Manresa (Los Gatos, CA) – The Sea and the Garden

It was time to celebrate a birthday (mine) and Manresa was the obvious destination of choice. Fresh off the heals of the disappointing Manresa/L’Arpege dinner (review coming), I wanted a Manresa dinner – the deceiving simplicity of flavors, the picked-this-morning vegetables, and the taste of the sea.

As you read over these descriptions, you’ll see a few trends: a) minimal ingredients whose b) flavors are pinpoint and crystal clear and they c) never step on each other. It’s highly choreographed cuisine with a deftness that can only be found in the very top kitchens. Some critics call the food too experimental but while the techniques may be modern, the flavors are respected and restrained.

1. Caviar consomme / Seaweed Brioche
The tastes of the sea – the salty breeze, its sweet creatures – served in a glass. This was one of the biggest hits at the L’Arpege dinner and, while very good, I don’t think it’s the epitome of Kinch’s cuisine. It’s refined but not quite ephemeral. Very Good.

Manresa (Los Gatos) - Caviar consomme / Seaweed Brioche
Manresa (Los Gatos) - Caviar consomme / Seaweed Brioche

2. Amberjack w/ Perilla & Sesame
Sashimi-quality amberjack (and I mean top-tier sashimi) in a small pool of olive oil. The fish was brightened by the sea salt. When the olive oil taste subsided, the shiso’s (perilla) mint and slightly bitter flavors took over. Three simple tastes, each acting in harmony. Very Good.

Manresa (Los Gatos) - Amberjack w/ Perilla & Sesame

3. Spring Peas in Bonito Broth / Marinated Scallops
The sweetness of the pristine peas flirted with the sweetness of the pristine scallops. The bonito broth was just salty enough to add counterpoint. Both ingredients were beyond reproach but notice the name of the dish – Spring Peas *with* scallops – it’s an indication of just how confident Kinch is with his garden. Excellent.

Manresa (Los Gatos) - Spring Peas in Bonito Broth / Marinated Scallops

4. Fatty Bluefin Belly & Tendon Salad, Seaweed Pesto
Haute tuna tartar with very prime cuts of fish. Very fatty but tempered and complemented by the oils in the seaweed pesto. The greens (I think seaweed) added texture, as you can see from the crystallization on the leaves. Excellent.
Manresa (Los Gatos) - Fatty Bluefin Belly & Tendon Salad, Seaweed Pesto

5. Garden Veloute w/ Mustard
The garden in liquid form with a nod to L’Arpege. The veloute was green and velvety and the quenelle (ice cream) added a surprisingly sharp mustard spice. The mustard was L’Arpege but the dish could be Pierre Gagnaire (or Bastide) with its interplay of taste, texture, and temperature. Very Good.

Manresa (Los Gatos) - Garden Veloute w/ Mustard

6. Potato Dumplings & Vegetables from the garden / Vegetable Juices
If you’ve read my recent Manresa reviews (here and here), you can see the excitement of the garden in this picture – the vegetable dishes are becoming works of art. The display is beautiful and inspired; the taste is beyond reproach. The foam is not extraneous; it adds a vital mouth feel to the experience. Curiously, I wonder why the name of this dish is not “Vegetables from the garden w/ Potato Dumplings.” Excellent.

Manresa (Los Gatos) - Potato Dumplings & Vegetables from the garden / Vegetable Juices

7. Mussels & Crab w/ Exotic Spices, Citrus
The citrus foam was quite acidic but not overpowering. It complemented the seafood below very nicely. The spices, sitting in the very bottom of the dish, were deep, rich, and spicy but they sat in the background until the more delicate seafood was finished. This was in direct contrast to the overbearing spices of a L’Astrance fish dish at the beginning of the truffle trip. Excellent.

Manresa (Los Gatos) - Mussels & Crab w/ Exotic Spices, Citrus

8. Risotto w/ Flowers, Surf Clams on the Plancha
A gorgeous presentation of a perfect risotto. The risotto had bite with the surf clams permeating throughout with aroma and flavor. The flowers added a satisfying texture component. Excellent.

Manresa (Los Gatos) - Risotto w/ Flowers, Surf Clams on the Plancha

9. Horse Mackeral grilled in Cherry Blossom leaves
Extremely aromatic, you could smell it a few feet away, but ultimately lacking in flavor. Ironically, more salt could have helped it (ironic because Kinch is known for being a liberal salt shaker.) Good.

Manresa (Los Gatos) - Horse Mackeral grilled in Cherry Blossom leaves

10. Black Cod Confit in Jasmine Tea, Vanilla Soubise
A delightfuly silky texture where the fish and soubise melded and complemented each other. The inside of the fish just gave way to the soubise where the richness of the fish and sauce co-mingled on the palette. Excellent.

Manresa (Los Gatos) - Black Cod Confit in Jasmine Tea, Vanilla Soubise

11. Abalone, Fried Egg, & Truffle
A possible re-work of the dish served during the L’Arpege dinner. The fried egg (coming from the garden’s own chickens) was rich; the yolk’s color is not accurately reflected in my picture. Its texture complemented the meaty abalone. The truffles were surprisingly earthy and aromatic. A decadent dish that could have concluded the meal. Excellent.

Manresa (Los Gatos) - Abalone, Fried Egg, & Truffle

12. Lamb Sweetbread Salad, Cuttlefish w/ Hazelnuts
Tasty but heavy at this point in the meal. Palette fatigue was setting in and this may have been too much. Good.

Manresa (Los Gatos) - Lamb Sweetbread Salad, Cuttlefish w/ Hazelnuts

13. Foie Gras & Asparagus Tourte

This was presented half-way through dinner and when it finally came, I was a bit scared. I was already full and now I had to eat foie and pastry. The ingredients themselves were good but this sort of dish probably isn’t my thing. Good.
Manresa (Los Gatos) - Foie Gras & Asparagus Tourte
Manresa (Los Gatos) - Foie Gras & Asparagus Tourte

14. Meyer Lemon & Buttermilk Cake
My birthday cake – yum!
Manresa (Los Gatos) - Meyer Lemon & Buttermilk Cake
Manresa (Los Gatos) - Meyer Lemon & Buttermilk Cake

Like L’Arpege, Manresa places its foundation on prime ingredients. Many Bay Area restaurants have shown a commitment to this practice but how many go through the trouble of leasing their own garden with vegetables grown to their specs? The obsession shows in the food and flavors. There are modern techniques involved, and perhaps an unexpected combination of texture and flavors, but it all comes back to taste and essence, place and time. With the ocean minutes away and year-round produce, it would be difficult to find Manresa anywhere else.

A note about the review: My friends read my blog and joke that I dislike every meal I eat. However, you’ll see constant “Excellent” ratings beside Manresa dishes. Is it really *that* good? Yes, I think Michelin is misguided – Manresa is a legitimate three star restaurant whose food is equal to many of the greats (read about them here, here, here, here, here , and throughout the blog.) However, I am also a very good customer who eats at Manresa at least once every six weeks. The chef also knows my likes and dislikes and that will also factor into the meals. Is Manresa that good? Yes. Will your Manresa be this good? It should be your best meal in the Bay Area and top 5 in this country. Do you have a great restaurant nearby that you’d like to see improve? Become a very good customer – that’s the greatest secret to fine dining.
- chuck

  • Cynthia Sandberg

    The crystallized leaves you mention in the number 4 dish (Fatty Bluefin) was ficoide glaciale, highlighted here in Pim’s blog:

    Chef asked me to grow it for him, and I had to order the seeds from France (they are currently not available in the U.S.). I would hazard a guess that David Kinch is the only chef in this country serving that particular unique green.

    So glad you liked your dinner.

  • Paul

    The food at that restaurant, does look very beautiful, the only thing i did not like the look of, was the Foie gras/Asparagas tourte, dont get me wrong, i am sure it tasted very nice, but it looked like something i would find at one of my local Gastropubs and not a 2* Michelin resturant

  • Dave

    We dined at Manresa the previous week. The bluefin tartare was unforgettable. In fact, when the dish was brought, the sparkly green leaves were described as ‘seaweed’. Whatever they are, they are crunchy and delicious. Another favorite were the little cube shaped croquettes which they somehow fabricate out of lettuce, that are crispy brown on the outside and filled with some kind of savory goop. I can’t figure out how they do that, technically.


    Your photography is much better now and almost everything was in sharp focus (the 1st & 2nd caviar pix were both soft and poorly cropped) and the rest was well cropped and proportioned well to the frame size. THEY LOOKED GOOD!

    I have to agree with Paul that the foie gras dish didn’t belong and was not appealing. There was also a sprinkling of something on top the egg that you didn’t mention.

    Although the color is often ‘off-the-mark’ there’s nothing to worry about there. Not your fault.

    I’d personally like more info about the entire experience to include any wines, when (time of day) you ate and how long it took to complete from 1st to last serving…also round up to the nearest dollar what the whole thing cost with tip and tax, say $300 etc etc just give us a ‘ball park’

    Once I had a superb meal at Taillevent in Paris but at the end of the almost 4 hours I just wanted to go. All I remember now is my butt and palate being fatigued and not pleased so much with the cost.

    by Wilbur M. Reeling
    epicurean raconteur

  • Tom Gandey

    The fruit nazi says that David shouldn’t be serving those “strawberries”. Rhubarb please.

  • Eric

    I still haven’t been able to visit Manresa, but until that magical day comes, I will just read your posts :-) This meal looks fantastic. Really nice review.

  • Jack

    “Manresa is a legitimate three star restaurant whose food is equal to many of the greats” – I agree. It’s my number one (based on my first meal there, a year ago – 23 courses) even though the Manresa/L’Arpege dinner disappointed me, too.

    I think Manresa didn’t score three stars because of its wine list; which would be too bad, as how many three star restaurants welcome you to bring your own wine? Also, their wine pricing is at least sane; the Michelin three stars, in general, seem to take a normal restaurant wine price and double it….I’ve yet to figure out how that makes such a restaurant a pleasurable dining experience?

    Also, “My friends read my blog and joke that I dislike every meal I eat.” I can identify with this… What happens is that you reach a point where you’ve dine at so many top restaurants that you become, hmmm, both accustomed to that level of food and have a restaurant experience level (a la D&D) so high, that it becomes rare for food to really be excellent in your mind. To put it a different way – your standards keep going up and up and now you’re practically screwed…it becomes very hard to have a great meal out. (My wife and I have this problem.)

  • Administrator

    you’re right Jack about being screwed. there are a few things at play:

    1. when writing a review, you need to be honest. i might enjoy a dish well enough while eating it after i accept it’s not a great dish. i try to enjoy things for what they are.

    2. the restaurant experience over the past 2 years definitely doesn’t help.

    3. i’m most screwed w/ the “ordinary” restaurants out there; the $12 appetizer/$20 entree restaurants that rely more on scene and volume than food. that’s one reason you don’t see many SF proper reviews on my blog despite living here; most of the restaurants just aren’t that good and there’s no reason to even try them. (that said, i always make exceptions for friends since i know my tastes are far pickier than theirs generally are.)

  • Aaron

    Looks like a great meal, Chuck. You were there just a week after my last visit. I did the “grand tasting” on March 23rd, and thought it was phenomenal. After my first meal there back in August and this return trip, it has undoubtedly become my favorite restaurant anywhere, period. Granted, about 95% of the great restaurants I’ve been to are in NYC, where I’ve lived the past four years. And with an upcoming move to Berkeley, I’m just beginning to tap into the greatness offered there in California. But Manresa is special. No doubt about it. I can’t wait to go back.