Manresa: 7/24/16 [Los Gatos]

This was my third visit to Manresa and by far the most equisite. My first visit was in June of 2012 and the second in November of 2012. That June meal was fantastic and fun and had me itching to return again. On the other hand, the November meal seemed to be marred with less enthusiasm all around. The brightness of the food and service that I had experienced the first time seemed particularly muted. Having said that, there was always something in the back of my head wanting to return again based on that first trip. I’m glad I took the leap of faith. As for this meal, the service was on point, but still warm and friendly. There was not a single “miss” in the tasting and some of the dishes just blew me away. The proteins were so damn delicious: striped bass, poularde, and a jamboree of lamb bits, including tongue and sweetbreads. I have one major culinary aversion: eggs. Having said that, I made it a point to not make mention of it when I made the reservation and throw caution to the wind. I was served shaved egg yolk, tamago, and custard. To my amazement, I loved them all. It is clearly the deft hand of a great chef and good team that could pull this off. It was extra sweet that my sister, brother-in-law, and I got to take a look at the kitchen and meet Chef Kinch at the end of the night as well. Actually, I am a bit atypically star struck and still a bit giddy from that meeting, I’m already itching to go back again.

I had sent a rather complimentary message through their website shortly after the meal. I received a response back in less than 24 hours and and another from the maitre d in less than 48. To me, this means a lot. And I still cannot stop thinking about that meal two weeks back.


Thanks for the report!

How’s the food compared to the June 2012 meal? Any differences after they earned the third star?

Its good to hear the chef was still around given the temptation to overstretch and ‘diversify’ these days.

Nice report and pictures, thank you. Glad you had a good time, and nice to hear that they are going full steam. Your meal looks more interesting than the one I had around November 2015.

My last meal there (I’ve only been once since their new chef de cuisine and 3-star status) was nice but not great, and it was my least favorite there so far. I wasn’t sure if it was a style change, or perhaps I got a menu that didn’t really suit my tastes. It wasn’t nearly as enjoyable as contemporaneous meals at Meadowod and Saison. In fact, we did Meadowood on a Friday and Manresa the next day, and my party all agreed that there was very noticeable difference all around. I respect the talent of the Manresa’s chef de cuisine (from Saison), but maybe it takes some time to dial in his synergy with chef David. Or perhaps I got an off menu - not to say that it wasn’t good; it was nice, but not great or world-class.

The dishes seem a bit more “austere” now (probably not the right word, but that’s what comes to mind at first), but that’s maybe because the menu didn’t flow all that well. E.g. the “(Seasonal) Tidal Pool” had more depth before, whereas we found its successor to have more going on texturally but it lacked the earlier focus as the flavors didn’t gel as much this time - potent ocean brine, beets, bitter aged gooseberry. That was followed by their “Vegetable Garden,” which seems more “one-note” now (the waiter announced the dish with simply 3 words: “Green and Bitter”). Squid rings with shishitos and dashi was really too basic for a restaurant at this level - both in creativity and presentation. I also didn’t like how the shishitos had a slight bitterness that is reminiscent of a dashi cooked at too high heat. Mackarel with beet and cherry tomatoes was a little odd, the cod with eggplant was delicious, cioppino was too bright, wagyu with lettuce and mushrooms was uninspiring. Kasutera-style tamago with truffle was delicious, but yuzu custard with tapioca was again too basic. I like purity and focus, but at times the meal felt too basic or a little lazy (squid in dashi; yuzu custard), minimalist ingredient pairings were ok but not that impressive (mackarel with beet and tomato; wagyu with lettuce and mushroom); or too austere (bitterness of the Tidal Pool, relative one-noteness of the Vegetable Garden, cioppino being too bright).

I think back to their infamous raw milk panna cotta with abalone, dashi gelee, and radishes; or duck breast with crisp skin and with cognac-soaked fig, honey, and milk curd - those were delicious dishes and well-composed parts of a meal that flowed well. The “Tidal Pool” had more depth and purity to it in previous variations; the “Into the Vegetable Garden” had the greens shine more individually.

I’m being very critical here, but it’s in part because 1) I quite liked Manresa before and was hoping to repeat previous successful meals there, and 2) they had recently been uprated to 3-Michelin stars, so I was hoping for a meal reflecting that.

At risk of sounding too effusive, the main difference I noticed is that this most current meal was more rich and luxurious. Sure, things like caviar and foie made brief appearances. But that steamed bun with the corn veloute inside and that crazy perfect square of raw kernels on top was really luscious. That was what was sort of indicative of the meal rather than the prior ones.

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My previous two meals were in June and November. My November experiences was certainly lacking. I sort of attribute it to the lack of exciting produce on offer (having said that, I had one of the best meals ever at Blue Hill at Stone Barnes two Januarys ago and they nailed it with what they had available).

I agree that the dish has become way more compact and less complex. Having said that, I still liked the current iteration. It just isn’t that fun bit of a scavenger hunt that it once was.

I was secretly hoping this would have remained! I feel very fortunate that I got to try this twice. [quote=“BradFord, post:3, topic:5974”]

“Tidal Pool”

Three visits and I have yet to expereince the tidal pool or the Arpege egg (which is fine because I really don’t like eggs much at all!)

I feel ya. I was a bit skeptical based on visit #2, but the strength of visit #1 (and that fact that I sort of fell really enamored of Kinch from watching “Mind of a Chef”) gave me enough faith to give it another shot. And I lucked out. I am not from the area and it remains a rather expensive proposition/risk to undertake. In this case, I am very glad that I made the effort. I felt that it was much improved from the previous meals. And who knows if I will make it there again. If not, I’m glad I have a really fantastic memory to reflect upon and share with others.

Hello, another data point.

I was at Manresa last night. It’s a wednesday, as we were grabbing reservations on short notice, and not all tables were full. It’s also right after their “winter break”, which I think they take in the last two weeks in January.

Overall — I wouldn’t quite say “meh”, but I wouldn’t say wow.

Part of the issue was the company. I brought a friend who is not used to this kind of dining, and she was nervous. We had a lot more fun the night before prowling around SF at Tadich, NOPA, Zuni.

Part of the issue is the new decor. I found the place opressive. We kept telling each other to speak up, because no one wanted to talk in anything other than a hush. It was like dining in a library.

Part of the issue was the service. The poor guy who dealt with us on a regular basis seemed petrified. Gaps in service were long - it was a 3.5+ hour meal, and really felt like it. We even arrived early - 6:40 for our 7pm reservation - and left after 10:30. A lot more snap in delivery would have helped. Now, I’ll give them one bone, which is we had one diner with a special menu and a lot of allergies, but Manresa prides itself in that. They did a great job with a long list, and perhaps that slowed them down - but the place wasn’t busy, either.

Part of the issue was the food. While it is hard to separate the first two items from the food itself, nothing really said wow. I had the same experence dining at Benu over the christmas season a year ago. Although I could appreciate the technique, the “austerity” mentioned above sung through. There was a lot of bitter across the board, and I would have appreciated more fun, more sweet, more pleasant. It felt like winter - a long, sodden, grey, terrible winter. While that might be the joy of local, fresh, “of the moment” — it wasn’t an experience I would choose to repeat!

Maybe the long-form tasting menu is just, finally, played out for us as a form. It’s a form that generally encourages good company, good conversation, and being interrupted but a great little taste.

Or have we become overly jaded? I think we would all have enjoyed Bywater more.

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I think it says a lot about our dining scene that many fine European chefs find U.S. chefs’ obsession with prix-fixe-only menu to be borderline obnoxious. As one of them was quoted as saying, “That’s not very hospitable for someone in the hospitality industry!”

I’d agree that bad service definitely impacts the food. When we dined at Michel Mina my impression was that half the staff seemed so anxious and nervous it made ME uncomfortable - and after 50 yrs of dining out it takes a lot to get that reaction from me.

There was a great article in the NYTimes recently on the great Milanese chef Bulleri. The lead quote was wonderful:

‘Innovative restaurants, people go there to try. Here, they come to eat.’
– Restaurateur/chef Giacomo Bulleri of Milan, Italy

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I am glad that out of the 10,000++ restaurants we have in the area, we have a handful of prix-fixe-only. Just like Omakase only sushi places - which can offer higher quality at a lower price. I think it’s unfair to call it an “obsession” when 99%++ are menu. Live and let live! Menus are here to stay.

Let’s just say I won’t be going back anytime soon, and I’d go to Bywater ( which has a menu ) in a heartbeat.

In the case of my Manresa experience, there was nothing about the evening that would have been made better by having to choose which dishes.

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold

Market stall in Lima
Credit: TXMX 2