Recent Manresa Report, a bit long
I was recently in San Jose for a week and though most of my meals were catered affairs from work, by perusing some chowhound boards, I was able to squeeze in a few very good meals. The most anticipated was the one I had at Manresa. By the end of the week, I had gotten over the ridiculously expensive taxi rates, and begrudgingly took a taxi to the restaurant, though due to an accident, I arrived 45 min late to my 6:30 reservation on a Friday night. I had called the restaurant to let them know, and they assured me that they had my table ready whenever I arrived. I finally got to the restaurant, and they led me to a very nice table with a view of the patio. I was dining by myself and I opted for the chef's dinner/tasting menu, with the cheese course added on, and a half bottle of 2005 Calera Viognier. My meal started with a flight of amuse bouches, five in rapid succession: a red pepper pate de fruit and a black olive madeleine, a lavender mint soda with a kincho melon granita, parmesan churros, courgette sorbet with pistachio vinaigrette, and an Arpege farm egg, gently cooked in the shell, and layered with various creams and foams. Foam is quite big here, as are edible flowers for garnish. The pate de fruit was very nicely flavored, the madeleine a bit understated. The shot glass of soda was nice, and I love any granita. The churros was amazing, basically like a long line of gougere, moist, tender, and almost delicate, so good. The sorbet was lovely, with some citrus foam on top, a good contrast, and the egg was interesting, gathering a bite by cutting through all the layers, but the flavors were very muted.
Then there were four first course offerings, spaced about 10 mins apart: marinated shellfish in a bonito broth and green curry oil, raw and cooked tomatoes from their garden (most of their produce comes from their own garden) with a tuna consomme and steelhead roe, potimarron pumpkin soup with nasturtium ice cream, and a salad called "into the vegetable garden". The shellfish was decent, though the green curry was not pronounced. The scallops were great, sweet and tender, but several bites had grit, which was disappointing. The tomatoes in tuna consomme was very nice, with an avocado mousse that added a well placed unctuous note to the briny and tart dish that popped delightfully with the roe. The pumpkin soup was poured tableside from a little kettle next the ice cream and they both went so well together, the cold creaminess mingling with the warm richness, with a great flavor combination of herbal and savory. The salad was very visually appealing, with young lettuces and greens mixed with edible flowers and gently cooked curls of carrot, radish, and other root vegetables. There was a lemon foam that acted as a dressing and a streak of "soil", browned breadcrumbs. Everything went pretty well together, though it looked better than it tasted, especially when I came across an odd chunk of cooked potato, which seemed heavy and out of place.
Then there were three entree courses: cod and abalone in young garlic bouillon and seaweed persillade, roast squab breast with crushed raspberries and hazelnuts, and roast lamb with eggplant, chanterelles, and anis hyssop. The cod was one of my favorite courses, it was wonderfully cooked, either poached or cooked sous vide, still almost translucent. The abalone was so tender and slightly briny, but the seaweed persillade was revelatory. Absolutely delicious and so ingenius. The only other misstep, other than the grit in the shellfish, was that there were a few scales still on the skin, which did detract from the experience, slightly. The squab was fairly good, if a little tough, but the tart raspberries and roasted hazelnuts went well with the rich meat. The lamb was similarly as good as the cod, a perfect medium rare. The eggplant wasn't terribly great, kind of tough and slimey, but the anis hyssop sauce was amazing, intensely herbal, but still rich.
Then I had the cheese course, which was my favorite course, probably ever. I sampled all six of their cheeses, which came with a date and orange peel jam, sliced apples, marcona almonds, pain de campagne, toasted lavash, and crisps of fruit and nut bread. The cheeses were: Green Hill double cream, Brillat Truffe, Besase de Berger, Bleu du Bocage, Pozo Tomme, and Serra da Estrella. They were various sheep's, goat's, and cow's milk cheeses, and everything but the Pozo Tomme, greatly impressed me. It was good, but overshadowed by the others. I crazily loved the goat's milk Bleu du Bocage, which I never had before, but is now one of my favorite cheeses ever. The Serra da Estrella was a Portugese cheese akin to Epoisse or Camembert, scooped out of the rind, and it was so rich and pungent. The Brillat Truffe was equally wonderful, but the bleu was amazing.
Afterwards, there were four courses of dessert: plum and lime parfait with raspberries and plum, monkey bread with nectarines and Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream, milk chocolate-coffee vacherin with meringue, blackberries and blackberry sorbet, and cinnamon-coffee milk, and ended with another petit four of strawberry pate de fruit and chocolate madeleine. By this time, I was very full from the cheese and a little dazed by the amount of courses, but I pressed on. The parfait was light and creamy, but was a little overpowered by the tartness of the berries, but underneath the sliced plum were little bundles of some kind of granola, which was a nice counterpoint. The monkeybread tasted like the best French toast I've had, with perfectly ripe nectarines and wonderfully flavored ice cream. The vacherin was very good, with little meringues on top that looked like minature marshmallows, with the sorbet cutting through the richness of the chocolate and the milk sauce. The last petit four brought the meal to full circle, looking exactly like the first petit four, and the strawberry pate de fruit was full of fruit, though the madeleine was once again a little bland. The service was quite good, and very knowledgeable, especially the fromagier. Overall, one of the best meals I’ve had, and thanks to everyone for your suggestions.
Thank you so much for taking the time to post your detailed report of Manresa. We have dinner reservations there with another couple next month and can't wait! We just need to decide whether to go all out and do the chef's tasting menu or whether the four-course menu will suffice.
Two of us aren’t terribly big eaters and the tasting menu sounds like it will be way too much food. Also don’t know if we’ll be able to sit through a four-hour meal with wine (our dinner reservations are at 5pm on a Sunday) and then drive an hour back home.
Can anyone offer any advice on the tasting menu versus the regular four course menu? Will we miss out terribly if we don't do the tasting menu?
There is no point in going to Manresa and not getting the tasting menu, especially if this may be your only visit. You can control how much wine you drink if you think that will be a problem. You also don't need to eat everything you are served, though you probably will as tasting menu portions are small and although you get a lot of courses, it is not a lot of food.
I would definitely recomment the tasting menu, especially for your first time. It really is something special. It is obvoius they spend a lot of time thinking about blending flavors and the progression of the meal.
My wife and I often get 1 wine pairing and share. also, feel free to leave a little on the plate as you get toward the end if you are feeling full. Los Gatos is a nice little town. You can take a short walk after dinner to stretch and get ready for the ride home.
If you're not big eaters and you don't want that long a meal, you will probably be much happier with the four course meal. The tasting menu is most definitely a lot of food for most folks (the OP loved his meal, but he admitted feeling very full and a little dazed before it was over.) Order carefully and you can cover nearly the same ground as the tasting menu, if that matters to you.
I much prefer 3- to 5-course meals over most tasting menus, especially one as long as Manresa's. Some places like Chez TJ under the former chef serve tasting menu portions on a smaller menu, which can leave you feeling a bit cheated and hungry. Manresa doesn't make that mistake.
We're going back in a few weeks for our anniversary and will be sticking to the 4-course meal!
We just went to Manresa for our anniversary this week. The tasting menu had a few differences. We didn't get the Lavender mint amuse bouche, we only had 4. The other difference was the squab was substituted for sweet breads morel soubise and lemon grass. We had a black sesame cake with figs and lime sorbet ( it was visually stunning and excellent) instead of the monkeybread.
Was the cheese course a supplement because we didn't get it?
This was our first time at Manresa and trying sweet breads. Absolutely the best meal so far. We did L'Atelier in Vegas for the same money Manresa hands down was a better meal in its creativity.
The meal was long, almost 4 hours, but it was well paced and for all the courses, the portions are not big, probably 4-5 bites, and without the cheese course, which was a supplement, I probably would have been comfortably full; the cheese course did put me over the edge a little to quite full. For the experience and presentation, I would recommend the tasting menu.
I love Serra da Estrella. Thanks for reporting back.
I hope you do another post about some of the other places you gleaned from the board. It helps others like you who are scanning the board for suggestions by keeping info fresh.
320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030