When deciding where to eat for our anniversary, I was torn between Coi, Gary Danko or Manresa. I ended up picking Manresa because:
1)I Chef David Kinch beat (more like clobbered) Bobby Flay in Iron Chef America in Battle Cabbage. No, I cannot explain my dislike for Chef Flay. I just do not like him.
2) How can I not try the food of the man who just got awarded the Best Chef in America for the Pacific Region (2010) by the James Beard Foundation.
3) Manresa has been awarded 2 Michelin stars for 5 consecutive years (including 2011).
4) Watching David Kinch on Avec Eric got me curious. I mean, how good can vegetables get?
5) Finally, what the website described:
“Manresa is the showcase for the inventive cuisine of Executive Chef David Kinch. Influenced by French and modern Catalan cooking, Chef Kinch finds inspiration from European traditions and refinement, American ingenuity and the vast bounty that California has to offer. Manresa’s biodynamic vegetables are grown exclusively for Manresa at Cynthia Sandberg’s Love Apple Farm in the nearby Santa Cruz Mountains and harvested in the morning for the evening menu”
So here goes:
The night started off on a great note : The maitre d’ Michael Kean was approachable, friendly and definitely made us comfortable the moment we arrive. We got there early so we told them our name then headed outside to look around and he came out asking if we wanted a picture of us and the Manresa Sign.
While waiting to be seated, I noticed a window to the kitchen and was happy to be able to watch the chefs at work. Michael noticed that and mentioned that I could take a look in the kitchen later and take some pictures (but no flash). I smiled ear to ear.
We got seated and was greated by Walter, our server. The wine “book” was intimidating with over 40 pages, so I just asked him to recommend a glass of white wine. It was some Austrian wine, I did not catch the name but it was decent.
Menu options $95 for four courses (also includes 2 amuse, intermezzo and a petit four). The great thing about their 4 course menu is that, there are no restrictions. You would opt for all of either meat/fish/vegetables/dessert or follow the suggestions. It is just arranged in sections as they would “suggest” you have.
We opted for the 4 course because I like choosing what I eat, and picked no dessert since I usually just want a couple bites of something sweet (that is what Meep is for).
The other option is tasting menu for $170. (4 amuse, 7 savoury dishes, 3 desserts) – estimated to take about 4 hours or so. There is no menu, so you are leaving it all in the hands of the chef. Everyone on the table has to order the tasting if one decides to.
Parmesan churros & crispy kale
What a perfect way to start – I thought it was playful and had such good flavour, it got me excited for what is to come.
Amuse 2: L’ Aperge egg
Soft egg yolk sprinkled with chives, topped with creme fraiche, sherry vinegar, fleur de sel and maple syrup.
Being a signature amuse, this definitely set the pace of the rest of the meal. The yolk was so creamy and delicious. Meep mentioned that he was reminded of Lay’s sour cream and onion chips. I laughed at the description but he was right. The chives and vinegar left that aftertaste. I could have a few more of these!
Bread – 4 different types
Pictured olive & brioche served with Pim’s butter, a butter from a blend of Daisy Cow and Geselle Cow from Watsonville.
OMG! I could not stop eating the brioche. It was kind of like a bread-y, cake-y croissant, buttery and soft. Best part? They are made in house and served warm. I do not appreciate restaurants that serve cold bread. I ate 3 of these and the guy with the bread basket kept coming back (behind Meep) smiling at me and gesturing to the basket – I had to refuse because I did not want to fill up on bread.
1 course (a): Into the vegetable garden… their natural juices
Stars with a layer of puree then cooked then raw vegetables and finally flowers topped with a foam made of vegetable juices and edible dirt (dehydrated potatoes and etc)
I am not a vegetable fan. I usually avoid salads like the plague but this dish got me curious. After watching Eric Ripert eat it in an episode of Avec Eric, I was intrigued. Described as a dish that could have up to 60 individual ingredient, prepared in such a delicate manner that will showcase the “vegetable garden”.
Meep and I could not figure out what the edible dirt actually tasted like. All in all, I was impressed by how much I enjoyed both the raw and cooked components.
1st course (b): Sea bream
sashimi style, with olive oil and chives
The fish was definitely of great quality. It literally melted in my mouth. Meep loved this dish but I, on the other hand, found it a little over-salted. I guess, something like how “seasoned” a dish is is subjective. Because Meep thought the salt level was fine.
2nd course (a): Sea bream
in salsify and seaweed porridge, black trumpet mushrooms with oyster
The hidden cod was cooked perfectly. It was slightly rare in the very middle so the piece as whole was very delicate. I found all the different textures in the dish quite interesting. The “porridge” was again on the “salty” side (just to me and not Meep, again). But every bite was definitely tasty.
2nd course (b): Monterey bay abalone
and braised pig trotters, avocado mousseline (supplement of ten dollars)
I was quite impressed by the size of the abalone. I was expected little slivers but it was quite a good size. Meep thought the braised pig trotter and the abalone were quite mis matched. I felt that it worked well when you make the perfect bite of abalone/meat/mousseline.
3rd course (a): Butterfish
roasted slowly with ivory chanterelles, yuzu sabayon and baby leeks
Again, the fish is served a little rate in the middle. I was on the fench about this dish. Meep didn’t enjoy it at all. I liked everything except the yuzu sabayon, I felt it was overwhelming. My favourite parts were the leeks and mushroom (gasps).
3rd course (b): Breast of duck
and leg confit, hazelnut praline and celtuce, dates with wild fennel
I was a little worried when I saw dates on the plate. I am not a date person, so I just tasted everything but the dates up till Meep took a bite of the date with the duck and told me that it really works. Warily, I opened my mouth while he fed me the perfect bite (so he says). And it did work!
I enjoyed the duck breasts a lot more than the confit but Meep liked the confit more.
4th course (a): Springlamb and tongue confit
nasturtium leaf pesto, tomato-marjoram jam and pine nut
This dish was surprising to me. I like lamb because it has a certain gaminess to it that beef doesn’t (which is the reason some individuals don’t like lamb). This lamb just melted in the mouth, and did not have the gaminess at all. It was surprisingly “light” so I was unsure about how I felt about the dish.
The tongue on the other hand was a distinct piece of heaven. Oh and it was with this dish that I decided, I don’t mind beets at all~
Meyer lemon sorbet and some almond creamy something. I didn’t catch the whole description. Perfect palate cleanser.
4th course (b): Bittersweet chocolate ganache
olive oil ice cream with homemade sea salt, toasted country bread and olive oil pate de fruit
Loved it. Not much to write about but it was perfectly bitter (for Meep) and the olive oil ice cream was pretty darn tasty.
Our server forgot to ask if we wanted coffee with our desserts and when I did order the coffee. He mentioned to Meep that the french press coffee yields two cups so does he want the other? Isn’t that nice?
We ended our meal w a nice cup of french press coffee and a slice of complementary flourless cake.
Who knew something “free” would taste so good. I liked it more than the dessert, it had a cake-y exterior and almost like a ganache in the middle.
Icing on the cake: We spotted David Kinch in the dining room~ He was working on something by the time we were done dinner so we didn’t meet him but we saw their kitchen (really tiny kitchen) and the Chef De Cuisine – John Paul Carmona, preparing dishes for the rest of the diners.
As you leave the restaurant, you are given soft chewy caramels. Meep took one and the gentleman told him to take more.
Total damage : $280 (w tax & tip, 1 glass of wine and 1 supplement. We were not charged for the coffee which would be $9 each)
Personal rating: 4.5 out of 5 (Great!)
We felt that everything was delicious but nothing blew our socks off. Food was consistent throughout the whole meal, nothing was disappointing. I was definitely impressed by how delicate and light everything was (even the meat courses). If you are looking for luxurious, heavy butter-ed, foie gras filled french meal this is not it.
Service was great eventhough our server was really busy, the rest of the staff made everything pleasant. They were always there and not intrusive at all. Everytime we are out our forks down after a dish, seconds later our plates were cleared. I enjoyed the more laid back yet very professional service.
Mind you, it is a little slow, I don’t know if it is just busier than usual or that is the pace of the kitchen. It took us over 3 hours to finish the 4 course menu but it was a good 3 hours.
And finally, definite worth every penny. I found the prices to be very reasonable and you get great value for what you pay. We didn’t do the tasting since we share everything (and I like to pick and choose what I am going to eat), we got to try 2 amuse, 7 savoury dishes, 2 desserts. Our very own tasting menu put together, only 2 missing 2 amuse and 2 desserts.