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Manresa - redundant tasting menu

Manresa tasting menu w/ a few friends last week. 1st time for any of us at the restaurant. Expectations not high. Nonetheless, the consensus from all of us was disappointment. To quote 1 friend, "nothing blew me away." On top of that, there were 2 major problems: REDUNDANCY and a pathetic excuse for a substitution course.

First, the redundancy issue. From reviews by Chowhounds, critics, and other boards/websites, I was hoping for innovative food with a good variety of ingredients and flavors. Again, our expectations were not high. However, what we got did not match any of those hopes. Not that I really "hope" for innovative food - frankly, I just want something to taste good. If it's different from anything I've had AND it tastes good, then it's way past my expectations.

As for my complaint of redundancy, I should also say I don't mind basing a menu on a particular flavor or ingredient, e.g. entire animal type menus. But at Manresa, it was: here's an ingredient or flavor several times throughout, with nothing tying them together. That really disappointed me, but I'd be curious to hear if others think I'm off base.

summary of tasting menu:
5 amuse
7 savory
4 desserts
+ 1 petit fours
= 17 total dishes

redundancies:
- 4 dishes w/ foie gras (1 course w/ a slab of it, 3 others included smaller amounts)
- 3 or 4 dishes w/ "greens from the restaurant garden" (sure they're fresh, but can't we have other vegetables, too?!)
- 3 dishes w/ some kind of foam (nice for 1 dish, messed up the texture of 2 other dishes - and shoot, foam is not innovative, especially 3 times!)
- 3 or 4 dishes w/ scallions (again, I like some, but in so many dishes?)
- 3 dishes with mushrooms (ditto)
- 2 seafood dishes cooked a la plancha (leaving both dry and one of them badly overcooked)

Personally, the use of foie gras in 4 dishes didn't bother me because I didn't get those 4 dishes, but everybody else thought, enough with the foie gras!

Which brings me to the substitution issue. I actually requested no foie gras because I just don't like it. I also asked if some seafood (perhaps scallops?) could be substituted in the actual foie gras course. Our server said they didn't get their scallops today, but I thought, there's so much going on here that I'll get something decent instead. For the 3 dishes that used small amounts of foie gras, I got satisfying substitutes.

For the actual foie gras course, while my friends got a large lobe of foie gras on some greens with a sliver of apple, I got ... some greens with a sliver of apple. In other words, they substituted foie gras with a couple extra leaves and passed off the course as "greens from the restaurant garden." That was the 1st actual course of the tasting menu (i.e. post-amuse), so I didn't complain because I figured the rest of the meal would more than make up for it. Looking back, I think it's unacceptable for Manresa to serve something like that.

Finally, service and atmosphere. Like many others have already said, more casual than the "fine dining" places in SF. I appreciated that, though. Our server was very friendly and shared a lot of info about the restaurant and food.

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  1. In defense of Manresa (because I think the flavors and dishes there are more innovative than what I've had the The Dining Room and even TFL)...it's late autum/winter. Not much going on this time of the year in terms of variety of ingredients.

    Secondly, the chef is noted to serve certain ingredients multiple times under a different prep to accent the ingredient or to be playful (eg starting and ending with the same ingredient).

    Finally, every restaurant will have their fans and their dissenters because certain notes about that restaurant will ring stronger (in either a positive or negative way). I left The Dining Room equally disappointed and puzzled as to how anyone could rave about a restaurant like that. I have considered returning to The Dining Room to give it a second chance but that return trip will definitely follow repeat trips to Manresa, Redd, and TFL...

    1 Reply
    1. re: Porthos

      I think that's pretty fair, and I'm all for repetition for the sake of tying dishes together or to emphasize something unique or rare. But this just played more like repetition for the sake of repetition, so going from dish to dish was more boring than "seasonal and spontaneous" as they say.

      As for expectations, it's really all subjective, so I know mine might be out of whack. But no matter what my expectations are, especially at comparably priced places, a substitution request has always been given more effort than the one I got at Manresa.

    2. It's interesting how high-end restaurants create such love/hate reviews. Overly high expectations? Random, singularly bad nights in the kitchen? All of my friends who've been to FL, CP, and Manresa were disappointed; all who've been to The Dining Room raved about it. We're all entitled to our opinions, but it's a disappointment to pay $$$ for unmemorable meals.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Claudette

        My pickiest friend has been to Manresa twice and loves it.

        1. re: Claudette

          Indeed, I think expectations can kill or hinder an experience. The more praise you hear, the more you expect and the more you want to love it. I know I experienced this going to FL the first time. Although the food was excellent I was looking for my mind to be blown away. I might have been blown away if I stumbled into the place by accident, never heard of it and it didn't cost $300 p/per.

        2. Just thought it might be interesting to post the mercury news slideshow for Manresa, it's a new feature that the paper is doing for its restaurant reviews:
          http://www.mercurynewsphoto.com/2006/...

          1. I agree with your complaint about the substitution, surely they could have found something to go on your salad.

            I'm wondering if you can elaborate on other places where you've experienced ingredients 'tied together' more throughout the meal, or what 'tied together' means to you. Were the scallions, mushrooms, and garden greens treated differently on each course? Were they different varieties of mushroom?

            4 Replies
            1. re: babette feasts

              Oh, by tying together, I meant more that those ingredients weren't emphasized or integral to the dish. So it seemed more like repetition for the sake of repetition than for the sake of featuring something remarkable, e.g. the "restaurant greens" in a couple dishes could just as easily have been other leafy vegetables.

              As for specific restaurants, it's hard for me to say b/c the few tasting menus I've had didn't repeat ingredients much. It was more a feeling I got, you know? Like, man, another dish with this stuff?

              To be fair, we did have a couple kinds of mushrooms, which can act very much like completely different ingredients, but IIRC they were prepared the same way and tasted the same, too.

              1. re: mikeop34

                First of all, you don't like foie gras. Usually it's an important part of any high end tasting menu. Why risk doing it at all?

                It would be nice if you could name specific restaurants which you did like, because I still don't see what you are saying. What, exactly, "blew you away" before?

                No meal can be absolutely perfect, and I am not saying Manresa makes perfect meals. There were a few dishes I thought were rather plain. But, to be fair, it is one of the most exciting restaurants the area has to offer, this country/world has to offer.

                I have been reluctant to post a reply here, but now I am posting because I think it's unfortunate that people spot your post early due to the inefficient Chow search function.

                See Porthos' review and one by myself.
                http://www.chowhound.com/topics/339788
                http://www.chowhound.com/topics/368820

                1. re: grocerytrekker

                  I don't eat fois gras and I have not found that necessary to the tasting menu.

                  1. re: grocerytrekker

                    1. I see nothing "unfortunate" about people spotting my post early. It's just an opinion, as is everybody else's. Anybody trying to get a wholistic view of the restaurant would read many other posts as well..

                    Also, there's nothing "fair" about calling Manresa "one of the most exciting restaurants ... this country/world has to offer" as if that was some acknowledged truth. It's already much disputed on this board alone, so it's unfair to represent it as otherwise.

                    2. Clicking on my profile will bring up a bunch of previous posts where I talk about my likes and dislikes, so I think that would better answer the question of what blew me away.

                    3. Foie gras has been on 3 out of the 5 tasting menus I've had. That doesn't seem like a "usual" occurrence to me. And that's only counting meals that were actually called "tasting menus" by the restaurant itself, which excludes private dinner, Chinese banquet, omakase, and other types of multi-course meals where the restaurant plans a menu for you. Including those meals makes foie gras a much less common occurrence.

                    When foie gras does show up, it tends to be 1 out of anywhere from 6 to a dozen courses. 4 out of 17? That's a whole lot more.

              2. Thank you for clarifying, I see what you're saying.

                1. i don't want to be argumentative, but what were the other plates with foie gras?