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Jun 25, 2012 06:12 PM

The Three Best Things I Ate at Manresa [Los Gatos]

We went for the chef's tasting menu at Manresa on Saturday, and it was a lovely experience. It's hard to pick favorites, but I will anyhow.

(1) The Butter
The best butter I have ever eaten in my life. A shocking sunflower orange-yellow color, sliced into wedges and placed in the center of the table on a glass plate. And then we asked for seconds. And thirds. With more wine under my belt, I would have asked for a fourth and stashed it in my purse. The flavor was just magnificent--full yet clean, with an intensely buttery flavor. In comparison, the usual sticks will seem as appealing as Crisco. I thought they said the milk was from Normandy, but I gathered later that I misheard--it's cows from Normandy, living in California, their unpasteurized cream makes Manresa butter.

(2) French Bread
Three bread choices on Saturday: olive roll, wheat slice, white slice (the server called it "french bread"; I think it was levain). All were good, but the white slice was on par with the best breads I've had in the Bay, or ever. The chew of the crumb was perfect, lively and elastic, while the crust had the perfect crunch, just yielding enough. Super flavorful crumb--"dynamic" is the word I think of when I eat bread this good; it's as if a thousand cogs are turning in the correct directions to make the crust, crumb and levain harmonize.

(3) "Into the Tidepool"
My two favorite dishes were early in the menu—the first salad course along with “Into the Tidepool,” which reminded me of taking a mouthful of water while learning to swim in the ocean. Bits of abalone and mushroom, brine, a little seaweed, and delicate yet rich broth I could eat forever.

Overall, the best courses focused on vegetables, with a light touch that favors summer produce. The repeated tastes were brine, pistachio and liquorice, which seems heavy when I think about it now, but wasn't at all.

Disappointments: the dessert courses didn't live up to the expectations set by visits to Coi and Crenn, which at their best meld wild inventiveness with luxurious flavor. The two dessert plates played it too safe--one was a raspberry theme, and the other I can't even remember. The “classic cocktail” menu was also too safe (e.g. Aviation, Corpse Reviver) but the house cocktail section was fabulous. I liked the “Shizuka”: Hendricks, Tonic, Green Chartreuse with Love Apple Farm Cucumber, Apple and Shiso.

Service was effortless and elegant, more formal than Coi, and better than Crenn (which has sometimes felt inexperienced to me). Each server held a hand behind his or her back while walking the room; the coordinated delivery of each course probably looks like synchronized swimming if viewed from above.

I noticed the dishware--I've seen a trend toward "upscale organic" both in terms of color and shape--lots of warm stone and earth tones, uneven shapes. The dishes at Manresa were whimsical and lovely, and a bit more formal; lots more glass, gold and crystal. Rich and eccentric grandma feel. One course was delivered on a clear cerulean plate with gold filigree.

We didn’t receive a copy of the menu after the meal was complete, which I guess makes sense considering that each table receives a different set of dishes, but makes it a little hard to pick out what we ate (or even how many courses!).

Pictures below of "into the tidepool," first salad course and the cocktail.

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  1. Thanks for the writing! Since you've been to Coi and Crenn, how would you compare them, "overall"? A favorite of the three?

    1. +1 Thanks for the report.

      The things I remember were: tidepool, molten foie gras cube and pine needle ice the top of my head after 4 years. I don't remember the desserts at all because by course 13 or whatever it was, was already on overload.

      1 Reply
      1. re: ML8000

        Thanks to both of you!

        I would put Coi, Crenn and Manresa all in the range of the extraordinary. In terms of fine dining experiences in the Bay, Cyrus is my favorite for bringing my somewhat conservative family. Crenn is the most forward thinking, and willing to swing hard at the ball, even when the bat occasionally comes flying from her hands. Coi was refined, elegant, almost meditative. They have different strengths, but I'd love to go back to any, if I had to choice (and, uh, money).

        I ate in the last year at Benu and Sons & Daughters as well, and didn't think the same of either of those.

      2. Awesome review! Manresa is my #1 right now and I can't wait until I can go again. My favorite dishes were the tidepool and into the garden.

        Do you remember if your Shizuka had aloe in it? When I had it, it was exactly as you described but with aloe instead of apple and I didn't love it as much as I thought I would from the description. Apple instead of aloe sounds perfect. I have the recipe somewhere, so I might try making it with that change.

        And, for next time, they don't give out menus automatically to everyone, but if you ask for a one (early, preferably when you sit down or are ordering) they'll make one for you.

        2 Replies
        1. re: bluex

          No, it was aloe, you are right! I was in a produce reverie, thinking of Love Apple farm (where Manresa raises their produce) and mistyped.

          Great tip on the printed menu--thank you for that!

          1. re: pane

            Ah, well, I might still try it with apple. The aloe didn't work for me, although I still enjoyed the drink.

            You're welcome!