Manresa

I flew into San Jose on Thursday to kick off Mat and Beth’s wedding weekend in an appropriately indulgent fashion, hitting up David Kinch’s highly acclaimed Los Gatos restaurant, Manresa. I should point out this was my very first time meeting Beth, and really, what better way is there to get to know my buddy’s fiancee than four hours of kickass food and impeccably orchestrated service? We were also joined by Mat’s brother Ed who I hadn’t seen in over 10 years, and his wife Mary Ann who I was also meeting for the first time. The five of us got to the restaurant, were seated promptly, ordered the tasting menu with wine pairings, and then the culinary party began. I should point out that the wine pairings were all extraordinarily terrific, but because so many of them I couldn’t even pronounce and because I knew I was going to get sloshed by the end of the meal anyway, I didn’t bother to try and remember them. So I will instead stick to what I can remember, and pronounce.

Including the amuses and petit fours, there were 16 courses in total, and I can tell you, none of them sucked. David Kinch is doing some really inspired cooking and shows thoughtful creativity without going overboard with kitsch (yes foam appeared in more than one dish, but always as a balanced accent, not a pretentious look-at-me detractor from the main ingredients). For example, the “fall croquettes” were little deep fried looking cubes of unidentifiable origin which we were instructed to use our fingers to eat in one bite. And oh what a bite it was, with a glorious burst of rich sweet corn flavor spreading over the palate. Apparently it was a reduced corn cream which had been chilled, gelatinized and then battered and fried. It was a brilliant application of the gelatin technique which most of us are more familiar with from Shanghai soup dumplings.

The next two amuses were also brilliantly executed. First a raw oyster with a bit of sea urchin set in a tiny bit of gelatin and nori croustillant, served on the half shell. Admittedly the flavor of the uni was a bit lost, but the mouthful of flavor was as briny sweet and oceany as you could want. It really was awesome. Then came the Arpege farm egg, a simple soft cook egg elevated to impossible heights by the addition of a sherry cream foam, maple and chives, all served an egg shell with the top cut open. Each little spoonful carried the creaminess of the egg yolk, the rich essence of the sherry cream and the hint of maple sweetness. I wish I could have had a dozen of them.

One of the rare disappointments in the tasting came from the foie gras course of all things. While the menu I was provided indicated there was “date & aged sherry vinegar, succulents”, I can assert that there was nothing even remotely sweet on that plate. The foie itself, while perfectly seared seemed to lack richness. It made me wonder if maybe it wasn’t an A-lobe foie gras, and who knows, maybe it wasn’t, but at a restaurant of this caliber, that would be a shock. In any event, the dazzling amuses had me revved up when I saw the foie gras arrive, but sadly this dish left me flat.

That’s ok, because there were many more winners to follow. One in particular was the squash soup which was insanely rich and buttery. Can’t go wrong with that. Then came another dish I loved, farmed abalone served with a slow egg for added depth. Killer. Then for a fish course we had a delightful piece of Japanese bass. Its skin was perfectly crisped and salted, and the flesh had a satisfying meatiness to it. And to round out my favorites, out came a gorgeous plate of roasted squab, one slice of breast (skin on) and a piece of the leg. When squab is done properly medium rare, as it was here, it is way better than duck any day. The leg was perhaps unremarkable, but that one slice of breast was a perfect marriage of the lean, mildly gamey, almost red meat-like succulence with the thin crust of skin whose fat was mostly rendered. Damn, that was great.

And on and on it went, a parade of delicious beautifully presented dishes served on a vast assortment of fancy china by a team of waiters and sommelier who were at the top of their game. The service was organized, unhurried, and struck exactly the right combination of sophistication without pretension. Truly a wonderful meal.

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