering questions. Hot tea is provided. Since we were there for a business meeting and were discussing a few things before our food arrived with paperwork all over the table, our server graciously came out and asked us if we’d like our food. I thought that was a great touch. It’s the little touches like this that distinguish a good restaurant from a great restaurant. After your meal, fresh cut oranges are provided to cleanse your palate. The obligatory fortune cookies arrive with the check.
The quality of the food at Hunan Manor is good. Vegetables were crisp. Nothing was mushy, despite ample amounts of sauces. The family-style dishes aren’t as spicy as their single-portion counterparts, but that’s to be expected. It isn’t the best I’ve ever eaten, but consistently good all around over a all the dishes I tried. Portions are large and prices are more than reasonable. The service, atmosphere, and family-style dining will make up for any shortcomings in the food.