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.

Labels: , , , ,


Blogger Chris Stevenson said...

Count me in for sure - I want another dip in that Tidal Pool. Might skip the Kamikazes though ... or not :-P

11:30 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home