320 Village Lane
Los Gatos, CA 95030
To round out the Bay Area Michelin 2-star tour my friend and I selected Manresa in Los Gatos. The area has a small town feel to it and the restaurant is perfectly suited to that sedate environment. From the outside the restaurant actually looks like somebody's home, complete with a quaint little sign stuck in the flower bed. The decor inside matches the exterior, with a slightly rustic feel.
We were in a bit of a hurry since we had to catch a night flight out of San Francisco so we opted for a 5:30 reservation. We even called ahead and informed the restaurant we wanted the tasting menu and asked if it could be done in 2 hours. Thankfully the staff was more than willing to accommodate us.
DRY Soda - Lavender
Again I decided to skip the wine and instead chose a lavender soda by a company I never heard of before. The drink was gently carbonated with a strong floral flavor and just a light sweetness.
AB1: Petit Fours - "red pepper-black olive"
When this came to the table I thought, we asked for a fast dinner but we didn't expect them to start with the petit fours. The black olive madeline might be the best madeline I ever tasted, warm with a hard exterior hiding a spongy interior with a buttery sweetness shaded by a hint of olive. The red pepper gelée was definitely the far more flavorful of the pair although I found the texture a bit hard for my liking.
AB2: Horchata - and lightly toasted parsnip
Continuing with the sweet amuses, next up was a parsnip horchata seasoned with tonka bean. The overall effect was like a spicy pumpkin milkshake with some elements of cocoa and vanilla as well.
AB3: Chestnut Croquettes
The waitress who brought these to the table warned us to eat them in one bite which lead me to expect a highly liquid center or one under pressure, in reality the center was quite thick and creamy. With foie gras and chestnut, I thought the filling would be rich and sweet but it turned out quite mild with a slight alcoholic burn.
AB4: Arpege Farm Egg
The last of the four amuses also blends savory sweet flavors together. A delicately cooked egg topped with sherry vinaigrette and maple syrup, the sweetness eventually gives way to a straightforward saltiness. I don't think I have ever had an egg a la coque that I didn't enjoy and this was no exception. The kitchen paired tempered forms of powerful flavors with the egg which let the focus remain on the natural flavor of the egg.
Levain Bread - house-made bread
Levain refers to a leavening agent used in the fermentation process that results in bread with a rich aroma and pleasing texture. With its hard toasted crust and dense interior the bread was quite heavy, somehow very appropriate to the bitterness of the crust. Typically not what I look for in bread, somehow I still enjoyed this immensely.
01: Foie Gras - lightly smoked, quince consomme
Texturally, the foie was reminiscent of a seared preparation but the smoking imparts a bitterness throughout the foie, severely muting the unctuousness of the liver. The consomme provided the perfect amount of fruit to the lighter foie. Had the kitchen used a preserve, the fruit might have dominated the dish.
02: Pumpkin Velouté - "blue hubbard," nasturtium ice cream
This was very similar to a course I had the previous night at Coi. Unlike most squash soups, the soup had almost no sweetness, instead it had a neutral richness very similar to the Aperge egg earlier. The only sweetness came from the ice cream which also added a nice chilly contrast to the soup.
03: Into the Vegetable Garden... - their natural juices
Coi also had a take on a salad dish very similar to this, trying to emulate a garden on a plate complete with a few flowers for color. This was a much lighter dish than Coi's with most of the flavors coming from the vegetables themselves. The variety of vegetables made for a complex medley of sweet and bitter flavors all flowing seamlessly from one to the next.
04: Autumn Tidal Pool - abalone, sea urchin, foie gras, shellfish, mushroom dashi
I saw this dish on the regular menu and I was tempted to add it as a supplement. As one would expect, the complimentary flavors did very well with the dashi taking on the subtle sweetness of shellfish. The abalone was the standout of the shellfish succulent and tender the thin slices left me wanting more. The uni was a bit subdued maybe having absorbed some of the dashi it lost much of the distinctive flavor it has when served as nigiri. The mushrooms were delightful small and crunchy they released a concentrated burst of the dashi when bitten into. The foie was largely unnoticed and unneeded. A wonderful dish overall and my favorite of the night.
05: Black Cod - in an abalone bouillon, seaweed persillade
Most of my experience with black cod at restaurants is with the miso glazed preparation at Japanese restaurants. This was quite different as the fish is only lightly seasoned, overall the flavors tasted Asian-influenced likely due to the seaweed. The beans were also quite effective, breaking up the oiliness of the fish with a dry gritty texture and distinctive flavor.
06: Roast Squab - garden carrots with farro, meyer lemon preserve
The squab came prepared two ways, a rare roasted breast and what looks like a leg confit. The breast meat itself was tender juicy and flavorful but still pretty prototypical for squab. The leg was nicely fried and had a salty oiliness to it, although a bit dry. In either case the accompaniments were totally unnecessary, the ground farro actually looked and felt more like couscous, and tasted a lot like stuffing.
07: Lamb Rack - slowly roasted, cardoons with bread crusts, tender greens
The last of the savory courses was lamb, nicely roasted allowing the flavors of the herbs to permeate the meat. There was so little gaminess that from taste alone I would have been hard pressed to identify it as lamb.
08: Meyer Lemon and Quince Vacherin
We expected a palatte cleanser but they jumped into the first dessert course. There were so many flavors and textures, that it was difficult at times to tell what was going on although I did get one identifiable flavor on the finish, Fruit Loops.
09: Spice Cake - with ginger-port pears with coconut caramel
This reminded me of all those stereotypes of fine dining, a giant plate with a single morsel of food in the center. This time we were served three small morsels. As far as spice cakes go this was fairly mild and the accouterments were natural pairings a very well designed dish.
10: Chocolate pastille - with ice milk, prickly pear and coconut granité
Beautiful color in this dish one of the most visually distinctive chocolate dishes I've ever seen. The only problem is the lack of balance between the chocolate and the other flavors; taken together the chocolate overpowers the rest of the dish. Fortunately each of the distinct elements is very strong on their own with the standout being the prickly pear soup with its distinct flavor, very floral and soothing. The chocolate is quite good, smooth and bold it lacks the complexity of the chocolate at Aqua but is still a pleasure to eat.
Petit Fours - "strawberry-chocolate"
We started with petit fours, we end with petit fours. Similar to the savory petit fours, the gelée was the dominant flavor. Tasty but not as good as their savory brethren.
The service was very attentive to our needs, we managed to finish the entire meal and pay in just under two hours. The staff was very good about bringing the courses out promptly but leaving just enough time so we didn't feel rushed. The food at Manresa is very well prepared, the ingredients were all of the highest quality and the kitchen clearly knows what to do with it; although they don't take as many risks as Coi. Overall, a successful close to a very good weekend trip.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
320 Village Lane