Monday, April 27, 2009

Manresa, Los Gatos, California

I'm a lazy blogger by nature. I lack discipline, and hence get around to writing about 5% of the food I eat. My laziness will bite me on the bum at times, and I realise that I haven't captured my thoughts about some sensational meal or other.

My 2006 trip to California is one of those trips I was really lazy about. My laziness is somewhat specific. I don't think anything of flying 9000km to eat dinner, I just rarely get around to writing about it. But in May 2006, I organised a trip around two meals at Manresa, in Los Gatos. One night a dinner for eight with some foodie friends from an online discussion forum, with poulet demi-deuil (chicken in half mourning, with truffles stuffed under the skin) as the centre-piece, and then a solo tasting menu the following night, just for me.

The trip, and meals, were sensational, marred only by the fact that my wardrobe smelled of cheese for the entire trip, as I'd smuggled two truckles of unpasturised Montgomery Cheddar into the country for some friends.

Manresa has gone from strength to strength since my last visits and I was excited to see what Chef Kinch was doing now. What would Two Michelin stars, a recent James Beard nomination for Best Chef: Pacific, and a mauling of Bobby Flay on Iron Chef have done to one of my favourite restaurants? Most excitingly, a partnership with Love Apple Farm means that diners get to eat the most amazing seasonal, mainly bio-dynamic vegetables.

The restaurant is tucked away in a little street in Los Gatos, and I was having massive shivers of excitement as we sat down to our glasses of champagne. Of course we were letting David cook for us, and we quickly decided to have both the premium wine tasting and the standard one. For comparative purposes. I will admit to some significant wine envy at Chris' "premium" pours, but it was great to contrast both selections. And the sommelier was kind enough to bring me a larger pour of one or two of the wines I especially loved.

The food was...unique and delicious and I lack the writing skills and superlatives to really do it all justice. We left, giddy and swinging jars of Pim's marmalade, which is available from the restaurant if the online shop has sold out.

Highlights for me? The parmesan churros (pictured), a signature dish, which seemed more refined than on my previous trip. The deep fried kale contrasted with the cheesy richness, and if you think there's anything more delicious than a deep-fried cheese flavoured doughnut, you'd better get along to Manresa. Because this is a meal that starts with amazing little nibbles like this, and the famous Arpege egg, and the olive madelines, and just keeps raising your taste buds a notch higher, a notch further into ecstasy, as the meal progresses.

Everything is finely balanced, beautiful and whacks a massive punch. I've had too many three star meals that are all about pretty refinement, and what differentiates Manresa is the all-out deliciousness of it all. One dish still stands out for me. Called "Tidal Pool", it takes abalone, sea urchin and slivers of foie gras, served in a dashi broth. Perfect balance, perfect broth and the foie/seafood mix was an inspired pairing.

Vegetables play a huge role in the Manresa experience, nowhere more so than a dish entitled "Into the Garden", a composed warm salad that Kinch wants to be "as if we had held a mirror up to the garden and it showed an edible reflection." The plate is beautiful, with shoots and flowers and a perfect piece of potato, with a "dirt" made of roasted chicory root and dried potato. Follow the hyperlink to read Chef Kinch on the evolution of the dish.

It's not all about the veggies though. Our centre-piece was lamb, served with ramps, that they kindly showed us before it was portioned out. To be honest, they could have just left it on the table, whole, and Chris and I would have happily carved. I am a huge fan of lamb and this was perfect, even though the proteins are slightly overshadowed by the vegetables at Manresa. We're still trying to work out how they kept it so rare while we ate the intervening courses (which included a sensational roast kid goat dish, with curds and whey), and did wonder if we'd been shown a stunt lamb. Or perhaps a lamb leg body double? If it was good enough for Julia Roberts on the Pretty Woman poster, it's good enough for me though...

Any wrong notes? Bananas for desert, which as we all know, need to be banished from our plates, but otherwise, a perfect meal. I need to make sure it's not three years before I go back. I am prone to hyperbole, but if there is a more enchanting restaurant in America, I want to go there next weekend.

Things went from the sublime to the ridiculous after dinner and we ended up drinking Kamikazes at Black Watch ($8 for a pint. Bit like drinking battery acid), dancing at Mountain Charlies (when did people stop dancing face to face?) and a three am raid on the mini bar in the Hotel Los Gatos (great, and they were very nice about the red wine stains).

I want to organise another trip to Manresa, perhaps in August. Who's in?

is at 320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, California. Call (408) 354-4330 for reservations.
Hotel Los Gatos is at 210 E Main St, Los Gatos, California. Call (408) 335-1700 for reservations.

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Slanted Door, San Francisco

Slanted Door: Beef Pho
Originally uploaded by Suzi Edwards
The Slanted good I went back the next day.

Vietnamese food is one of my favorites, and I was spoiled in both London and Sydney. San Franciscans are also spoiled, with this modern Vietnamese restaurant that showcases a lot of the very delicious artisan produce that California has to offer.

Originally opened in 1995, the Slanted Door moved from its original home on Valencia, to a spot inside the Ferry Building overlooking the beautiful SF Bay. The menu is extensive, with around ten different sections, from Raw Bar to Rice. The restaurant is expansive, but the bar area is a boon for single travellers looking for a place to park their derrieres.

I was spoiled for choice, so I started with a lillet blanc, while I decided what to eat. Everything seemed to be shouting out to me "pick me, pick me" and the only way I could have tasted everything I wanted, would have been to have had about 20 friends with me. So to begin, some wood oven roasted Manila clams with chilies and crispy pork belly, followed by some imperial rolls with shrimp and pork, and the most incredible dipping sauce and then some kick-ass shrimp with roasted pineapple and garlic (breaking my usual moratorium on sweet with savoury). Everything was sparklingly fresh, served with plenty of zip and incredibly well balanced. Apart from the huge amount I had ordered.

I still felt I hadn't done justice to the Slanted Door; I'd barely scratched the surface of the appetizers. So I went back for lunch the next day. The pho (pictured), came with a beautiful selection of fresh herbs, amazing, raw Prather Ranch beef and a deeply-flavoured broth. But this was firmly upstaged by the Vietnamese sausage with oysters. I love meat with oysters, and this was the best combination of the two I have ever eaten. Musky, spicy sausage patties, with a side of teeny little Kusshi oysters from BC (yay, go Canadia). The oysters had each been sprinkled with a little tobiko, a little chili, a little citrus and fish sauce. Nothing to overpower them, just a little decoration to help them stand up to the sausage.

If I hadn't eaten at Manresa two days before, it would have been the most delicious thing I'd eaten all year.

Slanted Door is at 1 Ferry Building, #3. Call 415 861 8032 for reservations.

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