Finally I’m there. Manresa is allegedly (according to lists such as OAD top 100 for example) one of America’s top restaurants and one I’ve been particularly fond of trying. The type of cuisine focusing on local and of course seasonal ingredients, and bringing inventive dishes on the table that surprise diners rather than going into stereotypes, had caught my attention for a long time.
My brother and I were greated warmly by the staff and service was friendly and attentionate throughout the evening. I also have to mention the sommelier who gave clever recommendations. The welcoming corkage policy also allowed us to bring our own bottle. Corkage is 75 USD but it is waived with any purchase of wine from the list. A great deal if you had planned to drink 2 bottles of wine in the evening anyway.
What somehow put me in discomfort was the lighting of the restaurant. Overall the room was dark, but small and powerful spotlights were targeting the tables. One directly struck my head, and I had to see my own shadow jiggling and wobbling in front of me during the entire dinner. An atmosphere that doesn’t fit the subtle cuisine of David Kinch in my opinion. Also it is not the first time that I encounter such an odd lighting and I wish that restaurants would put more focus on this.
But of course we were here for the food. So let’s focus on that. The prix-fixe menu (198 USD) is named “The late spring garden” and brings about 14 courses plus petits fours on our table.
The petit fours named red pepper and black olive seem to be a classic at Manresa. At the end of the meal exact lookalike petit fours are served, then with flavors of strawberry and chocolate. The red pepper is a pate de fruits with a nice peppery warmth. Black olive is a madeleine with only the slightest olive taste. What I find interesting is that both are on the sweet side rather than salty. For my own taste rather too sweet for the beginning of a meal.
On the same note, it is quite nice that the Granola crisp has many different types of nuts and seeds encrusted to it, but it is also a nibble on the sweet side.
Green panisse and meyer lemon is transitioning the flavor profile towards more savory. It is a comforting bite with the generous acidic flavor of meyer lemon. Nice one: it seems that the meal is starting here for me.
Spring pea and roe panna cotta is a great starter and exactly the type of dish I would have expected to eat at Manresa. Subtle, balanced, yet with appealing flavor spikes such as the iodic impulse of the roe, the sweet crunch of the pea and the luscious texture of the panna cotta.
Into the garden, green and bitter… This is a signature dish that according to media has been modified recently. I was looking forward to it, as I’ve read much about how it ressembles Michel Bras’ Gargouillou dish. I have to admit that this one leaves a slight question mark. The flavors are too subtle, the portion maybe too small. There might be an excellent selection of greens and herbs on this plate, but my palate can’t discern possible complex interactions of aromas. I never had the actual Gargouillou dish by the way, but a perfect interpretation of such kind of dish is one that I had in Germany’s at Klaus Erfort, see here.
Spiny lobster, green strawberries. Another dish that contains excellent product quality with ultrafresh spiny lobster but with too shy flavor interactions for my palate. The strawberry seems to be integrated in some kind of miso paste. The whole dish reflects purity and boasts pristine product quality, but I don’t really get the fine dining added value in a sense of creativity and compelling flavors.
Warm cured salmon, saffron and potatoe. The piece of salmon has a melting but also kind of slobbery texture. I like the delicate saffron paste which also works well as an addition to the salmon. However, I don’t see the added value of the fried potatoe cubes which are crispy on the outside and ressembling mashed potato in the inside. I think thinner pieces of potatoe which are just crispy would fit better in the composition since the salmon itself already has a very soft texture.
Vegetable and bonito “barigoule”. An excellent dish with very well worked flavors. There’s mouth-filling umami’ish bonito flavor and an elevating dressing which sets the right acidity level for the dish to sing. Texture is added by crunchy vegetable chips. Perfect!
Pain du cod, celery root. As was the saffron cream in the salmon dish, the celery root cream in this one is equally well executed and appears at the same time intense and pure. The piece of “pain” is some kind of egg-cake with intense cheese flavor. The slices of morel are impressive in size but are lacking flavor. The composition more or less works flavor-wise (although I don’t get the added value of a morel if it doesn’t dominate in flavor) but doesn’t show a further dimension, for example in the sense of texture.
Abalone porridge, black vinegar. This is a nice dish with comforting richness and a great play on textures with crunchy puffed rice on top of the porridge. The bits of abalone contained in the porridge are perfectly cooked as well. A dish with great contrasts and flavors.
Lamb, foie gras and porcini tartine. The piece of lamb couldn’t be cooked better but it has a slight “lamby” taste that not everyone likes. I enjoyed the dish which paired well with a bottle of Oregon Pinot by Penner-Ash we brought a week earlier at the estate.
Beef bowl. sprouted grains, ramps. The consommé of beef has appears very pure with great meat flavor. The sprouted grains add a wheat-like flavor and some crunch. Nice and interesting.
Pernod, rhubarb, fennel frond sorbet. This is an outstanding one. A world class palate-cleanser which combines flavors in an unexpected way. Rhubarb with fennel, who would have thought this could work so well? The fresh herbal flavors seem to find a perfect counterpart with the tart and acidic aspect of the fruit. Also texture-wise this is sensational with a smooth sorbet, a crunchy, coarse granité and a little foam to round it all up. Simply World-class!
White sesame, strawberry and burnt honey. Also a nice and very well executed dessert.
Mint chocolate sable with goats milk. Mint and chocolate. You can’t go wrong with this classic combo.
The meal ends with a couple of macarons and other sweets.
Manresa is definitely a place where a particular kind of high-end cooking is celebrated. One putting the product in the center and with compositions that are highly depending on what ingredients are available in the season. But how is the gastronomic experience alltogether?
I have to admit that for me the meal wasn’t all oooh’s and aaah’s. Product quality is one thing but then I also need to dive into a world of creativity where the compositions on the plate, the harmonies and contrasts amaze and excite me. That wasn’t true for all dishes. Quite a couple appeared to shy in flavoring and contrasts to me. Maybe it was my mood that day, who knows? But I guess it’s just my personal taste and tastes are of course different.
My personal rating of the restaurants would be something like 3 stars for product quality and execution of cooking and 1 star for creativity, combinations of flavors and the whole storyline of the meal.
320 Village Ln
Los Gatos, CA 95030
Phone: +1 408-354-4330
Wed-Sat: 5:30-9 PM
Sun: 5:30-8:30 PM
A great gift: At the end of the meal each diner was being handed a loaf of Manresa’s sour dough bread.