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Manresa in Los Gatos (CA) - 3 Michelin stars

Rating: 95.
Rating index:
Extraordinary (96-100)
Outstanding (93-95)
Very good to Excellent (89-92)
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Below Average to Average (80-85)
Avoid (below 80)
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Note: Manresa was awarded a 3rd Michelin star in the 2016 San Francisco & Bay Area Guide

Under the watchful eye of chef/owner David Kinch, restaurant Manresa has held two Michelin stars since Michelin launched their first edition of the San Francisco & Bay Area guide in October 2006 (2007 guide). On his way to opening Manresa in Los Gatos in 2002, Kinch had taken a long and winding road, apprenticing and working in various kitchens in the US, Europe and Japan.

After graduating from university in 1981, David Kinch (b. 1961) started his career in New York City in the Maurice Restaurant at Hotel Parker Meridien and later on at La Petite Ferme (now closed). He then moved to France to work in the kitchens of Hotel de la Poste in Beaune. After a year in France, Kinch returned to New York City to become a chef at The Quilted Giraffe (now closed), where he worked for a number of years. In the early nineties he went back to Europe for a year or two, to work at the Schweizer Stuben in Wertheim, Germany (then 2 Michelin stars), at l'Espérance in Saint-Père-sous-Vézelay, France (Marc Meneau; then 3 Michelin stars and now 2), and at Akelare in San Sebastian, Spain (then 2 en now 3 Michelin stars). In 1995, shorty after David Kinch had returned to California, he opened his first restaurant (called Sent Sovi) in Saratoga - it was sold in 2001.

In 2013 Kinch launched Manresa Bread, a village bakery, within walking distance from Manresa proper. Last year was not a particularly great year for Manresa. Following a fire in July, the restaurant had to be closed for several months, reopening on New Year's Eve 2014.

Manresa is open for dinner Wednesday through Sunday and the restaurant offers a set (seasonal) multi-course tasting menu for $198. I had dinner with my husband at Manresa on Sunday 29 March 2015.

Dinner kicked off with some snacks. There were two savoury petit fours: a moist black olive madeleine with mildly sweet flavours and a red pepper pâte de fruit with lovely pure pepper flavours. They were followed by a crunchy granola cracker with seeds, nuts and puffed rice and Manresa's signature green garlic panisse made with chickpea flour and green garlic (served warm); a delicious cake-like snack that was crispy on the outside, moist and bright-green on the inside, and topped with some yoghurt and sesame puree. A great selection of snacks that went perfectly with our cocktails.

Next up was a vividly coloured amuse bouche of yuzu pana cotta, fresh spring peas, finely chopped celery, thinly sliced salsify and salmon roe, also fashionably known as Ikura. A delightful dish with delicately balanced flavours; the panna cotta had just the right hint of yuzu. Loved the creamy versus crunchy texture contrast, the juicy salinity of the salmon roe bringing everything together.

The first course of tonight's menu was a dish called "Vegetable garden, green and bitter ....". This is a daily changing dish that has been on the menu at Manresa for many years. It's inspired by Michel Bras' iconic Gargouillou dish and it's an important dish in Manresa's history. Over the years the components of this dish have changed, but the basic aim is to celebrate the produce of Manresa's 'royal puveyor' of vegetables, Love Apple Farms in Santa Cruz. Tonight's beautifully presented vegetable garden featured a selection of fresh herbs and leaves, a warm lovage emulsion, two ravioli with a filling of mixed bitter/sour leaves and herbs, and vegetable "dirt" (made from a mixture of flour, almonds, and chicory root granules), among other ingredients. Flavourwise, the filling of the ravioli had mainly bitter flavours, but the bitters were elegant and balanced. The lovage emulsion had a wonderful velvety texture, creating the illusion of cream, giving the dish a nice mellow finish.

Second course was shiny, sashimi-style mackerel, that had a beautiful red colour and a lovely firm texture. It was excellently paired with fresh blood orange, pomelo and tangelo, a citrus gel made from the same citrus fruits and green asparagus; it was garnished with some salty-bitter deep-fried onion sprouts. Lovely selection of juicy citrus fruits, their sweetness and touch of tartness complemented the mackerel wonderfully. The deep-fried onion sprouts had lovely light onion flavours and added a nice tataki-style touch to the dish.

Then there was an excellent piece of moist warm-smoked trout, with elegant smoky flavours. It was covered with nasturtium pesto, leaves and flowers, a small piece of candied Inchang (a type of citrus fruit) and served with two golden potato cake cubes that were deliciously moist and creamy on the inside, creating texture and contrast. Also on the plate was a light and delicate saffron-flavoured yoghurt.

Fourth course was a dish called Sea bream with celeriac "barigoule". Lightly smoked sea bream was served in a fantastic artichoke consommé and served with celeriac crisps and some baby artichoke leaves. An elegant dish with balanced, warm flavours. 

This was followed by "Abalone porridge", tender thin slices of meaty abalone and a very creamy rice pudding, with an almost gelatinous texture and incredibly pure rice flavours. The porridge was garnished with shredded negi (Japanese spring onion), puffed wild and plain rice, pickled kelp and it was finished with some black vinegar. An attractive dish with a wonderful textural contrast. 

Next up were two preparations of lamb. Lamb fillet was topped with a delicious fava bean and mint pesto and served with a juicy morel mushroom. A piece of braised shoulder was excellently paired with some turnips, a light lamb jus, a mildly sharp green sorrel-chrysanthemum sauce and some fresh (pickled) sorrel leaves; a very pleasing combination, the latter two elements balancing the richness perfectly.  

Seventh course was chopped black truffle, sprouted grains and toasted buckwheat served in a light and clear beef broth. Lovely, subtle earthy flavours from the truffle and sprouted grains, but in the end these flavours were somewhat overpowered by the distinct toastiness of the buckwheat.

Before dessert my husband and I shared some cheeses. Manresa offers a great selection of local/domestic cheeses.

The first dessert was a glass with a Meyer lemon cream at the bottom, followed by a layer of jellied rhubarb "soup" spiked with green curry oil (mainly made with fresh herbs, such as coriander, parsley, mint, and basil) and garnished with some rosemary flowers. A very light and elegant combination, the curry oil adding a nice touch of complexity. A gorgeous, sugary rhubarb beignet was served on the side.

This was followed by a very satisfying dessert of chocolate cake/mousse, a cara cara (a type of orange) parfait, cara cara caramel and burnt baked Alaska. A wonderful combination of flavours, with subtle citrus flavours coming through from the cara cara parfait, and with an elegant dose of sweetness.

The meal was concluded with a selection of sweets, including chocolate madeleines, strawberry pâte de fruits, strawberry-rose and vanilla-green tea macarons.

Ever since Manresa started an exclusive partnership in 2006 with Love Apple Farms in Santa Cruz to grow all the vegetables for the restaurant, the obviously seasonal menu at Manresa has revolved around the farm's produce. David Kinch has a great affinity with and knowledge of his ingredients (vegetables in particular), and for almost a decade now, he and farmer Cynthia Sandberg have worked together closely to produce the best possible ingredients for the restaurant. Both the restaurant and the farm have earned international acclaim, resulting in a "seed" exchange with chefs such as Alain Passard, Rene Redzepi, Sean Brock, Alexandre Gauthier and Mauro Colagreco.

My meal at Manresa was undisputedly at two-star level (and then some) with effortlessly efficient and very attentive service to match. Tonight's "Early Spring Garden" menu featured intelligent and artistic dishes that were thoughtfully tailored but at the same time didn't always spark awe and wonder. Regardless of that, the food at Manresa is a wonderful and true expression of place and time.

Posted 10-05-2015


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