Manresa, Los Gatos, California
March 17, 2011
Manresa is considered by its fans to be one of the best restaurants in the US, if not the best, so Linda and I were expecting a lot when we went for dinner on March 3, 2011.
After being seated, we ordered glasses of white wine to enjoy while we looked at the menu: 2009 Alban Vineyards, Central Coast, Viognier for Linda and 2008 Entre Nous, Napa Valley, Sauvignon Blanc for me. The basic menu offers two choices in each of five courses for $115. As we had come a long way for this opportunity, we chose the “seasonal and spontaneous” chef’s tasting menu for $170. There is no menu, but a grid of ingredients to be used each month.
One can discuss allergies, likes and dislikes, but the dishes are at the whim of the kitchen and the season. The descriptions were told to us as the plates were being served, but there was a lot going on and so my renditions below will be incomplete.
As there would be a lot of food, Linda ordered a second glass of the viognier, which she liked a lot. I tried a 2008 Ghostwriter, Santa Cruz Mountains, Chardonnay. The sommelier told me that it would be unusual, and it was. We ordered a bottle of 2005 Talley, Rosemary’s Vineyard, Pinot Noir. It was excellent.
The first amuse-gueule was “petits fours:” an olive Madeleine and a roast pepper gelée.
I was surprised when the waiter said we were being served “petits-fours” at the start of the meal. They were, in fact, a bit sweet, but enjoyable. The meal ended with similar “petits-fours” showing that our journey had ended where it started, I guess.
Next came a bowl of warm parmesan churros with baked kale leaves.
As churros are normally sweet, expectations were reversed again with these very good, warm, savory cheese churros which really set up the palate. The kale leaves added crunch and a nice bit of bitterness.
Then a little glass of sorrel sorbet with juniper berry soda.
This provided refreshing tang.
The bread basket was passed.
The warm, round brioches on the right were particularly good.
The first menu course was Dungeness crab with sea urchin, mandarin orange, chicken gelée.
The chicken stock gelée deprived this of the overall “taste of the sea” one normally finds in such a dish, but allowed the two seafood ingredients to assert their own subtle briny flavors, nicely offset with the citrus tang of the orange bits.
Then charred Japanese octopus, cucumber, salsify and dill.
The perfectly cooked octopus pieces were enhanced by the cucumber and dill, not an unusual combination, but very well executed.
The next course was the signature dish of Manresa: “Into the vegetable garden… their natural juices.”
Manresa has an exclusive arrangement with nearby Love Apple Farm to supply fresh vegetables and edible flowers. These greens were completely fresh and crisp, picked at the right size for good flavor, much of it slightly bitter. The garnish on the lower right is the kind of edible “soil” popularized by noma, probably crushed dehydrated chicory root and hazelnuts. Under the greens are dabs of vegetable and citrus purées, which enhance the flavors and relieve the dryness. Excellent.
The next course was Monterey Bay abalone, slow egg, green garlic broth, potatoes, peas.
We enjoyed this, but the point of the combination eluded me.
Then steelhead salmon, chervil purée, bone marrow broth.
This was presented as “steelhead salmon,” but it is really a Pacific sea run rainbow trout and so has a mild, elegant flavor enhanced by the trout’s carnivorous diet. The broth and the purée were subtle and well chosen for this exquisite dish.
The first meat course was suckling porcelet.
The young pork was flavorful and succulent with appropriately crisp skin. I didn’t note the garnishes, but they were good.
The second meat was oxtail and black truffle crépinette with parsnip purée and nettles.
Braised, rich oxtail shards had been enclosed and cooked with black truffle in a pig’s caul. It was served on top of a flavorful parsnip purée. Before this was served, Linda and I had discussed the need to order the optional cheese course as we still had quite a lot of pinot noir left. But with this exceptionally rich dish, we just ate slowly in small bites and enjoyed it with the rest of our wine. Superb.
The first dessert was coconut foam with a citrus sorbet
The main dessert was exotic citrus with lemon verbena panna cotta.
The mignardises were strawbeery gelée and hazelnut macaroons.
Other tables had received chocolate madeleines to complete the pairing with the first amuse-gueule, but we had specified no chocolate.
We took home a handful of the excellent wrapped salted caramels offered as we left.
Overall our meal was excellent, equal to those at Per Se and certainly better than Daniel or Jean Georges. Only Eleven Madison Park on a good evening seems better to us among American restaurants. The desserts were somewhat ordinary, but the other courses were uniformly interesting and prepared with precision. The chef, David Kinch, had not been there for several days as he had caught a cold on a trip, but his team obviously can function well without him. It is his inspiration that qualifies him as one of the best American chefs. The arrangement with Love Apple Farm forces Manresa to use whatever is provided each morning, thus forcing a higher level of creativity than if he simply shopped at the farmer’s markets. The Pacific seafood reinforces the good sense of region in the cuisine.
The ambience was pleasant with well spaced tables and a low noise level. The service was efficient and sometimes overly intrusive with the tablecloth being crumbed after every course. The pace was just right, but its lack of delays probably resulted from a factor we found very strange for one of America’s best restaurants. We arrived at 7:50 on this Thursday night and were the last table seated. Three of the fourteen tables in the main dining room were empty as was the entire back room. We were the last to leave at 10:20. Los Gatos and next door Saratoga are very wealthy bedroom communities for Silicon Valley so the prices, which we found very reasonable at this level, are not a big problem.
We stayed at the nearby Hotel Los Gatos, which we can recommend when you go to Manresa, as you certainly should.
Love Apple Farm’s website:
Hotel Los Gatos website:
To read an over-the-top eloquent description of a meal at Manresa, preceded by a detailed biography of chef David Kinch, see:
And if that isn’t enought for you, try: