Manresa/L’Arpege (Los Gatos, CA) – Early Spring Garden with Alain Passard

The Manresa/L’Arpege dinner was an instantly sold-out event – possibly the two best chefs on each side of the Atlantic teaming up for a rock-star culinary event. The relationship was sparked a year ago when David Kinch and Alain Passard cooked together. They bonded over their passion for ingredients; a passion so intense that it drove Passard to create his own garden in the 90s. If that sounds familiar, it is undoubtedly the model Kinch followed when he began working with Love Apple Farm 2 years ago. Both would argue, and I would completely agree, great cuisine must start with superior ingredients.

I am very late to the party with this review. Many have commented on the dinner but no one has compared this meal to a typical Manresa or L’Arpege meal. Given that I’ve eaten at Manresa many times last year, and L’Arpege 4x over the past year, I hope my review gives a different perspective.

(Note: I didn’t get my usual “picture taking” seat – my pictures didn’t turn out. Chez Pim and Fine Dining Photos have captured all of the dishes below.)

1. Andante Dairy Butter
If you’ve read my previous L’Arpege posts, you’ll see two constants – the pain of the prices and the love of the butter. The butter, Jean-Yves Bourdier, is rich, cheese-like, and sweats saltwater; it’s the greatest butter in the world. Unfortunately, massive quantities of butter can’t be sneaked into the US so Kinch commissioned Andante Dairy to create a hand-churned butter for this occassion. I’ve had earlier versions of this Andante butter experiment in previous meals; however, this butter was a remarkable conclusion to those experiments. It lacked the extreme intensity of the best Jean-Yves, but it was a supreme effort – richness, saltiness, and softened to nearly the perfect temperature. The best butter on American soil. (If you disagree, please post exceptional butters in the comments.) Very Good.

2. Garden croquettes & our radishes
Croquettes are always an amuse at Manresa and no one does them better. A crispy outside with a burst inside – these were the first made from the garden – a burst of spring. Very Good.

3. Epinards et mousseline de carottes a l’orange
Spinach with a quenelle of carrot-orange mousseline – the carrot’s sweet and sour (acidity from the orange) perfectly brightened up the spinach. The mousseline, while bright, was still soft enough to let the fresh-picked spinach shine. Very Good.

4. Consomme of osetra caviar, seaweed brioche w/ farm butter
Many people liked this dish but, as I said before, this dish is a step away from being classic Kinch. It could be yet another signature but I think the caviar needs to be dialed back a touch. Very Good.

5. Poireaux au beurre, emulsion a l’huitre et vinaigre cepage muscadet
Baby leeks in oyster and muscadet vinegar sauce. This was the only dish where I sensed a true collaboration of the two chefs. I’ve had baby leeks cooked in muscadet vinegar at L’Arpege proper but the plating (see photos from Chez Pim) and the addition of oyster scream Kinch. Unfortunately, the leeks weren’t as good as before and the oyster foam didn’t quite work. Good.

6. Monterey Bay abalone, broken egg, & vegetables from the garden
This dish should have been my favorite. In my past Manresa reviews, I’ve been raving that the salads were among the best dishes served with each meal. Add abalone and the rich farm eggs and the dish should be even better. However, the vegetables weren’t quite up to the task on this night. My slow-cooked egg was probably overcooked too. I did like the “improved” (my words) version from my meal a few weeks ago – the texture of a full egg on top of the abalone improves it quite a bit. Good.

7. Lotte, moutard onctueuse d’Orleans, pomme de terre fumee au bois de hetre
The dish of the night for me. This is a variation of his famous dish that used monkfish instead of the signature turbot. Kinch told me they worked very hard to get this dish just right. This mustard sauce wasn’t as “sublime” as I remembered but it effortlessly cut through the fish. The smoked potato was nothing like the magical potato from my first L’Arpege meal. Very Good.

8. Ris de veau poele et chataignes effilees a la truffe noire
Another L’Arpege signature dish, sweetbreads covered with sliced chestnuts and black truffle sauce, but I hadn’t tried this yet. Sweetbreads aren’t my thing and I honestly just glossed over this dish. The chestnuts and black truffle went well together but I don’t remember much. Ok.

9. Roast spring lamb, young vegetables, perfumed w/ dates
A beautiful piece of young lamb that was nearly red in the middle – the chefs know how I prefer my meat. This was some of the better lamb I’ve had in the States; it didn’t measure up to the magical Colorado lamb from Bouley but it had great taste. Very Good.

10. Carottes, sauce au chocolate Araguani
This was a variation of the carrots in chocolate sauce and onion foam I had at a previous L’Arpege meal. This chocolate sauce was just slightly flavored with shellfish, probably to give it a touch of saltiness. The carrots weren’t up to the task though – they weren’t sweet enough to balance the bitter chocolate sauce. When done successfully, the carrots add the sweetness to the dish and the taste profile changes to the sweeter as you eat more carrots. Ok.

11. Meyer lemon souffle & other citrus Gene Lester
The Gene Lester “grove” (I’m not quite sure what it is) produces great fruit that might excite Kinch as much as the garden. You can always count on the citrus being top-notch at Manresa. Very Good.

A mixed review of “Good” and “Very Good” – this particular meal had none of the highs associated with either restaurant. There could be a number of reasons for this – cooking new dishes under a different chef, ingredient tweaks (this isn’t France) for the recipes, and a loss of context given the alternating of the two chef’s works. I would have liked to see more obvious collaboration instead of just getting the “hits” from each chef – entirely new dishes. Of course, that may have been fiscally impossible.

Nonetheless, this could be the start of something grand. Passard must believe, and share, Kinch’s vision. As the two collaborate, I would expect these events to become the masterpiece I had expected. In the future, this dinner might take on mythic qualities – a night of many firsts that potentially changed American fine dining.

- chuck

  • http://www.foodmusings.com Catherine

    One of the best butters I’ve ever had is made by Animal Farm in Vermont. To ship it costs something like $60 per pound with all the dry ice, or you can have it at places like The French Laundry, who at one time bought almost everything she makes. They still may, I’m not sure.

  • Administrator

    I’ve had the Animal Farm butter at French Laundry and Keyah Grande (the only 2 places receiving it I believe) and this Andante butter was better. The Andante butter was much saltier and “softer” (my butter vocabulary is not too advanced)…

  • http://www.ideasinfood.com H.Alexander Talbot

    We actually chose to serve Diane’s butter chilled with salt on the side. Put the guests to work. Also, I like cold butter on warm bread/biscuits. That said, I am curious about the Andante butter, I am a butter fiend. Also, is anyone making seaweed butter here in the states?

    Thanks.

  • Tom Gandey

    TFL butter is pretty good, but as Chuck said the Andante butter served at Manresa is much saltier (great for bread) and by softer I don’t know if he is referring to the temperature at which its served or the fact that its the creamiest/fattiest butter that I’ve had in the US. I don’t know what the fat content is on it, but its certainly WAY up there.

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