Manresa (Los Gatos, CA) – The Spoils of Winter

Winter might be associated with depression and death, but it might arguably be the perfect time to enjoy dinner at Manresa. For, in the winter, the restaurant’s predilections converge – seafood, vegetables, and citrus. Dishes incorporate each of these elements seasonally throughout the year but you can enjoy them together in the winter.

Manresa (Los Gatos) - Nantucket scallops, exotic citrus, blossoms with caviar
Nantucket scallops, exotic citrus, blossoms with caviar

While wintertime might seem at odds with the restaurant’s commitment to their garden, Love Apple Farm, roots are firmly in season – parsnip, carrots, sunchokes, beets, and more are regularly available at the farmer’s markets. Citrus is just coming into season – and Chef Kinch possibly has access to more varieties of citrus than most chefs in the world. But isn’t fish always in season? In today’s nothing-is-more-than-a-flight-away world, it is, but the winter brings cold water. The fish, like other animals, fatten up; and it’s the fat that makes them tastier. 1

Manresa (Los Gatos) - Spot prawn, subtly spiced, on the plancha
Spot prawn, subtly spiced, on the plancha

Into the vegetable garden continues to evolve, subtly but assuredly. It changes slightly to adjust for seasonality but the taste profiles are getting stronger. Kinch is really honing in on this dish – it is approaching the masterful levels of the Michel Bras gargouillou – the reference dish that Kinch acknowledges in his blog post about the dish. There is no arguing that it has achieved its purpose – to capture the ephemeral nature and experience of the garden. 2

Michel Bras Gargouillou
Michel Bras’s Gargouillou

Manresa (Los Gatos) - Into the vegetable garden
Manresa’s Into the vegetable garden

In a few dishes below, you can see an El Poblet influence creeping in. El Poblet was my favorite meal of 2007 because it provided a plethora of great conceptual ideas, executed dishes, and pristine ingredients. You can see Kinch playing with some of the ideas, whether it be from invoking atmospheres (yes, there are notions of it in Into the vegetable garden above) to cooking with grains (which i never recall in a Manresa meal.) The dishes absolutely retain their Kinch signature but there are subtle shifts occurring. The Abalone and foie gras together dish also has a nod to Urasawa.

Manresa (Los Gatos) - Mushrooms and scallop, redwood
Mushrooms and scallop, redwood
Manresa (Los Gatos) - Abalone and foie gras together, in a tidal pool
Abalone and foie gras together, in a tidal pool

Kinch has been on a mission for better meats and I’ve noticed a considerable uptick in their quality over the last year. This pigeon was one of the best I’ve had, on either side of the Atlantic. It had an intense gamey taste, almost concentrated. I understand they (the producer) achieved this by hanging it for 10 days with its internal organs. And it was cooked perfectly rare of course. Meat is something we take for granted, but there’s a dearth of high quality product in the States. It is most noticeable in lamb and chicken, but rarely does our meat stack up to the likes of Europe. This did, without question.

Manresa (Los Gatos) - Wood pigeon roasted in winter savory salt, cereals
Manresa (Los Gatos) - Wood pigeon roasted in winter savory salt, cereals
Wood pigeon roasted in winter savory salt, cereals

The desserts improve with every visit. They now reinforce and echo the themes of the dinner, instead of just being a point of sweet departure. My camera batteries ran out before I could capture each dessert but they complete the progression of the savory courses. The desserts begin on a savory note, a nice bridge, and get subsequently sweeter, while still retaining savory properties.

This is the style of dessert I liked at WD-50 when Sam Mason was the pastry chef. His inventiveness for playing with form and taste defied all expectations and notions of “dessert.” I doubt there’s a direct influence here, but the same exploration for the meanings and definitions of dessert are taking place. Better dessert notes are required for my next visit.

Parsnip pain perdu and caramel ice cream, toasted barley gelee
Parsnip pain perdu and caramel ice cream, toasted barley gelee

The complete meal ran 20+ courses over a 4.5 hour period. I only took pictures of dishes that were new to me; you can see many of these dishes in past Manresa reviews. The Budget College Cook was sitting at the table beside me and had a very similar meal. You can read his review here. The Gourmet Pig had a meal earlier this month but there weren’t as many repeat dishes. My full menu read:

  • Petits fours “red pepper – black olive”
  • Horchata and lightly toasted parsnip – absolutely delicious, its sweetness mainly derived from the parsnip
  • Crudites biodynamic, sea salt
  • Oyster in Urchin jelly, nori croustillant
  • Golden purses – crepe filled with quail egg and golden trout roe
  • Barbajuans des blettes
  • Mandarins in jasmine tea, melisse – a perfect dish, very vibrant upfront mandarin taste followed by jasmine aftertaste
  • Arpege farm egg
  • Nantucket scallops, ecxotic citrus, blossoms with caviar
  • Oyster with seaweed tartine, salted butter
  • Spot prawn, subtly spiced, on the plancha
  • Mushrooms and scallop, redwood
  • Into the vegetable garden
  • Abalone and foie gras together, in a tidal pool
  • Wood pigeon roasted in a winter savory salt, cereals
  • Beef in its own fat, chestnut with horseradish
  • Parsnip pain perdu and caramel ice cream, toasted barley gelee
  • Cranberry and pecan involtini, apple preserve with buttermilk sorbet
  • Milk chocolate-coffee mousse, oat crisp and stout ice cream
  • Petit fours – strawberry and chocolate

- chuck

1 – This is admittedly an over-simplification of the seasonality of fish.

2 – Chef Kinch neglected to include pictures in his Into the Garden post. In a future post, I would like to compare and contrast the dish as it evolved, and compare it to similar dishes from Michel Bras, Mugaritz, and others.

  • Aaron

    Chuck, I agree with you that the evolution of the “Into the vegetable garden…” dish is wonderful. Over the course of many visits, I’ve found the evolution of Chef Kinch’s cooking simply incredible as well. There is no other place that leaves me so excited about my next visit every single time.
    The most vivid memories from my most recent meal at Manresa (about 2 1/2 weeks ago) are three dishes that (successfully, in my opinion) transport the diner to a particular place:
    - Into the vegetable garden…
    - The forest floor, hunting for mushrooms… (similar to the “Mushrooms and scallop, redwood” dish you had above)
    - Abalone and foie gras together, in a tidal pool…
    The wood pigeon dish also looks very nice. Thanks for sharing yet another one of your great meals at Manresa.

  • Ryan

    I’ve had Manresa on my list for a long time, but photos like these really motivate me to make it happen. Thanks for not being shy with your camera! ;->

  • Rory

    Could you comment on “beef in it’s own fat”? I didn’t see this in any of your earlier posts. Was it like a beef confit?

  • ChuckEats

    Rory, it was merely roasted in its own fat, very simple (but good) preparation. The picture didn’t turn out so I neglected to include it in this post.


    OMG! I love this photo of the Wood Pigeon roasted in winter savory salt while the head & feet are still attached and exposed on the roasting plate.

    – 99.999% of Americans would find it so disgusting they would not have it on their table.

    I had a great meal in Paris in the late 80s with several other gourmet types. We were served a whole (including the head & feet but no feathers) Baby Roasted Ortolan. After it came to the table you cover your head and the demi-roasting pot with a large cloth, remove the lid and take in the wafting aromas. Next step is to get the entire little bird into your mouth whole (bones-feet-head and all) and eat it by manipulating your tongue, whilst still covered, spitting the bones out as you go until you’ve finished. I don’t remember the taste so much as the elaborate event and I don’t know another single person that has ever eaten an Ortolan!

    Good work on the latest photography too … “photos like these really motivate me” … says Ryan and all of us that love your culinary adventures.


  • Doug

    looks awesome – as per usual.

  • Adam

    Chef Kinch manages to put soul into every meal, a contagious feeling that is not only inspiring, but leaves me counting the days to return visits. His creations, as can be seen from your thorough review and luscious photos, are frankly, magical. Thanks for sharing this one, Chuck !

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  • june2

    The reason Quintessential Gourmet doesn’t know anyone else who has eaten ortolan is because – especially by the late 80′s, when he ate one – most everyone had already gotten the message to respect the fact that they were nearly extinct, due to over-hunting, and to refrain from seeking them out until their populations returned to sustainable levels. Clearly, his dinner party were among the few that message failed to reach. It happens, I suppose that someone who cares deeply about the food they eat could be totally unaware of that fact, but considering that half of the virtue in eating ortalan lies in the fact that it is a rare delicacy, I think not. To partake of such a creature at the height of it’s vulnerability as a species is sheer and utterly vulgar ignorance.

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