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On modifying a tasting menu: Manresa

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After years I am finally heading to Manresa next week (hubby got a bonus for washing his hands. He's a surgeon. This should scare you : )).

Anyway, we have done tasting menus at TFL (twice), Chez TJ (twice), Meadowood, Cyrus and in France and each time I have enjoyed myself but I am almost universally meh about the red meat. I eat red meat, but for the most part it just doesn't do much for me. I would much rather have fish and vegetarian dishes.

I don't want to be a pain to the chef (already have an allergy), but I would love a perfectly cooked egg over the most expensive cut of beef. I know I am weird that way.

Would you ask for no red meat on a tasing menu or would you just leave it in the chef's hands? Experience at Manresa particularly applicable, but interested in the discussion at all Bay Area tasting menus.

Manresa Restaurant
320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

Chez TJ
938 Villa Street, Mountain View, CA 94041

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  1. I wouldn't ask for a specific dish at Manresa, and certainly not beef, since that's not something they often serve.

    Manresa Restaurant
    320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

    1. You can definitely request no red meat -- you won't be the first or the last. Since you also have an allergy, I would suggest calling in advance and discussing both the allergy and the red meat issues with them.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        Allergy is already noted. I know I can do it, but I am torn whether it would really defeat the purpose of a tasting menu. However, Manresa specific, if meat isn't their strong point and their beautiful garden is, maybe I would come out btter.

        Manresa Restaurant
        320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

        1. re: jsaimd

          There's always some red meat on Manresa's tasting menus, it's just usually pork and lamb.

          Manresa Restaurant
          320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

      2. If you don't want red meat just tell them. You're paying a lot and it's not an uncommon request.

        If you're getting the chef's tasting menu it's worth noting it's a non-listed menu, although they do a few items as standard or on a rotation...so you sorta have to say something upfront for allergies and stuff you don't like. I wouldn't feel bad, it's a 2-star place and paying on the top end.

        I had beef as part of the tasting menu. Aged NY strip with potatoes roasted in hay. It was good. Also had soft egg with sour cherry vinegar + maple. No harm in saying instead of red meat you'd love an egg unless it's already on there.

        4 Replies
        1. re: ML8000

          Manresa's menu is structured so there is no red meat until the last savory, which typically does have red meat. The meat is usually two or three small slices on the side of a plate. For the full tasting menu you've already had an Arpege egg. "substituting" at that point means nothing - it's the structure of the meal.

          I think you should tell them, simply because Manresa does take pride in lots of new dishes and custom work. I don't know the effect it'll have on your menu, but that's part of the fun when you sit down to a 4 hour experience with no menu.

          Manresa Restaurant
          320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

          1. re: bbulkow

            I was at Manresa recently, and after asking why we hadn't been served the famous Arpege egg which I enjoyed on the last trip and which the chef has become known for, our main server said "We quit doing that at the beginning of the year." I asked why I had seen it going out to other tables and the response was that they requested it when they reserved the table. The server also asked me if I had looked at the menu (?!), and I pointed out that the "seasonal and spontaneous" tasting menu is just a list of ingredients (including farm eggs), not dishes. The server went back to ask the kitchen if they could make me one and they did. However, our server brought up again at the end of the meal that if I wanted the egg again on a future visit, I needed to request it when I reserved. I didn't really appreciate feeling lectured after a meal that cost several hundred dollars and wasn't nearly as good as my previous visit (which was a top 5 meal of all time). So...definitely request the egg in advance if you want it.

            Manresa Restaurant
            320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

            1. re: rlm

              Interesting! I thought I had one of the eggs this year. I also don't like being lectured, but I also appreciate that when you go in for the tasting menu, you get what the chef wants. That's the whole point of the chef's menu.

              1. re: bbulkow

                Does not sound like a lecture but a way of getting easy satisfaction in the future without putting extra pressure on the kitchen, but then I wasn't there to hear the tone of voice.

                Have either of you worked in starred kitchens putting out long complicated tasting menus?

        2. There's an element of surrender in ordering a tasting menu. One gives oneself up to the kitchen's choices, take what comes. If you're that concerned about what will be brought to the table, perhaps you should forego the tasting menu, and order from the regular menu.

          Having said that, I certainly think that if you have allergies, dietary restrictions, or preferences/aversions that are deal breakers, there's nothing wrong with alerting the restaurant--in advance of your visit.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Rapini

            Yes, Rapini, I understand how tasting menus work, having ordered them for years (Per Se, Babbo, Quince, Masa’s, Redd, Fleur de Lys, etc.). My advice was for the OP since most everyone assumes they will get the Arpege egg, as Chef Kinch has been known for it and so many articles and reviews mention it. Bbulkow posted in this thread: “For the full tasting menu you've already had an Arpege egg,” and I wanted to share what I had been told by the restaurant.

            Further, if you are saving up money, buying a plane ticket, and going to a destination restaurant, I don’t think it’s too outlandish to expect you’ll get a marquee item (nor should you be made to feel bad if you simply inquire about it). It would be like going to the French Laundry and seeing salmon cones going out to every table except yours and then being told “We quit doing those at the beginning of the year.” Well, no, clearly you didn’t quit doing them. Moreover, once you have communicated the information, you don’t need to bring it up again or it will come across like a lecture.

            Meals of the sort you are served at Manresa are out of reach for many Americans and still quite an outlay of cash and time even if you are in more fortunate circumstances. I can understand a chef not wanting to be painted into a corner, but if he’s tired of making the egg or they’re too time-intensive given the other things he wants to do then quit offering them to anyone so other diners aren’t sitting there with anticipation only to be disappointed. Or clearly list on your website and OpenTable page and have your reservations personnel communicate that the chef’s most well-known item should be requested in advance. Not everyone is a local in-the-know, and not everyone has the opportunity to eat meals like this often.

            Even though I was over-all quite disappointed with the experience compared to my first trip, some highlights I will mention are the lovely salt caramels and cookies we were given at the end of the meal, the excellent house-made breads, the fact that they now have a small lounge with well-made cocktails, and the presence of a cheese cart.

            Manresa Restaurant
            320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

            The French Laundry
            6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

            Masa's Restaurant
            648 Bush Street, San Francisco, CA 94108

          2. I called Manresa to confirm my allergy alert and let them know that I wasn't a huge fan of red meat, prefer fish or vegetarian, but will eat it if the chef feels it is an important part of the menu. I figured if I were a chef I would probably want to know assuming the patron was fairly open about what else to put in its place. ACtually, looking at others' experience I think my husband that doesn't eat anything that swims or otherwise water dwelling will have the most different menu.

            Manresa Restaurant
            320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

            1. We went last night and overall it was a nice experience but I didn't feel it was at the same level as TFL or Meadowood.

              I thought it was funny because instead of beef they served me suckling pig. I would think that would be red meat, but that is fine. Unfortunately I had the same reaction to that dish as I have to most red meat dishes - meh.

              The amuse buche was of course the red pepper gelee with an olive madeleine. I couldn't have the madeleine and they did make any effort to sub in for the gluten allergy like TFL. The gelee was very good. The second amuse was a coriander ice with a acidic broth - but I didn't catch what it was. I enjoyed it. My only criticism is that both the amuse were a very sweet/savory combination. I love that combo, but I think my dining companions preferred more variety. The third amuse was served without an intro, so I can only speculate - it tasted like a curry custard with pine nuts and citrus foam. Very nice. Finally we requested the eff that was divine.

              First course was a spot prawn with aioli and roasted tomato. This was underseasoned, except the aioli which overpowered the spot prawn. Not a great implementation.

              Second course was the tidal pool, but I couldn't have it (so sad - it looked good). I got a vegetable soup with a mustard cream and late summer vegetable puree. My husband loved this. I liked it, but didn't feel it was great - and was pretty heavy. I didn't finish mine.

              Next was into the vegetable garden. Now I love vegetables. I eat a lot of them. My first couple ofbites I was not sure this was all it was cracked up to be. But as I ate I really got into it. It was fun, and exciting to taste all of the flavors. My husband didn't get as into it, but liked it.

              Third course was a slow poached halibut in a basil sauce. Nicely done. Again, fairly standard overall flavors, but nicely executed.

              Next course was the best savory besides the egg - a quail with pickled plum. The plum was perfectly bracing and balanced the quail, served with a onion sauce and lobster emulsion.

              The meat course was beef for most, pork for me, with crispy potatoes and I can't recall the veggies. The potatoes were too oily for most of the table, but apparently the beef was very good.

              The pre-dessert was the best dish of the evening. A goat creameaux, with huckleberries and citrus. Very nice texture, flavor balance.

              Dessert was a let down. It was an average chocolate mousse with passionfruit granite, passionfruit sorbet and others had coffee crumble and chocolate cake. While chocolate and passionfruit is a favorite combo of mine, but I just expect more creativity and finesse from a restaurant of this caliber.

              The final treat was a berry pate fruit with chocolate madeleine. I wasn't as in love with this pate fruit, but it was good.

              They sent us home with cookies, but couldn't have them. Despite having everyone around us have their brithday and anniversary treats, they didn't bring us a birthday treat. My husband said he had called but they seemed to be tired by the end. They did give us salted caramels on the way out. They were too light for my taste, but used a very good butter.

              Service was nice but very very formal and distant. The couple we were with really laughed at the seriousness of the staff and their need to synchronize everything. I loved the room and atmosphere - one of my favorites I have been in.

              I missed having a cheese course, but was plenty full. My dining companions really enjoyed the olive loaf and and brioche. The didn't have gluten free bread unfortunately.

              3 Replies
              1. re: jsaimd

                Pork, the other white meat ;-)

                How did you think it compared to Cyrus, the other 2 Michelin-star place you had in your original post?

                1. re: drewskiSF

                  I liked Cyrus better mainly because I felt I experienced more novel flavors. I think that the technical ability of both is similar, but the service at Cyrus is heads above all other places I have been. Manresa does truly excel at veggies and sides. The sides there don't feel like afterthoughts like both Cyrus and Meadowood. TFL depended on the course. I do believe Manresa deserves it's stars, but I am finding I am getting fatigue with restaurants. I want new spectacular flavors, textures etc. with precision. If I am just going out for a semi-casual meal I enjoy things we can even make at home, but if I am paying for a tasting menu I generally want more. (not that I could do Manresa quality meals at home)

                  Manresa Restaurant
                  320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

                2. re: jsaimd

                  I love vegetables as well and was underwhelmed with “Into the Vegetable Garden.” It’s an interesting idea and I was excited at first to dig in because I’d read that they combine 25+ veggies and herbs, but mine was truthfully rather flavorless and boring. I just didn’t enjoy eating it very much and wanted to finish it mainly so it would be whisked away and replaced with something better. I felt like my mom was standing behind me imploring me to eat my leaves and dirt so I could have part of a lobe of foie. :-) After spending a week in the Bay Area up to that point I had already had so many meals featuring amazing, colorful, peak-of-freshness veggies (at Frances, Chez Panisse, Cotogna, etc.) for far less money (and still have fond, powerful memories of a vegetarian meal at Ubuntu when Jeremy Fox was the chef), so perhaps this was a let-down by comparison. There seemed to be a vibrancy missing in all of the dishes I had compared to my first visit.

                  Besides the interior renovations (which are gorgeous, although I’m not sure if I liked the low lighting better than when the place was bathed in sunlight), the service has changed drastically. It was warm and rather informal on my first visit, which I actually preferred to the calculated and cold choreography they have going now. I don’t mind that they are trying to increase the professionalism of the staff to sync up with the level of food they are turning out, but it was not implemented correctly. The focus seems to be entirely on bringing and removing plates in a highly-choreographed fashion, not attending to the needs of diners (more butter needed, water glasses sitting empty, all the things that can come up during a meal). The servers marching around the dining room with one hand firmly planted into their backs becomes distracting after a while, especially when you are sitting there with a question or a need and your table is being ignored because everyone on the floor is so focused on their culinary conga line. I spent several hours dining at Per Se too and was attended to by a number of different people, but it was more of a ballet than synchronized marching.

                  Ubuntu Restaurant & Yoga Studio
                  1140 Main Street, Napa, CA 94558

                  Chez Panisse
                  1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

                  490 Pacific Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133