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.
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
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’s Gargouillou
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.
Mushrooms and scallop, redwood
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.
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
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
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.