Why David Kinch Deserved to Win the James Beard Award

As far as awards seasons go, one can’t complain too much about this year’s various “Best Restaurants” awards over the past week or two. First, noma shocked the world by displacing El Bulli as the “#1 restaurant” in the world. It is a more than deserving winner; and better than El Bulli. When the world dries up, the fish are gone, and northern Denmark is the last bastion of untainted wilderness, noma might very well be the most coveted reservation in the world. The rest of the list is hit or miss, mostly miss (where is L’Arpege?), but we can delight in its #1 pick.

noma crew by foodsnob (one of their best customers)

Last night, Sean Brock won the James Beard best chef for the Southeast. He, too, is more than deserving and congratulations are in order. My meal at McCrady’s, two years ago, was impressive and insightful, a chef maturing and finding his own style. Here was a guy who had been infatuated with El Bulli molecular techniques but applied a Southern sensibility to them. And then he totally went off the map by creating his own bio-dynamic garden, and raising pigs. It’s like El Bulli, Blue Hill, and Manresa rolled into one – sprinkled with some Southern goodness. Sean will become a great name in American cooking.

And then David Kinch won best Pacific chef.

Readers of this blog know the importance I place on his restaurant, Manresa. There is no need to re-hash all of that – read the archives. When Tastybitz 1 came to town, we decided to share a meal at our mutual favorite – Manresa. So it was and here it is. If there was any question as to why David Kinch deserved his award…

An elemental oyster – a perfect beginning

Geoduck clam in seawater, green apple – followed by another

Pacific mackerel, grilled with yuzu

Mandarin and jasmine tea jelly – one of my all-time Manresa dishes – it really epitomizes the style of dish I love – simple, light, and full of so much subtle complexity. The sweet and floral jasmine played alongside and “cooled” the acid notes of the mandarin. I was served some variation of this on my first Manresa meal (who knows how long ago now) and it remains one of my favorites.

Foie gras and cumin seed caramel – and then this monster comes out – the balance of sweet, fat, and slight pepper was sublime. The texture was impossibly perfect – silky while just slowly dissolving in the mouth – so easy to get lost in the sensation.

Wild sea bream, delicate jus of tuna and walnut

Chanterelles and scallop shards in bonito butter, toasted seeds

King crab and spring peas in olive oil, fumet – Another dish that defied lightness

Into the vegetable garden

Spot prawns on the plancha, vin jaune with truffles – When Monterey spot prawns are in season, rest assured they will appear on this menu. And it will always be a highlight, particularly if one is lucky enough to get the roe. The vadouvan version is my favorite but the vin jaune’s acidity and crispness provided an excellent foil to the fatty, just slighty warmed prawn. The truffles, surprisingly pungent despite it being March in America, were bonus points.

Vegetables and toasted buckwheat, smoked lentils with an abalone bouillon

Halibut with chervil cream, kohlrabi in onion and marrow tears – This sauce, used in a few variations of dishes, is decadent

Braised abalone and morels, a roasted chicken “dashi” – yes, please

Omelet a l’ancienne, roasted asparagus with parmesan “vacche rosse” – Wow

Foie gras spiced with buddha’s hand citron, seaweed croustillant

Spring lamb with turnips, green garlic – A very nice piece of lamb; the others at the table declaring it among the best they ever had

and then dessert…

Deanie Hickox, formerly of Ubuntu fame, has taken over the dessert reigns and blended them seamlessly into the Manresa menu. Her desserts have always began as a bridge – de-emphasizing and deferring sweetness until the very end.

Exotic citrus with honey & tapioca – The best dessert I’ve had in a long time – it just hit every pleasure point while complementing the meal and remaining light. Texture and acidity – while just retaining enough sweetness. It provided a complement to the earlier jasmine tea citrus dish – there are many inside references in these meals. More, please.

White chocolate custard with beet and rhubarb, orange fizz geranium – More experimental, trying to find its way, but the flavors complemented each other quite well; and that custard, despite being white chocolate, was quite delicious

Apple confit with vanilla, parsnip and walnut – not really my style of dessert but still quite good

If there is another meal in America this good, please post a convincing link because I don’t believe it. (Actually, there *is* another meal this good in America – the Manresa meal I ate three weeks later!) Those that have not been have a glaring lacuna on their culinary resume.

And if you have not been, you will want to stay tuned…

- chuck

1 – one of my favorite bloggers but he has fallen in love with Twitter – oh well

  • http://foodsnobblog.wordpress.com Food Snob

    Still remember that spot prawn with vin jaune, foie gras caramel and oyster very fondly..

    ps. lay off twitter…
    pps. can you blame me? noma is only a little farther than l’Arpège.

  • Fabien

    This ranking is a complete nonsense and does not deserve all the (increasing) publicity it gets. What does it mean “best restaurant in the world”? Who’s the best actor in the world? What’s the best city in the world? Who’s the best prostitute in the world? One can talk about the tallest chef in the world, the fastest runner in the world, etc. But singling out a restaurant on subjective criteria only feeds the appetite of shallow newspapers and magazines and, in this case, help fill in the pocket of a manufacturer of sparkling water. How could one possibly compare the food at El Bulli and Daniel or Pierre Gagnaire and Vendome or indeed a restaurant strongly inspired by French cooking with another one serving Japanese-influence dishes?

  • chuckeats

    Fabien, I don’t disagree with you – and I did not want to give the bottled water manufacturer any more press than they already get – but i do think restaurants like noma, Manresa, & McCrady’s do deserve the publicity.

    Best actor? Daniel Day Lewis. Best City? Paris. Best Prostitute? Not sure! (My original witty answer had quite a few chefs who are basically prostitutes, but I will refrain…. )

    You can absolutely compare the restaurants but ranking them is harder, if not impossible. That said, ranking is a nice shorthand for our preferences and likes – so it’s catchy.

  • Paul

    This top 50 restaurant award allways makes me laugh, because any list that does not have the best restaurant in Europe Schloss Berg and it’s head chef Christian Bau on there, makes this particular award about as relevent as a chocolate fireguard IMO.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/sifu_renka Renée

    Your post has only reinforced my belief that an upcoming eating trip through the Bay area (that will include Manresa; sadly no Ubuntu since the change) is going to be wonderful! I suppose the menu I’ll encounter may differ from what you’ve reported above, but either way, your photos has left me in anticipation. Unfortunately, I’ve got to wait it out for a month. Thanks a lot Chuck.

  • http://www.ulteriorepicure.com ulterior epicure

    Well-deserved Chef Kinch, indeed.

  • http://thebrokesnob.com The Broke Snob

    Another great post, Chuck. All that seafood is making me regret moving my reservation from last week to next month (for the sole purpose of wanting to eat there during heirloom tomato season). Also, I think Chef Kinch will get his 3rd Michelin star this year. MichelinSF tweeted “Is there another 3-star restaurant emerging in the Bay Area? Excited to think it might be so.” I can’t see anyone else getting it.

  • http://www.GrowBetterVeggies.com Love Apple Farm

    Broke Snob – we have planted the tomatoes out in the garden, but we won’t be sending the fruit down to Manresa until late July at the earliest…

    I think your best bet is to just make another reservation in August :)

    -Love Apple Crew

  • cirio

    Ugh that whole St Pellegrino rankings is just a bandwagoning load of crap.

    Knowledgeable diners know Daniel was always one of the best restaurants in the US. Yet it wasn’t until the Michelin guide gave them their third star that all of a sudden people jumped on the bandwagon.

    Its also why Daniel Boulud himself really was frustrated with the Michelin guide.

  • stephen

    Hi Chuck, I was wondering if you are still planing to post about the Japanese restaurants that you visited in the fall. I would really love to see more about the best experiences you had there.

  • chuckeats

    stephen – yes

  • Dustin E

    could you tell me if this was their standard tasting menu? Or did you ask for additions or substitutions? thanks.

    beautiful pictures…

  • http://twitter.com/1mandabear Manda Bear

    come back in a few weeks w/my folks for my bday ;-) excited for their fall menu! I’m hungry all the sudden!

  • http://dishcrawl.com Tracy @ladyleet

    I love Manresa! Kinch is a superstar. Into the vegetable garden and the complex simplicity of the entire dish always intrigues me.