David Kinch and the staff at Manresa were recently awarded a third Michelin star as of October 2015. So, of course I had use the hubbie’s November birthday as an excuse to visit this well-known Los Gatos joint. What I’ve always known about Manresa (as through the cookbook and interviews with David Kinch) is that there is a high respect for each and every ingredient on the plate. It’s not so much cooking as presenting, and that really comes out on each dish. And the stars of the dish are most certainly the ‘garden’ items – all grown at Love Apple Farm for the exclusive use of Manresa. It’s a really beautiful collaboration and the results are felt into the dining room. Now to it…
We started off at the bar while waiting for our table, sipping on a delicious pear sour cocktail and a really fantastic (and very exclusive) saison, a result of a collab between Sante Adairius Rustic Ales in Capitola and Chef Kinch. “Mercy Mercy” as its called, is amazing. And since we were bummed we wouldn’t be able to find this at any retailer, we drank one after another.
The meal began with some really special savory petit fours – red pepper pâte de fruit and black olive madeleines. Great flavor in both – the pâte de fruit was sweet and still very peppery, an unexpected though not unpleasant pairing. And the buttery madeleine was delicious – the right level of brine and tang. These nibbles were also presented with a granola crisp – complete with puffed rice, pepita seeds, cashews (I think) and a number of other seeds I can’t remember.
And lastly for the appetizers was a decadent take on the tortilla espanola – twice-fried (in duck fat!) potato and the egg portion of the tortilla was cleverly disguised as the “lemon zest” garnish on top. How incredible! Little bites of heaven – I probably could have had 5 of these morsels.
Our first savory dish was sashimi style sea bream with citrus jelly and sesame. It tasted like the ocean – from the texture to the flavor. Like it was plucked right out of the sea. Not unpleasant, but definitely unexpected.
The signature “into the garden” dish featured a hodgepodge of seasonal greens – there is a dehydrated potato/parsnip/nut concoction to represent dirt. There are raw nasturtium flowers and micro green branches. And under it all there’s a bit of a puree. Lots of earthy tones in this variant of the dish. I also love that it’s presented on a plate of hands – just as though someone had just gone out to the garden and gathered a handful of dirt and greens. So creative!
This next dish was probably my favorite – charcoal grilled squid, sliced to resemble udon noddles, floating in a light dashi-like broth. What’s surprising is the squid ink jelly, which was really rich, and the sweet persimmon buried under the “noodles”. It was made this dish unique – and who knew persimmon would pair so well with this udon-style dish. I slurped it all up, until the bowl was dry.
The seared bay scallop dish was also really tasty – just a very light and bright broth of coconut and finger lime.
In this next dish, under all that black truffle is a piece of black cod, a handful of chantarelles, a meaty piece of lobster mushroom, and a lightly foamy sunchoke soubise to wet it all. All this was highlighted by really fragrant chives and what I believe is a special succulent grown in the Love Apple garden.
The abalone and sea urchin dish was delicious – reminded me of a bouillabaisse or Mediterranean seafood stew with the saffron broth and chickpeas. Really tasty.
This next dish was the only terrestrial protein of the night – a juicy aged rib eye served 3 ways: essentially the eye, the ribeye cap, and the fat cap. David’s only complaint about the ribeye was that it lacked smoke… this being a steak after all. But I thought it was technically perfect and served with 5 vegetables, each prepared very differently, with the intent (I think), of providing a very purist enjoyment of the steak. The steak had such great beef flavor and scent. Goodness. If only it had just a hint of smoke, it would have been a Form (in the Plato sense), or that most transcendentally perfect ribeye.
The last savory dish was a great “tamago” or a Japanese omelet – except that being Manresa, there’s a spin. The egg itself is soft and custardy, topped with a crisp fried brioche toast, all sitting in a bit of truffle oil. Really decadent.
We added the optional cheese course, and I unfortunately can’t remember all the types and names, not being a cheese connoisseur. But there’s the very mild camembert at the far right, and followed by some kind of Wisconsin half cow, half sheep’s milk cheese. There’s a goat cheese with the ash grey rind, and lastly some kind of blue. All cheeses were domestic, but I will note that not a single one of them were from California. These were paired with some honeycomb (amazing by the way), and homemade lavashes – plain, rye and honey.
Dessert is always my favorite part, starting off with this lovely citrus tapioca over a layer of yogurt, which had this this creamy texture, reminiscent of pana cotta. It was paired with a fried mochi ball, filled with yuzu curd. This is a really interesting and exciting take on a Vietnamese/Chinese sesame seed mochi ball that’s usually filled with mung or red bean, and found at your local dimsum place. All the yuzu flavors really tied both components of this dessert dish together.
This was followed by David’s birthday cake – a lovely hazelnut mousse cake. Fluffy and decadent and worth every calorie.
The next dessert was presented in unison, so we each had a different dish. We started with the squash cake and crescenza and cream cheese frosting, topped with a vinegar reduction and a pepita ice cream and pepita crumble that we really enjoyed.
The second half of this dessert presentation was a creamy, snowy pile of sorbet over a milk chocolate wafer, then topped with the black walnut cracker you see on top there. Really great and classic flavor combination here, that was livened by the little balls of pickled pear, which added a surprising contrast to the sweet dessert.
And we end just as we began – a set of sweet petit fours, this time with a strawberry pâte de fruit and chocolate madeleines, followed by a selection of macarons (chamomile and honey; coconut; chocolate banana), and some truffles. To take home, we had this delicious pumpkin granola and handmade salted caramel candies.
All in all, this was a fantastic meal. The food alone warrants the 3 Michelin stars, but as this was not our first Michelin rodeo – we found some areas for improvement. Firstly, once you hit a certain price point, impeccable service is expected. There is a certain fluidity and experience that is warranted, and to a certain extent, we were underwhelmed in this area. We repeatedly had to ask for another glass of wine or beer. The way in which the cutlery was placed on the table wasn’t quite as synchronized or harmonious as you would expect. The woman who brushed the crumbs off the table often missed, and worse – brushed them right into my lap. So, negative points for service. I also found some parchment paper stuck to a few of the bread rolls… I took a picture of it here. Additionally, we noticed a handful of flies hovering over our table and along the wall behind us. For this price point and star rating, I think it’s rather unacceptable. I also thought it was a bad choice by not featuring any California cheeses on the cheese cart. I will also note that there were very limited California wine options (if any at all, I don’t seem to recall). As a restaurant that bills itself as a farm-to-table restaurant, as a restaurant that believes in sustainable agricultural practices, as a prominent California establishment, I did wonder if perhaps it was an oversight that it chose to neglect California products? All of its produce come from its California garden, but why not the wines and cheeses? If I remember correctly, even the ribeye was from out of state. No negative points there, but it did make me pause and wonder, as I think the cow farms in Point Reyes are fantastic. Anyway, all these little annoyances don’t really amount to much, as I thought the food and drink were stellar and that its very high on our list of ‘best meals ever’. However, these little details need to be ironed out, I think, if Manresa wants to hold onto its newly earned star.
Hoped you enjoy this culinary journey, adventure awaits! See you at the next joint we try.