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May 23, 2011 09:32 AM

Manresa - a short review

We were a few minutes early for our 6:00 res, and thus sat in the sun in their beautiful courtyard with comfy chairs. It would have been a nice place to drink some champagne before dinner, but unfortunately I had to hang on to sobriety for my trip to the airport a couple of hours later. We told the maitre d' we needed to be gone by 8:30 to make the plane, and they alerted our waiter as well.

We ordered the 5 course and the waiter told us we would begin with "a series of snacks and amuse bouche" followed by the bread service as the courses began. There was 1 amuse (a delicious little leaf of crispy kale and a fritter) which I don't think qualifies as a "series". I was disappointed.

The bread service consisted of an olive batton - delicious, a salt-topped-brioche - INCREDIBLY buttery, very good hearty sourdough, and a dark multigrain.

I had a glass of Peay Chardonnay from Sonoma, they were out of the Santa Cruz Mountain selection. I'm not a huge Chard fan, but it was the closest white to local. I was disappointed that on my whole trip to Big Sur/Carmel/Monterey I never got any wine more local than Sonoma. $17 for about 4 oz.

We both had the asparagus starter, covered in sesame was delicious. I had never had fried mussels before. My husband was convinced they were bad, i think the flavor just changes when you cook them, just like oysters.

My Into the Garden salad was spectacular. I beleive each leaf was a different lettuce or herb and there were TINY radishes, turnips, leeks, etc. The dressing was foam...possibly the best use of the mandatory foam I have seen.

My Tidal Pool was also fabulous. Uni followed by foie....i had to control myself to avoid eye-rolling and simpering like Rachel Ray. The broth was also fabulous. there was abalone as well.

My Spring lamb dish had some very interesting pickled tongue, a delicious piece of loin, and a "confit" of what I took to be leg that was not good, IMO. If I had cooked that, I would have been displeased. My husband's porcelet I like even less, although he really liked pork loin part of it...neither of us get the appeal of pork belly and fat back.

At this point we recieved a very nice little taste of sorbet/granita prior to dessert. My chocolate dessert w/ chocolate rice krispies was tasty as was my husband's strawberry affair w/ a cheesecake bite. While perfectly fine, neither of these desserts yelled out "2 Michelin Stars" to me. Oddly, before dessert, the waiter offered me coffee, saying "but I know you have to get to the airport". I took that to mean if I wanted coffee, it wouldn't come w/ dessert but would require another 10 minute wait between courses. I thought the pacing was too slow throughout the whole meal.

We were given cookies and salted caramels as parting gifts.

The verdict: It was a very nice meal. It cost just under $300 w/ only one glass of wine and before tip. when I compare it to the last grand meal I had at L20 in Chicago last fall, it falls short. Although it was all quite correct (well except for the missing amuse which i watched nearby tables receive) and everything (except that lamb leg) tasted good...sometimes very good, I didn't feel any brilliance, no genius, no flavor-burst moments that make you think, oh there's something special going on in the kitchen.

Manresa Restaurant
320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

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  1. The "Into the garden ..." was spectacular and maybe the best use of foam you've seen, but nothing special was going on in the kitchen? That's the dish that makes me want to go back.

    11 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      yeah, perhaps that's not the best wording..."special" isn't a strong enough descriptor. no "magic" perhaps describes my thought? It was a lovely salad, and likely arranged w/ tweezers. I might have come away with a better final verdict if the meal had stoped after the garden and the pool, but the last two courses made me start thinking I've had better. But don't get me's a very nice restaurant, and if I lived in LG and money were no object, I'd go back.

      1. re: danna

        You just proved my "if dessert is great, nothing else matters" theory. When I read the reports on my tasting menus the desserts always sound kind of pedestrian -- I wonder why? Thanks for the report.

        1. re: danna

          Perhaps, is it possible that a certain unavoidable anticipation about having to deal with the SFO and TSA nonsense and a flight schedule could have affected your receptivity, particularly for the later courses?

          Myself, I certainly would not back a great restaurant or a play or an opera up against having to get to and through the airport indignities for a red-eye flight.

          It would be really great to see a comparison of the great new (since I left there 8 years ago) Chicago restaurant scene with Manresa and others around SF. Putting Manresa aside, I suspect Chicago might come out ahead at the "grand meal" level. I think the next level down is where the Bay Area is shining these days.

          Manresa Restaurant
          320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

          1. re: Thomas Nash

            oh, i think it's possible that anticipation played a part...but just that I was really psyched about Manresa...sometimes it's hard to live up to inflated expectations. But no, I was about to fly out of San Jose, not SFO, and it was pretty mellow. I guess I'm one of those crazy people who don't really mind the TSA, I'm happy to throw my shoes in a box and pose for the camera.

            I imagine you're right about "next level down", which is what I might have been happier with. Passionate cooking in a relaxed atmosphere is hard to beat. Honestly, I had become a bit weary of multi-course extravaganzas until the above mentioned L2O meal, when I became a fan again.

            But really, I don't want to make too much of my small criticisms. It's just at those prices I reserve the right to critique w/ a hard eye. We had a nice meal and a nice evening. Manresa is obviously a very fine restaurant.

            Manresa Restaurant
            320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

            1. re: danna

              You didn't get the egg? That's one of their signature dishes and certainly one that people rave about.

              1. re: 512window

                no egg. maybe on the full tasting? do tell...what do they do with egg?

                1. re: danna

                  The Arpege egg is an amuse. If you ask a restaurant to fit a three-plus-hour menu into two and a half hours, it seems likely that they'll skip some of the off-menu items to make sure the timing isn't off.

                  1. re: danna

                    egg poached @57C, Vermont maple syrup, chives, whipped cream, sea salt.

                    It's served in the egg shell, you eat it with a little spoon. I hate poached eggs. This was fantastic, so good that later in the evening when I encountered a waiter with a tray of twelve of these on his way to a big party, I was tempted to grab the tray and high tail it out the back door.

              2. re: Thomas Nash

                Expectations can kill a meal before it starts. Had expectations throw some buzzkill on a meal at the TFL the first time.

                I haven't had the a la carte menu at Manresa but the tasting menu is excellent...and you might lose something not getting it.

            2. re: Robert Lauriston

              My Tidal Pool was also fabulous. Uni followed by foie....i had to control myself to avoid eye-rolling and simpering like Rachel Ray. The broth was also fabulous. there was abalone as well.

              Sounded like this dish was pretty magical too.

              2 genius dishes out of 5 ain't bad. No restaurant I've been two has done 12/12 genius dishes...not even Pierre Gagnaire. Then again, I have not been to L2O or Alinea.

              Manresa remains one of my favorite restaurants anywhere.

              1. re: Porthos

                Oh, Lord, I still feel full when someone mentions Pierre Gagnaire...I think that may have been when I first started to think maybe i shouldn't get the biggest tasting...

            3. Did they deliver to get you out by 8:30 as you requested?
              If you thought the pace was slow you should have requested they get you out earlier or have gone to a fast food restaurant, or should have dinner whit someone you like :)
              I don't think the veggies in "into the garden" have any "dressing", the foam are the natural juices of the cooked vegetables in that dish.
              I think that is one of the best vegetable dishes I have ever had, an endless parade of vegetables displayed in various forms, a contrast of temperatures, textures, colors, respecting the flavors of each component by not adding a dressing, I think that's brilliant and genius.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Dumbfoodie

                As matter of fact, they got me out at 8:00, and that after making me wait 10-15 minutes past my reservation time even though I arrived 10 min early.

                You can parse the semantics as you like, but something liquid-y and flavorful, on greens, is "dressing" in my book.

                I'm impressed by the passionate dedication of the fans of Manresa, give the amount of umbrage that's been taken to my exceedingly mild criticisms.

                Manresa Restaurant
                320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

                1. re: danna

                  Manresa could have slipped. That said, I've been to TFL a few times and other 2 and 3 star places and Manresa was the most interesting and best executed of any by far.

                  Had the chef's tasting menu. Totally off the dial and from left field...molten foie gras cube, tidal pool, aged New York with potato roasted in hay and pine needle ice cream...yes, pine needle ice cream.

                  Here's my report:

                  Regarding service, it's definitely in the California mode which as a Californian I appreciate very much. I dislike overstuffed French service.

                  1. re: danna

                    Danna, Manresa's definitely a darling of the board. I went when they first opened and thought it was great. I've been back 3 times since (at friend's requests) and never been impressed. I think it's slid pretty significantly in the last couple years.

                    Manresa Restaurant
                    320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030