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Thursday, July 15, 2004

Manresa - Along for the Ride with Pim and Matthew

by Liz

What better way to sample David Kinch's cuisine at Manresa than with the indomitable Pim. To say she is a whirlwind is an understatement. The evening was as enjoyable for food as it was for company. In addition to Pim, we were lucky to have Pim's good friend, Matthew. He wasn't quite as pretty, but he was equally as enjoyable and knowledgeable about everything from food to computers to just about any topic that we could come up with.

We had made the trip from LA in under five hours. This gave us plenty of time to explore Los Gatos, a sleepy residential neighborhood with upscale food shops (Sur La Table and William Sonoma), antiques, a Rolls Royce dealership and multiple restaurants, but none high end except for Manresa.

In sweats and looking definitely sloppy, we decided to peak in Manresa about 3:30, 4 hours before our reservation. David Kinch, the chef was at the door and we immediately starting comparing "who do you know" games plus a discussion of tonight's meal. He said he felt definite pressure when he knew Pim was on the books -- he worked really hard on her menu. We were lucky to be along for the ride.

We decided to return with our BYO wine before dinner, even though we were totally derelict-looking.

As an aside, we stayed at Los Gatos Hotel which is an overpriced, poorly run hotel. A server was delivering room service with no cart and he was using his face to balance the 5 serving dishes. Watching his mouth on the top covered with the napkins to be used made my stomach churn. Later half-eaten pizza was left in the hall, never to be whisked away even by 9 the next morning. No one showed us to our room, no one offered to help with the bags.

After cleaning up to look like "diners", we returned to Manresa, a small and unassuming house one block from the main street in the Los Gatos downtown area. We were greeted very warmly by the manager and shown to a table on the patio outside. Our waiter explained that the chef planned to serve us a few things to start on the patio, then, he would have us moved back inside for the main part of the meal.

Pim had pre-ordered champagne and we were soon sipping (pim will fill in what we had) on the patio and listening to a guitarist strum in the background.

Sweet Corn Cromequis - I have had this at Rondelli and Meneau but filled with foie gras. Here the filling was sweet corn in a "liquid" state which exploded in your mouth as you were instructed to eat it in one bite. The contrast between the crispy exterior and this liquid center a wonderful "play" in texture and taste.

Strawberry Gazpacho - In a tall glass was in looks a normal gazpacho. But one whiff and you were taken in by an intense strawberry "nose." The sweet taste was cut by the garlic and basil. A refreshing start that almost functioned as a preliminary palate cleanser. Next to the gazpacho an almond sat in a soup spoon. A nice touch which added a crunch to the first taste of the gazpacho as well as being a nod to gazpacho's Spanish origins.

Taro Root Chips dusted with curry powder - a nice savory addition with perfect crunch.

"Ciccoli" with mustard - my notes say pork terrine and excellent. (It was hard to keep up with the parade of dishes, plus the lively conversation and focus on note-taking. I will add here that David Kinch has a specially printed menu for you when you leave - a nice and welcome touch.)

Crab Beggar's Purses - This was a take on the caviar beggar's purses of the Quilted Giraffe - the crepes were cooked to perfection. If done badly they taste way too doughy. The dungeness crab filling a nice and cheaper version to replace beluga caviar. They were served on a lime slice which added a note of citrus.

Crenshaw Melon Soup, lightly cooked with Almond Tofu and baby shrimp - this was a beautiful explosion of color - deep yellow melon, bright pink shrimp and pure white tofu crunch. Another refreshing, satisfying dish.

070904fishroll"Mehikari" with Shiso and Bacon - Mehikari is a Japanese white fish. The fish had been wrapped in smoked bacon and shiso, then deep-fried tempura style and served on a stick. This was in a word just wonderful. This is when the less is more principle totally over-rated. I could have had 3 more of these.

070904anchoisterrineLocal Anchovy "Escalivada" Escalivada is a typical preparation of Catalan cuisine that consists of several types of grilled vegetables like eggplants, sweet red peppers, red tomatoes, and sweet onions. After being grilled, the vegetables are peeled, sliced in strips, seeds removed, and then seasoned with olive oil and salt, and sometimes with garlic as well. In Kinch's escalivada, think of a square vegetable terrine or layered vegetables of yellow bell pepper, red bell pepper and onion. On top lay the freshest "just out of the ocean" pieces of anchovy.

Ham and Fontina with Brioche - a serrano ham and fontina brioche sandwich

070904FoiegraspeachTwice-Cooked Foie Gras with Nectarines - In the first preparation the foie is cooked sous-vide and in the second grilled. It is served on top of the nectarine which added just the right fruit component. My notes also make mention of a huge reminiscent taste of Duck Apicius at Lucas Carton which leads me to believe that there was a hint of coriander.

070904chickenwingTurnip Soup with Stuffed Chicken Wing Confit - The turnip was pureed with brioche for added thickness and the chicken stuffed with foie gras.

070904uniSea Urchin and Saffron Soup with Orange and a tiny sprig of fennel laced on top. For uni lovers, this was just decadent and the addition of citrus a great counterpoint to the uni.

070904veggiegeleeThe men had Jellied Chicken and Vegetable Consomme which my counterpart did not share.

Now a major complaint. I was waiting and waiting for the infamous "Arpege" egg. In fact, I had given David Kinch a present of my special egg cutter. Since Pim is not a fan of this "reproduction" we were not served the egg.

070904AbaloneLocal Bay Abalone with French Filet Beans. The French green beans were mixed with succulent lobster pieces and the abalone lay across this mixture. Lobster foam served as the sauce. This was foam not used for technique but for taste. One of the hallmarks of David Kinch's cuisine is that deliciousness is first and foremost in his food. Fancy, overwrought technique never displaces taste. Handling ingredients with care seems more important than dazzling the diner with "fancy footwork."

070904AjiAji (Horse Mackerel) with Chanterelles and Braised Speckled Romaine - A skin-on piece of aji is topped by two Chanterelles and a braised Romaine lettuce leaf lay at the top of the plate. Unfortunately my notes don't mention the saucing and for the life of me, I can't remember.

070904foiegrasflanFoie Gras and Cumin Caramel - This was just wonderful. I am running out of adjectives. This is actually a creme caramel flan and the subtle taste of the cumin adds a depth of flavor that gives savory/sweet new meaning.

070904cornmartiniCorn and Tomato salad with Basil "New Version" - In a martini glass there was a bottom layer of corn puree, then tomato water gelee and suspended like "olives" tiny orange tomato balls

070904butterfishGolden Butter Fish (Kin-Medai) and geoduck with Olive Oil and Chives - The skin was left on the fish and cooked crispy though the flesh was raw. The crispy skin was absolutely crucial to the dish and the olive oil/chive saucing a fresh "sunshine" taste.

070904scallopsOlive Oil Marinated Scallops with Stimpson Clam on the Plancha and Fried Avocado - My husband dislikes scallops and will think of various ways to "push" them around the plate. He ate every single bite as these scallops had none of the tough, chewy, overcooked quality of so many scallops served nowadays. They were very thinly sliced and tasted as if the cooking had come from the olive oil like a ceviche. The topping of the clams added an interesting depth of flavor and the deep-fried avocado ball, like a beignet, just delicious.

070904rabbitStuffed Saddle of Rabbit "Prune-Lemon" - The saddle was accompanied by a marinated prune and lemon relish, although my notes say something about "Matthew" relish???? (I have had a lot of wine by now as an excuse.)

Beef Sirloin, Corn Fed and Aged 21 Days, Garlic and Spinach served with Marrow Butter - This is not as clear as it should be in my memory. The beef was definitely of the finest quality and could have stood on its own. The general consensus and here I have to rely on pim was that it was "overpowered by the salty and very garlic-y marrow."

070904watermellonsWatermelon Tastes - Little cubes of watermelon were on long lollipop sticks. The watermelon had been infused with hibiscus and licorice

070904apricotsGeorge's Apricots, Gently Heated, Apricot Sorbet - This was nice and particularly welcoming after such a long meal. Here is when the ingredient speaks for itself, no unnecessary razzle-dazzle. The apricot sorbet was a nice touch.

I wish I could say a great deal about the remaining desserts for I am definitely not doing the pastry chef justice.

Peach Beignets, Corn Ice Cream
Plum Frappe
Chocolate Souffle "Chocolate-Banana"

(Pim's note: we really are not doing justice to the darling pastry chef, Deenie. Her desserts were just wonderful. I loved every one of them, though I must admit that by the time we had the desserts, I'd had more than my fair share of the wines, and was entirely neglectful of my photographer duties as well. One of these days I shall go to Manresa to repent my sins by eating a whole tasting menu of just desserts.)


'98 Batard Montrachet, Jouard--this is a classically delightful wine, clean, fresh, full bodied. It is big, but not overpowering.

'96 Clos de la Roche, Arlaud--this is one of the special reserve cuvees produced for North Berkeley Wine Company. David Hinkle, the wine buyer who has made North Berkeley one of the best Burgundy sources in the country loves the grand cru wines of Burgundy. Clos de la Roche is very full bodied, assertive, with a raspberry nose. We had them decant the wine about 45 minutes before serving. The '96s seem to need this extra time. Some of
the "experts" say "never decant Burgundy" but...

'88 Ch. Rayne Vigneau (350ml) is a solid, sweet but not cloying Sauternes that has a long, full candy finish. It worked perfectly with the chefs desserts.

All in all, this was a memorable evening and meal. I would definitely return to Manresa and I only hope that David Kinch finds an audience for his cuisine in Los Gatos. He certainly deserves to be on everyone's radar.

Posted by Liz at 01:25 PM


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