Each year we see and hear a commotion of activity in the press around who got a new Michelin star and who lost one. Manresa, a Michelin two-star restaurant – the rating mean its “excellent cooking, worth a detour” – is a fixture on The Chronicle’s Top 100 Bay Area Restaurants list. Manresa, located over fifty miles south of San Francisco nestled in a quaint town of Los Gatos. Over fifty miles is a long way to go for dinner, especially for San Franciscans who have access to a range of great restaurants without having to veer far from its 7 by 7 mile city limits, but I wanted to check out what a Michelin two-stars taste like, so, using my birthday as an excuse, we made the trip to Manresa.
Upon entrance, I was surprised to see how small the restaurant really is. Not that I mind this but it was just a surprise. The décor was simple and homey; it had a woodsy cabin like feel with a touch of courtly vibe. We were promptly seated at our table upon arrival and as I walked to our table, I was greeted with a personalized birthday card from the staff at Manresa, always a nice and personal gesture when restaurants do that.
My appetite and imagination began to stir as I read the menu. We decided on the four courses as we saw a few dishes we wanted to try and also because it makes sense to do this before splurging on the tasting menu.
Amuse bouche #1: Garden beignet – Didn’t quite know what to expect upon looking at this. I wondered why Chef David Kinch started the line up with sweets and what’s the fried kale have to do with it? Interestingly, I was startled after one bite. Salty, light crisp, and creamy with just the right amount of texture in the filling. The savory flavors typically in the form of what you would associate with sweets or desserts were a pleasant surprise to the palate. Smart. I was craving more…it was off to a great start.
Amuse bouche #2: Elemental Oyster from the East Coast poached in its shell and seaweed gelee. Very light, clean and mild in taste. The gelee washed out the saltiness and the slight griminess that oysters typically leave in your mouth. It was interesting, but I didn’t quite care for it.
Amuse bouche #3: Arpege egg custard with roasted walnut with a emulsified mushroom soup. Egg custard was perfectly cooked, delicate, light and beautifully balanced in flavors. The heavily essence mushroom soup was quite the contrast of the egg custard; intensely rich and thick. Delish.
Marinated mackerel on the plancha matsutake mushrooms, wild huckleberries – A glimpse of the restaurants’ vegetable offerings from their local Love Apple Farm (where the restaurant’s vegetables are grown) showcased the varying different degrees it was cooked meshed well with the raw and marinated mackerel. The disparate components of this dish was a harmonious fit.
Sea bream, sashimi style, with olive oil and chives – Can only be described as fresh, clean and simple.
Black bass, charred octopus, roasted and spiced pumpkin with citrus – The downright contrasting sweet, citrus-y and savory flavors were subtle and complimentary with a light “pop” from the citrus.
Black cod with creamed salsify, black trumpet mushrooms with oyster emulsion- The succulent piece of black cod was meltingly soft, delicate and sweet, accented with a faint richness from the oyster emulsion. The only component that bugged me in this dish is the black trumpet mushrooms, it was stale and overpowering in texture to such a delicate dish. It had to be removed completely for me to enjoy this.
Suckling porcelet with smoked potatoes, celery root veloute with quince vinegar- This dish was heavily Asian influenced. The suckling porcelet with crispy skin was good, however, it reminded me a lot like the roasted pork Chinese style where you see hanging on a hook in most BBQ Chinese restaurants, it seemed too accessible for a restaurant like Manresa which unfortunately immediately descended the value of this dish.
Autumn mushrooms and thinly sliced Wagyu beef, dried tuna and black tea bouillon – A mini mountain of sliced wagyu mixed with a garden of mushrooms steeped in tea bouillon. The wagyu was remarkably tender. The tea bouillon was faint and dainty in flavor. This was a well thought out dish.
Palate cleanser – Not overly sweet, creamy yet quite refreshing.
Bananas roasted in passionfruit, yuzu citrus mousse, buckwheat crumble, banana ice cream.
Slow cooked apple and quince with oatmeal ice cream, maple Mascovado vanilla crumble, cranberry, citrus
Complimentary birthday dessert
Meet and greet in the kitchen with Chef David Kinch.
Who would’ve thought a restaurant in a quaint little town be so innovative and original? Well, I guess that was just my big city attitude talking. I left the restaurant quite full and satisfied. Manresa is deserving of its Michelin two-stars. Chef David Kinch has a very refined and sophisticated approach that is consistent through all his dishes. There are a lot of emphasis on natural flavors, tactfully and sensitive to delicate flavors that encourages diners to really think about the food, essence and taste. I am sure there are those who will simply dismiss the food as bland and plain and there are those who knows how to appreciate the art of subtlyand thoughtfulness behind each dish. “Delicate” is the key word to describe Manresa. If you’re a diner that’s about the robust and in-your-face flavors, you might want to do your wallet a favor and skip this place.
Good for: dates and intimate group settings
Service: Timely, casual yet refined.
Price – $$$$: $95 four courses, additional $67 wine pairing. $170 tasting menu, additional $98 wine pairing.
Others: A Michelin star rated restaurant