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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
14. Meyer Lemon & Buttermilk Cake
My birthday cake – yum!
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.