Report: Manresa dinner
Recently went to Manresa with 5 close friends in early Feb. The quick take is, "if CP did a tasting menu like FL but from left field." Very good service but not overdone. Mostly local ingredients, excellent technique, but very unusual combo (pine needle ice cream with grapefruit granita, gamay gelee) that work despite what you might think. Environment - California, casual but well done.
Had the tasting menu with amuses before hand. 2.5 bottles of wine. Here's some notes cribbed off a fellow diner, with my notes in prentices.
Storrs Gewurztraminer (very pleasant, very reasonably priced, Monterey white)
Red pepper gelee + Black olive madeleine (nice starter, teeny-size, dime-size)
Molten foie gras cube, chestnut powder (deep fried, bullion cube size, big surprise/winner)
Dungenous crab + pear salad in beggar's purse (subtle dumping, very good)
Soft egg with sour cherry vinegar + maple (very nice, familiar rich, soothing, good way to start in on the meal)
Varner Chardonnay 2005 (another very pleasant wine, Santa Cruz)
Amberjack + scallop + octopus (sashimi, delicate, slightly marinated, excellent)
Monterey bay spot prawn, citrus foam (hard to go wrong with this, prawned show through)
Abalone, foie gras, sea urchin in a tidal pool (very unusual mix, excellent, hard to describe, tidal pool is a good description)
Wild steelhead salmon, broccoli fondant, cucumber & dill sauce (another unusual dish prep wise, the fish was very rare yet not chewy, excellent)
Roessler Peregrine Pinot Noir 2005
Pork belly, black truffle, celery root veloute (familiar yet not, nice starter for this portion...rich yet familiar, big winner)
Veal sweetbreads, wheat berries, parsnip (pan seared or roasted, great combo, wheat berries a nice earthy surprise to sweetbreads and parsnip)
New York strip aged 40 days, red thumb potato roasted in hay, black
cherry mushrooms? (excellent, satisfying way to end savory courses, the hay roasted potatoes were again out of left field...the sweetness showed through, hard to describe)
Pine needle ice cream, grapefruit granita, gamay gelee (totally left field as in W T F, yet it worked, great palette cleanser)
Beet sorbet, goat cheese Baverois?, crispy corn, wood sorrell foam (very good, frankly don't remember it much at this point...)
Chicory chocolate mousse, beignet, fried banana, chicory ice cream (excellent, a banana split with a donut if you will)
Chocolate-Armagnac truffles (don't remember, on overload)
Strawberry gelee + chocolate madeleines (nice way of going full circle)
The thing about Manresa is the food doesn't reference anything in particular. You can see French and Asian influences but none overpower. This "might" be the next step in haute California cuisine -- excellent prep, well-thought out, surprising yet using many local ingredients. Very delicate prep with an intellectual edge, or an edge to curiosity and surprise. There were no losers in any dish. In the ranking of tasting menus and Michelin stars, it's right up there with French Laundry..not better, not worse just different in an unexpected way. Meal took about 4 hours.
My only observation is Manresa might best be experienced in the late spring or early summer with their garden is ramped up given the use of fresh ingredients. Next visit will definitely be during spring or early summer.
I honestly do NOT believe that Manresa was worth the price. Having recently returned to SF for holidays, thought I would give this 2-Michelin star place a try, I was especially excited having lived in Barcelona, so I was familiar with all the molecular cooking and Mediterranean influence. BUT, my dinner last night was a sore disappointment, didn't experience any imaginative cooking at all, sorry. I didn't do the 7 course tasting, I thought I would do the regular 4-course prix fixe to make sure i love their food enough before paying up for tasting, glad I didn't!! The best part was the amuse bouche, especially this ball of foie gras liquid, that burst and melting of foie gras juice in my mouth was great, tasty yet not too heavy, flavorful and leave you wanting more. The raw oyster with uni was also quite good, the portion of uni was small enough that it didn't overpower the oyster. But all subsequent dishes were so so. For the 4-course, I had the beef and oyster tartare, sole fillet, suckling pig and chocolate chicory napoleon cake. My dad had their onion brioche soup, black cod, duck breast and meyer lemon cake. So i tried all 8 of course, I have to say only the onion brioche soup displayed any level of innovation, everything else was so average.
My beef and oyster tartare was terrible, I couldn't even taste the oyster AT ALL and the cucumber that layered the bottom absorbed all the blood, so it was quite disgusting.
Like I said, the only good thing was my dad's onion brioche soup, very sweet, fresh and flavorful onions, yet not too creamy and this white pepper foam was a nice touch and contrast.
Dad's black cod was nothing special, meat itself was quite tasteless, i could get the same thing at any California seafood restaurant. My sole was done with sesame and yuzu dressing, I guess for those unfamiliar with Japanese cuisine would be impressed, but the portion of the sole was so little and the fish really didn't go with the sauce.
Dad's duck breast was above average, kept a nice layer of fat and skin on top of the meat, cooked just right and very tender. My suckling pig was horrendous. The presentation was horrible, and literally only 3 slices of pork piled on with loads of vege and preserved fruit. And the pork was not even good, I agree with "pork smell like Chinatown" comment below, actually sorry, I live in HK and crispy pork there is way better than this, this was dry, tasteless and slightly stinky.
Dad's meyer lemon cake was ok, he wanted something not too sweet and this fits the bill, but once again, nothing spectacular. My chocolate chicory napoleon had chocolate and rasberry sorbet, with some fresh cranberries, persimmon and a swipe of caramel. The presentation of this was more impressive, with foam embedded in some of the citrus slices, quite pretty with the cranberries scattered around, but in terms of flavor, couldn't really tell what the chicory adds to it.
With a $95 price tag and 2 michelin star I had expected something more, we spent $400+ for 2 people with wine, we didn't even do wine pairing because we deem their selection as sub par. Maybe this is the New Yorker side of me talking, but I got to believe there are better deals out there.
We recently went back to Manresa again. It was our second time there; the first time was in Sep of 07. We got the tasting menu and the food was very good overall. I am not sure if my memory of the first experience faded, but I had the distinct feeling that the vibe of the restaurant was much more up tight and snooty since our last visit. Is it just my imagination? It seemed much more relaxed and laid back on our last visit, this time the atmosphere was kind of overly formal and stifling. And it seemed like the price of the tasting menu ($155 per person, makes our other dining choices seem like bargains) was more than our last visit.
ML8000, thanks for the report. I thought I'd provide a little bit of information about the "tidal pool" for you:
The main hot broth is a dashi flavored with white soy and fresh seaweed. They then add spoonfuls of two broths at room temperature that have been gelled so they "lava lamp" around in the liquid. The first one is a broth made with matsutake mushrooms. The other is oyster water with silver dust added so it swirls around in the liquid like a tidal pool.
At the risk of sounding like a complete trog, I tend to get a bit afeared of foams and gelees and such, and my idea of a tasting menu is narfing lotsa small plates off passing dim sum carts :-). ML8000, this is the first review of this type of menu that's made me really want to try one. I also like your description of the service and atmosphere at Manresa being a bit less formal, because that can add to my "high end trauma" -- will deffo try to fit a trip to this intriguing place.
Elf, you definitely should if there is anyway. I have to admit that the things about Manresa that annoyed me are the Molecular Gastronomic bits; powdered soy sauce which was specifically mentioned by the server... Part of me doesn't want to have to be told specific scientific experiments which are required for a dish to be successful and those which made me happiest, were the simplest and from the garden.
re: Carrie 218
I like the fact that Manresa incorporates so many different types of cuisines and cooking styles. It's part of what makes it so interesting and the cuisine so enjoyable. Meals that I have had there incorporated french, japanese, indian, and spanish influences. The ultimate product has always been delicious and I've never had a dish that was creative for creativity's sake. I think a few minor nods to molecular gastronomy is another example of Kinch's talent, versatility and creativity. Enjoy it and let's hope we never see a day when Manresa becomes stagnant like the French Laundry.
The molecular stuff is used sparingly and not for the sake of using it, but when it adds something. None of the foams or puree'ed things were out of place. I think there were two molecular elements out of 15 dishes, unless you count galee, etc., which I don't. Kinch is versatile to be sure...he even cooked potatoes in hay.
Unfortunately I didn't see the "lava lamp" effect and found this dish way too salty (and I think that's the second dish of my life I can say that about _I love salt) to the point that it drowned the flavors. Unfortunately there were a number of other misses on that visit (food served not hot), tastes that didn't come together....BUT this is the first time in a number of visits that I have walked out not entirely delighted.
It was actually so bad that I asked if the chef had been in the kitchen that night (he was but had left) when we left. But "so bad" is meant as relative to all my other experiences there and will not stop me from returning - I guess every night can't be perfect.
The service was friendly as always (but a lot of new faces to me).
This restaurant is intriguing me... I'll be visiting the Bay area from out of town (Canada, actually) and am trying to plan my dining excursions. How is booking a reservation at Manresa? How far in advance would I need? Based on what's been said on the other discussion threads, I gather the process of reserving at TFL can be more trouble than it's worth...does the same apply to Manresa?
Great report. You captured the essence of Manresa with these two sentences: "Very delicate prep with an intellectual edge, or an edge to curiosity and surprise. There were no losers in any dish"
It's cerebral if you want to deliberate over your food and just damn delicious if you don't.
They offer a regular and a premium wine pairing and a pretty good wine list.
I disagree with you on 1 point only in that I thought it was much better than French Laundry. The tastes are unexpected and delightful even if you have done the cross country fine dining circuit. At TFL, only the truffle egg and the execution impressed me. Everything else, I've had in one form or another...often times better.
The only thing keeping Manresa from 3 Michelin stars is the service and the wine list. Unfortunately, making the service more formal would make Manresa just a little less charming.
I'm still calling Manresa vs.TFL a toss up but with different "angles"...until I go to Manresa again. I wouldn't argue with you however. I definitely prefer the more casual and things just kept coming out of left field. I agree more formal service would kill the charm.
My guess is on a late spring/summer evening, with the sun still out, Manresa would rock.
I'm very fond of Manresa and would go there (by choice) before TFL. But I'm still processing. A second trip really is needed..perhaps not the tasting menu. Of the things that blew me away were, didn't see any of it coming:
Molten foie gras cube - the waiter said just to pop it
Abalone, foie gras, sea urchin in a tidal pool - still can't describe it
Pork belly, black truffle, celery root veloute - the pork smelled like Chinatown
Pine needle ice cream, grapefruit granita, gamay gelee - pine needle???
p.s. the price...definitely tilts to Manresa
It was one of the few restaurants I had to do again before I left the Bay Area and one of the first on my list to revisit when I return (along with the Oliveto Truffle and Whole Hog Dinners). I went in June and got the liquid vegetable cube made from vegetables from the garden. The lamb with indian spices and coconut and yam puree was one of the most interesting and delicious meat dishes I've had in years.
The tasting menu is where Manresa sparkles. Maybe you should try it with the premium wine pairing to assess the skills of the sommelier. Like the menu itself, the pairing is also filled with unexpected surprises (eg. white wine fortified with cognac to go with my smoked foie gras dish). The wine pairing by the glass being another thing that Manresa offers that TFL does not.
My Manresa experience with standard wine pairing:
You know, after almost 2 months to think about, I have to agree. Manresa right now is the better restaurant, regardless of price advantage. The more I've thought about it...Manresa just kept coming out of left field and executing on everything.
I agree about the service. The lack of pretense makes it a more interesting place. I'd like to go back in late summer.