Manresa [trip report]
This was our big meal on our two week Californian/San Francisco trip: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/845455
The week before I had received a note from Steve Plotnicki sharing that Manresa had pipped the French Laundry to the number one spot in the US on the OAD survey. I worried it wouldn’t live up to the hype but it was very, very good, a truly great meal. Two menu choices, with a set degustation or a menu surprise, we opted for the latter with wine. We ate:
1. Petit fours “red pepper-black olive” – looks can be deceiving, it is isn’t a visually inspiring way to kick of the surprise degustation but the red pepper jelly is very fine with a lovely flavour complemented by the olive madeleine.
2. Garden Beignets, vinegar powder, aged goats cheese – a beignet to rule all beignets, great texture and flavours.
3. Local milk panna cotta with abalone – I always worry about Abalone as I rarely have it cooked well (and I live in Asia), but no fear here great flavours and impeccable textures, a smooth pannacotta, topped with a jelly studded with abalone and some wafter thin slices of radish. A heavenly dish.
4. Pease and rice, aromatic herb curd and savoury granola – the strength of the farm garden comes through in the next dish with wonderfully fresh ingredients, the rice adding a little textural foil to the fresh peas.
5. Scallops with buckwheat-nettle dumplings, nasturtium and asparagus gazpacho – intense vegetable flavours to balance the seafood. Gorgeous.
6. Toasted bread and onion soup, egg and parmigiano – not a soup really but a thick unctuous sauce that the egg breaks into, offset by the salty/nutty cheese.
7. Clams with romanesco and beans, chamomile, wild onion blossoms – the little flowers really bring life to this dish, quite reminiscent of Mugaritz in Spain
8. Sea bream, sesame, almond and garlic, ramps – Ramps are new to us, but they add a loverly bitter contras to the sweet fish, which is then lifted by the almond.
9. Suckling kid goat with curds and whey – it is nice but I always feel meat needs heft to work, the small taste on the plate is much like a tease. A good dish but I wish there was more (not that we left hungry).
10. Duck, slowly roasted in hay and salt crust, chanterelles – I poisoned my wife with some Magret in Paris and she will not eat duck. Well she didn’t until now, a good dish.
11. Garden tisane – the only misstep. Maybe the cheese course threw them, but it jarred with the order and the wines.
12. Cheese –I loved the cheese boards mechanism so had to add the extra course, it was good well kept cheese.
13. Buttermilk sorbet and winter herb jus – this looks just like an earlier savoury dish, David plays with the presentation and produces a really refreshing first dessert.
14. Oatmeal cake and brown butter ice-cream with celeriac sabayon – divine, no more to say.
15. Petit fours “strawberry-chocolate” – another visual trick, a return to the start with a chocolate madeleine and strawberry jelly.
16. Freshly baked pistachio cookies and lollies – both lovely, the cookies buttery with melt in the mouth texture.
Total cost is $175 plus $98 for wine each and $25 for the cheese so far from inexpensive but that said it was wonderful food and we didn’t begrudge paying the price. The wine selections are also good and they are generous with the pouring’s which is a nice touch, all too often I have meals ruined by slow pours or a volume that doesn’t match the pace of the meal. No such problems here. The only slight criticism is that the service is too formal, the staff are clearly schooled in a French style of service but that makes them a bit stiff and less natural.
A great meal that easily makes it on to our list of the best meals we have had. If this an example of a top US restaurant then I can’t wait to try others. You are so lucky to have places of this quality.
It is a very good write up and I found myself nodding along to many of the comments, especially the relative weakness of the meat dishes compared to the preceding vegetable/fish dishes. Still good but it is good to imagine what David could do with French meat.
I disagree with the wine comment though, I thought the selection and matching worked well and complemented the food. I didn't write down the names (i don't take notes) but there were some quite interesting picks that intrigued.
Porthos - the Michelin reason for the service may be true. Odd because the best Michelins I have eaten in usually have quite relaxed service which allows the personality of the servers to shine through. Here there was a stiffness and formality which is lacking in European top restaurants. If you compare three stars in Spain and France I would argue the service style reflects the natural personality of the country. Given the great (not OTT) service we received at other good Californian restaurants it may be better for them to let there personalities shine through.
Thanks for the report. Hopefully there will be another trip...but it is out of the way. I remember when I went I thought it was as every bit good as TFL but afterwards realized Manresa was better. TFL has better service, a finer touch and a longer record but the creative side of Manresa trumps TFL.
Excellent write up! My last visit was just over a year ago and the menu you had looks completely different in every way (except for the petit fours book ends of course). It's also worth noting the constant change at Manresa vs the more static menu at TFL. I agree, service has become more formal and stiff vs 5 years ago. I preferred it more casual but I suspect it was them going for star #3.
ML8000, I distinctly remember our discussion and then your "flip" to the Manresa>TFL camp back in 2008!
Porthos, I remember that discussion and I didn't believe you that Manresa was better...but it was. The out of left field element plus execution was just too much. I still remember that meal. I too enjoy the more casual approach vs. the stiff and formal but agree, the ramp up must be aimed at a third star.
Glad you liked Manresa. It doesn't get as much "love" as other places due to its location, but it is definitely as worthy as any restaurant in the greater bay area. The one time I went there, my palate and the chef's palate did not mesh as well as I would like (I'm sensitive to bitter, and I felt many of the dishes seemed to emphasize this taste.)
Based on your review, I may want to give it another try.