Manresa (Los Gatos, CA) – One Last Time for 2005

It was time for one last final hurrah at Manresa for 2005. Email sent, reservation made, and for full disclosure, this meal was tailored for me.

Lots of new dishes – fish, black truffles, and even some textural surprises. Many of the tastes and dishes were “clean” – very pure and light expressions of flavor. Whether intentional or not, this motif ran through most of the meal.

This was also the best progression I’ve had at Manresa. With so many courses, it’s very easy to get bogged down in the middle and drag through 2-3 courses before a second wind. I think the prominence of fish throughout most of the menu without many heavier dishes near the beginning let us finish this one without issue. My preference is fish and while i would have substituted 1 fish course for a small meat (lamb?) course, this is a perfect way to do 22 courses.

Below are a review of some of the new dishes for me:

1. Carrot & Orange Cocktail
Carrots, when not masked with lots of butter, tend to disgust me but this carrot juice was merely an essence. Very very light with an what seemed like an effervescent orange & ginger foam – not a heavier cream-based foam. Bright, pure, clean, & delicious.

2. Fried brioche, butter and prawn roe
wow. wow. wow. This unassuming finger food exploded in your mouth w/ bursts of bubbles. You could barely make a distinction between the brioche & prawn roe as it popped in your mouth. This was one of the most interesting dishes of the year for me (anywhere.) Another dish to add to permanent rotation.

3. Oyster and urchin, meyer lemon jelly
I’m becoming an oyster fan and this only helped the cause. The lemon led the initial charge but the slight briny finish of the oyster & urchin complement each other perfectly.

4. Needle fish with bacon and shiso
We enter the realm of fried foods – this was not the perfect fried leaf i had at masa (nothing can be) but it’s a notch below. Very delicate, and clean tasting.

5. Golden butterfish, our local yuzu fruit
Not belying its name, the butterfish was, from what i remember, quite buttery. The yuzu cut through just enough to really enhance the flavor.

6. Amberjack, just shucked scallop and matsutake

The amberjack was forgettable, but the scallop w/ matsutake on top was profound. There was a perfect crunch as you bit down, with the faint matsutake taste complementing the raw scallop perfectly. While great, it merely foreshadowed what was to come later.

7. Spot prawns and parsley root, natural juices
Worth a mention b/c they were perfectly prepared – sweet, firm, and just barely warm in the center.

8. Sea urchins in lightly spiced coconut milk
As i raved last time, and requested this time, a wonderful dish. This time, there was a froth on top (coconut milk? memory fails me) which served as counterpoint to the spiced milk, uni, & crab inside. This might need a few more variations to find the perfect conception, but it should be a permanent addition to the tasting menu.

9. Scallop tripe stew, black truffle
While the fried brioche surprised me the most, this dish was the winner for the night. The scallops were slightly cooked, the truffles sat atop each one with the scallop tripe were scattered around. Texture, taste, & amazing smell – these 2 things were meant to go w/ each other.

10. Beef bavette roasted in its own fat
A node to the secret beef place? Perhaps :) The meat dish also defeats me at the end but this one was perfect – small slices, nearly raw, and tender. Like the beef place, it had the texture of sashimi and, obviously, fit thematically into the entire menu.

The Complete Affair:
Petit fours “red pepper-black olive”
Carrot and orange cocktail
Chestnut croquettes
Fried brioche, butter and prawn roe
Oyster and urchin, meyer lemon jelly
Arpege egg
Fatty bluefin belly and caviar
Needle fish with bacon and shiso
Warm pemaquid oyster, artisanal soy
Golden butterfish, our local yuzu fruit
Amberjack, just shucked scallop and matsutake
Tuna steak with lardo, black truffle
Spot prawns and parsley root, natural juices
Sea urchins in lightly spiced coconut milk
Cured spanish mackerel with warm char roe
Baby cod with truffle and potato
Scallop tripe stew, black truffle
Salt grilled herring, our turnip choucroute
Charcoal grilled foie gras, mustard marmelade
Beef bavette roasted in its own fat
Citrus and jasmine tea gelee
Chocolate cake steamed in a jar, licorice

- chuck