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Jun 19, 2010 10:37 AM

Manresa still has it

Went Thursday and took the tasting menu with a party of 4. It seemed like one couple had the full tasting menu, and they were about a course ahead of us. No menu was presented, as I had called ahead. On leaving, I asked for a copy of the tasting menu which they emailed me - from David Kinch's personal email. Was he really cooking for the 6 of us?

Menu was 4 amuse, 7 courses, 2 deserts, and the final amuse.

Petit fours “red pepper-black olive”
Strawberry gazpacho
Foie gras and cumin caramel
Arpege farm egg

Horse mackerel in flowering coriander ice, green strawberries
Summer squash shoots and razor clams in bonito butter, toasted seeds
Into the vegetable garden…
“Pil pil” of cod and artichokes, watercress
Monterey bay abalone , smoked lentils with porcinis
Suckling porcelet, onion and marrow tears with morels
Young lamb, nasturtium pesto and pine nut pudding

Roasted strawberries, yuzu sherbet and black pepper tuile
Fennel pollen cake, yogurt sorbet with honeycomb
Petit fours “strawberry-chocolate”

The menu doesn't do justice to the food, but more of a guide. Before the lamb there was something with sausage, a boudin blanc and a few other things, so it might have been a porcelet plus a boudin blanc. And the bread.

My sister got a different menu with veggies. Not adaptations, just different (and as good if not better) options. My favorites where the mackerel, the "squash shoots", the fois gras, famous "into the garden", strawberry gaspacho. Every dish was so complicated that bits of each worked brilliantly, and some not. It could be argued that some lacked a certain coherence, but not for me. More like each a cut gem, each bite a facet.

For fails: My arpege egg wasn't perfect, it lacked balance (more vinegar?). The slice of lamb I had wasn't good (although the bit of lamb loin was perfect). The cod in the "pil pil" didn't do much for me, although the watercress and artichokes are execellent. The fois gras was listed as "cumin caramel" and there could have been a little more cumin - it was unnoticable.

A great example is a bite that will haunt me forever. In the first desert was a single, albino, miniature strawberry. White and maybe 1/4" in length. The strawberry wasn't presented with a flourish, but hidden in the tuille. That single bite put the dish - and most of the evening - in perspective. Not listed on the menu, more of a hidden gem.

There was a certain amount of foam and MG. Two courses had foams. The coriander ice was an excellent bite.

My partner and I split the wine pairings. My gold standard for wine parings is now Le Bernardin in NY, and these weren't that good, but they were quite good. One was wrong (the gewertz near the beginning - a sledgehammer of a wine with the horse mackerel, likely the most delicate course of the evening - try a sake next time) but the others were quite good.

As good as the food was, certainly in my top-5-lifetime, the entire evening just dragged on too long. We arrived at 6, and left at 11. I'm used to a tasting menu being long, but there were 30 minute gaps between courses. 5 hours was just too much. If we could have arrived 30 minutes earlier, and the evening was an hour shorter, we would have enjoyed the entire evening to excellent perfection. My companions said they would have done one course less (I'd have taken out the lamb), just to keep from falling asleep. Or asked us to go stretch our legs in the garden - I started cramping up. In the long gap before the lamb, the other tasting menu table finished their lamb, got their deserts, paid and left. I dinged the tip a little for that gap, although it knew it was really the kitchen's fault. Front of house could have come over and chatted, pushed the kitchen a little, something. I had hoped to peek into the kitchen before leaving, but at that hour, we were happy to get out of the building - which is just the wrong spirit for such glorious food.

[And - we paid about the same for 4 people as we paid for 2 at TFL a few years back. Manresa FTW.]

The fact that most people stuck to the 3 and 4 course option should tell you something.

Manresa Restaurant
320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

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  1. Nice report. I remember doing the tasting menu and having a similar feeling towards the end. Near the end it was sensory overload with the wine and everything...a dazed (but happy) stupor is a good way to describe it. I think 4 hours is the limit and that's about how long we stayed Also it's best with people you haven't seen in a long time or out-of-towners so you have time to chat.

    Hey so was the foie gras cumin caramel the molten cube? I remember that well and was told to just pop it. It was a great sensation.

    1 Reply
    1. re: ML8000

      Wasn't served as a cube, was served looking like flan typically looks - a cylindroid with wider base than top - in a Japanese lacquer container. The dish was stunning - fois gras classically being paired with fruit, going caramel, with the salt, was a strong idea. One of my favorite bits - although I couldn't taste the cumin. Couldn't pop it because there was too much. There was some scraping of the bottom.

      Regarding the timing, if it was 4 hours we would have been a lot happier! TFL, as I remember, is about 4 hours. 5 was just a bit long. The amount of food was fine (for me at least). I would have just appreciated a steadier pace - like I said, that other table had a course cleared, two more served and cleared, the bill given and paid, and walked out, in the time we were between courses.

      Which meant I was eating from the endless bread basket more than was wise. Very, very good bread. Very bad idea, eating the bread at a meal like that.

      If I was going to complain about something else, a fair amount of the waitstaff had very thick accents. Spanish, could have been from spain, could have been central american. With those accents, they needed to speak up and more distinctly. I was often left wondering what exactly we were eating, and had to ask a companion who was next to the waiter.

      I keep looking at the menu and remembering individual bites, like the fennel pollen cake. That was good. Just two little morsels.

      I didn't leave with sensory overload. Perhaps an outcome of the leisurely pacing. Maybe I'd complain about the overload if it was quicker -- can't win!

    2. I felt like the tasting menu was too much when I had it a couple of years ago, but I don't think that was particularly Manresa's fault, I think I just don't like to eat that way.

      Manresa Restaurant
      320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

      1 Reply
      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        I had a spectacular meal there back in September off of the Regular Menu. Which still included a couple of amuse courses including a spectacular egg foie gras one. The Autumn Tidal Pool(with abalone and uni in a dashi broth) was my favorite course and really gave the feeling of eating a tidal pool(albeit a delicious one conveniently located in my bowl) . I would have been hard pressed to eat more than the four course(+some) that were presented. My meal still lasted 3+ hours but felt manageable and the service was phenomenal.