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A Dissenting Opinion on Manresa

Tom Armitage Jan 21, 2009 01:36 PM

Chowhound’s San Francisco Board is full of praise for Manresa, including comments like “perhaps the best restaurant in Calif. currently,” “exceptional,” “amazing food,” and “truly something special.” If there are dissenting views, I haven’t yet found them. So this Seattle (formerly Los Angeles) chowhound was excited to go there last Sunday. I selected the Menus of Tradition three-course special which included a mussel salad, cassoulet, and a chestnut-chocolate desert, served with two glasses of wine for a fixed price of $75 . The mussel salad was basically mussels served on half-shells. The texture was fine, but the mussels were bland to the point of being almost flavorless. I’m a big fan of letting natural flavors shine and not overpowering them with extraneous tastes, but the mussels were too austere even for me. The cassoulet was a sodden mess of mushy beans and bread crumbs – a very inferior version compared with the cassoulet I’ve had in southern France and at other U.S. venues. The only saving grace was a tasty house-made boudin noir on top. The desert was excellent, with a nice combination of flavors and textures. My sampling of the dishes ordered by the other three people at our table yielded mixed results. A sea bream sashimi was fabulous. A suckling pig was beautifully cooked, moist and flavorful, although my favorite part of a suckling pig – the crisp, golden skin – was noticeably absent. A mixture of seafood (including abalone and sea urchin roe) and foie gras in a “tide pool” of dashi-flavored broth was conceptually interesting, but only so-so in the mouth. The foie gras didn’t fit in at all with the tide-pool concept and detracted from the dish. I talked my wife into ordering roast squab as her entrée, over her initial choice of short ribs. The squab was okay, but nothing special. So here I am in the unexpected and lonely spot of having to file a dissenting opinion on Manresa. I know that David Kinch is a highly regarded celebrity chef, and that Manresa has a lot of cachet. But, despite a few standouts like the sea bream appetizer, I just wasn’t all that blown away by the food.

  1. calvarez Jan 21, 2009 02:15 PM

    You're not the only one. My husband and I went a couple years ago and it was, hands down, the worst "high-end" dining experience we've ever had. The tasting menu was dull and repetitive (2 indistinguishable fish courses with mystery sauce) and the wine pairing was so bad (wines that clashed with the food, were oddly sweet) that we told them to stop bringing it.

    I remember that not every dish was bad, but whatever was good has been wiped out by my overall extremely disappointing experience.

    1. Cindy Jan 22, 2009 08:46 AM

      Our dinner at Manresa a few years ago was extremely disappointing as well. The service was amateurish (plates and garbage left on table for long periods of time) and while some dishes were good, some were very average and nothing was mind blowing.

      1. s
        srr Jan 22, 2009 09:07 AM

        I took my husband there for his birthday last year and we were totally underwhelmed. Service was great, the egg amuse was awesome, and the rest was just OK.

        1. l
          lamster Jan 22, 2009 10:20 AM

          My BF and I hated Manresa. It was my birthday dinner this last June and we made a day of it, since we live in SF. Shopping in Los Gatos, a movie and then dinner. We did the tasting menu...I can't remember much other than strange tasteless foam on every dish, a "garden salad" that had slivers of carrot, various root veggies, edible flowers, but no dressing whatsoever. Nothing was good and I left very hungry. I complete and utter disappointment.

          Your money is better spent elsewhere. In the Bay Area, I've been lucky enough to been able to order the tasteing menus at The Restaurant at Meadowood, Jardiniere, and Quince, which all surpass Manresa with flying colors.

          1 Reply
          1. re: lamster
            Tom Armitage Jan 22, 2009 02:11 PM

            On the Saturday night before my visit to Manresa, my wife and I ate at Murray Circle, the restaurant at Cavallo Point on the grounds of the former Fort Baker in Sausalito. The chef there, Joseph Humphrey, was the former chef at The Restaurant at Meadowood. The meal at Murray Circle (about which I will post separately) wasn't flawless, but was better than the meal at Manressa.

          2. c
            Claudette Jan 22, 2009 10:39 AM

            You must have missed our review a few years back: the 5 of us were extremely disappointed in the food, the server was snotty, and we have never returned. I did like the maple syrup egg, though.

            David Kinch might be a great chef, but my meal at Sent Sovi, when he opened it, was also forgettable.

            My friends and I love the food and service at Cyrus, and highly recommend it.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Claudette
              tupac17616 Jan 24, 2009 10:44 PM

              The opening of Sent Sovi was years ago. Certainly Kinch has evolved since then and so has his food. Whether it has evolved in a way that is pleasing to you is another issue, but I don't think it's fair to cite that old experience just to join others piling up on him here.

              1. re: Claudette
                honkman Jan 25, 2009 05:22 PM

                I haven't dined at Manresa but recently at Cyrus which was by far the worst fine dining experience in many years. Arrogant, bad service and boring, uninspiring food. We also had meals at Providence in LA which also has to Michelin stars and I am still surprised how Cyrus was able get two stars. I have eaten at many one star restaurants which are much better than Cyrus.

              2. b
                budnball Jan 25, 2009 05:29 AM

                I can understand the disappointment. My first meal at Manresa was the best I'd ever eaten. I remember giggling with delight after each bite. The second meal, a year later, was lackluster and simply bland. I think the all the high praise have affected the kitchen and not in a good way. I am very skittish about dropping another $500 on a hit or miss meal when French Laundry and Cyrus are in the area.

                1 Reply
                1. re: budnball
                  rworange Jan 25, 2009 07:16 PM

                  link

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                  Manresa Restaurant
                  320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

                2. n
                  namewithheld Nov 15, 2009 07:34 PM

                  I shall join too the dissenters of Manresa. My husband and I were one of the first to dine at Manresa when they opened and the price of the 3 or 4 course was in the $50s. We were blown away by the food and could only compare it's creativity to Manka's at the time. We've probably been to Manresa 8 or 9 times over the years since they've opened, and I feel it's been going downhill in terms of value. I have no problem with the 4 course being priced $95, at Cyrus it's worth it, at Manresa it's not. They've cut back on the number of amuse bouche which was part of the fun and interest and they don't have the petit fours at the end of the meal anymore, instead substituting with this tacky caramel that they pass out in a bowl as you leave. Dessert too is a disappointment - I've never found it to be a strong point with Manresa, but the last 3 times we've eaten there, it just simply didn't taste good.

                  The service is still superb, but again the food quality for all courses needs to be there and to raise prices while simultaneously cutting out the amuse bouche and petit fours doesn't cut it for me. I used to enthusiastically recommend this place to others, but now, I think Manresa doesn't believe it has to try with its food anymore, now that they've received James Beard nominations and won Iron Chef.

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                  Manresa Restaurant
                  320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

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