Manresa (Los Gatos, CA) – The Grand Tour

I visited Manresa a month or so before it blew up on the blog circuit and i was thoroughly impressed; in fact, it convinced me that San Francisco proper had nothing on its southern & northern neighbors.
Fast forward to last Sunday – a friend’s birthday – what better excuse to ask for the “grand tour” I’ve read about. A little back & forth via email with the chef and we were off.

The notes are not as detailed as I like but there will be future visits.

1. Petits fours “red pepper-black olive”

2. Radis au beurre

3. Santa rosa plum w/ hibiscus & strawberry (and lime)
Vibrant – the plum & strawberry tasted like a fruity sangria but the lime sorbet at the bottom of the glass really made the dish “pop”.

4. Corn croquettes
They’ve been discussed before, and I remember them from my first visit too, but they are heavenly. Plop it into your mouth, bite, and you get a nice sweet corn burst – the texture & taste differences are incredible. More!

5. Fat tuna belly w/ wasabi root
One of my favorites. Chef Kinch commented the tuna was not as fatty as he would’ve liked, but again, the texture made the dish. The tuna was finely chopped and when you ate it, the small pieces of tuna would burst as if they were tapioca.

6. Broccoli & foie gras royale
Uh oh – I hate broccoli – but like WD50 & CP before him – he made me like something i hate. The royale had a nice deep, earthy taste, similar to the complexity of mushrooms, and the foie gras gave it a silky texture… A pleasure for the mouth.

7. Marinated striped jack, local olive oil
Crudo, maybe a touch too much olive oil that obscured the fish.

8. Sardines w/ grated tomato
Salty, tangy local sardines that were offset by the warm tomato. Very Good.

9. Bonito & wild celery bouillon
Uh oh – celery – never liked it… despite being the world’s largest bonito fan, i found myself wanting more of the bouillon.

10. Tuna, smoked ham oil
The witty dish – the tuna was pounded paper thin and coated w/ warm ham oil. it tasted just like ham. What’s the point of eating tuna when it tastes like ham? I dunno but it made us laugh.

11. Pacific herring on the plancha, salmon roe
The roe was warmed and, with each bite, a small burst of the sea coated your mouth.

12. Strawberry gazpacho
Interesting, complex soup that, despite its main ingredient, had just the slightest sweetness at the finish.

13. Crenshaw melon, almond tofu
Divine – had the texture of an Indian dessert I don’t know the name of, sweet, but the dish jumped up a few levels when you bit into the silky tofu…. mmmm….

14. Horse mackerel, anchovy sofrigit & lemon basil
Can’t remember, but notes say good.

15. Atlantic cod w/ squid pil-pil
Memory begins fading…

16. Mushrooms en papillote, slow egg
Steamed in parchment paper, exquisite presentation… The requisite slow egg, the mushrooms had a very intense concentrated flavor.

17. Abalone w/ pig’s feet
Getting full… pull through…

18. Sweetbread boudin, braised lettuce w/ corn pudding
This was the only dish neither of us appreciated. I attribute it to me being too full and the dish being too rich. That said, the boudin was delicate and the corn pudding was delicious.

19. Roast farm poulade, peas w/ guanciale
The entire restaurant stared at us with daggers when they brought the hen out earlier, feet stuck in the air… why are they so special? The chicken was ridiculously moist, and a welcome reprieve from the rich dishes… Not the biggest pea fan (having been forced to eat the frozen & canned varieties growing up) but these peas, like the broccoli & celery, were stunning.

20. Prime beef roasted in its own fat, foie gras
Too full, too rich, but tasty.

21. Strawberries, raw cream, 50 year old balsamico

22. Pain perdu, roast apricots, & corn ice cream
It seems as if savory ice cream is also another prerequisite for any haute meal; fortunately, unlike the others I’ve tried, this one was very good. It could have been creamier, but the corn flavor was concentrated without being too sweet.

23. Chocolate marquis, condensed milk ice cream

24. Petit fours “chocolate-strawberry”

That’s a lot of food.

Overall, Manresa is arguably (and there are fierce debates) best in the bay and I’d bet top 10 in the country. It does it all with an eye towards experimentation and boundary pushing without alienating the eater from real food and real tastes.

Kinch knew I was very critical of fish yet (we both a favorite sushi restaurant) yet, in a daring move, he prepared 8 fish dishes – and they didn’t disappoint. The quality of the fish was better than any sushi place save for those top 3-4 (Sawa, Masa, & Kuruma) and it rivaled those at times. I only had 2 cooked fish dishes, and while Le Bernardin will always be etched into my mind, Kinch is right behind him.

And Kinch excels as a host. We got the best seat in the house, advance preview of some dishes before they were cooked (see chicken above), personalized printed menus, heard tales of the mysteries surrounding japanese fish sourcing, and he even shared one of his sources (time for me to make my own sushi!) If you have any special occasion, you couldn’t ask for a better experience – call ahead, tell them what you’d like, and won’t be disappointed.

- chuck