Tuesday, July 6, 2010

MANRESA (Los Gatos) ~ It Might As Well Be Spring!

One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating. ~Luciano Pavarotti

A wonderful sentiment, that. It touches on the essence of what eating with those I care for means to me. A chance to stop and smell the roses, or in this case, the foie gras. Food is a great way to celebrate anything, whether it be something truly momentous like graduation from Law School, or something of seemingly less import, a moment that in its slightness of being might seem trivial. Like simply being alive and in good company. Pavarotti’s words seemed an appropriate way to open this entry.

Parmesan Cheese Sticks
This particular evening found my Better Half and I joined by our Grad Student for a meal at Manresa in Los Gatos. Manresa isn’t just a restaurant. It is a hideaway-of-bliss tucked gently into a small unassuming little brick building in the heart of quaint downtown Los Gatos, California. Manresa is so well hidden, in fact, that one practically needs a knock and a secret code word merely to find the driveway. Fortunately, they are consummate professionals at their craft. So well prepared are they at Manresa that they provide the code word in the form of excellent, if complicated, directions, complete with turn into the driveway at the bank and through the back parking lot. It was like finding a speak easy. None of the first-time diners at Manresa will fail to arrive due to a lack of directions onto the property.

Soft-Boiled Egg
with savory foam
We’d been looking forward to this meal for awhile. The Grad Student had worked very, very hard for three years and a great meal is her favorite payoff. Well, other than a job, and that she had successfully secured. The big day was upon us — she would graduate from Law School the following morning. By noon, she would be a Grad Student no more, but transformed by the conferring of a Juris Doctorate. As a family, we could think of no better form of celebration than to enjoy our favorite pastime — excellent food. In addition to being blissful, Manresa is a Michelin-starred Restaurant. Chef David Kinch, Manresa’s resident genius had just won a James Beard. So the restaurant was at the top of it’s game, feeling its mastery, definitely on a roll. The odds that we were in for a stellar meal with an artful presentation were high indeed.

Our reservations were fairly early evening, about 6:00 ish, since the GS had to be at the venue by 6:30 the following morning. (Don’t get me started on the Powers That Be scheduling a graduation event for 9:00 am in the morning on a Friday). We were graciously escorted to our seats promptly upon arrival, it was a lovely table in a location perfect for absorbing the feng shui. Once we sat, the festivities began almost immediately. First up, an amuse bouche of these serendipitous little Fried Parmesan & Kale sticks. They were this delightfully amusing cross between a super high-end Cheeto and a slightly meatier Cheese Stick. From the time she was old enough to say “cheese sticks” the GS had been ordering Cheese Sticks at just about every restaurant we had ever visited. She’s always been a very big fan of all things cheese.
Monterey Bay Abalone

No surprise then, that she was absolutely thrilled with these cheesy little taste treats. The spin taken by the chef was a good one, as parmesan forms a nice crispy frico as it cools. That salty crunch on the outside of the stick combined with the softer insides made for perfection. If you love cheese, these bites would have thrilled.

Then second Amuse was a soft-boiled egg in the shell. The egg yolk was buttery and delicious, it’s golden pudding topped with a savory cream foam. Another home run.

Japanese Medai
Moments later I am staring down at the most amazing platter of delicate Japanese Medai laced with olive oil and chives. Like butter it melts on the tongue, as good raw fish should. The brine mingled with the seasoned oil to accomplish a complex blend of simple flavors. Excellent.

I followed that with a Monterey Bay Abalone it a broth of its own bouillon, sitting atop a bit of smoked lentil puree. A hint of apple finished the flavor profile. Now I love abalone, so almost any preparation sends me over the moon, but this may have been a round trip. The meat was tender as brie and all flavor. Abalone is a seafood that has to be prepared perfectly to be eaten, or it is little more than salty shoe leather, but if done right, tenderized and buttered, it becomes something like ambrosia, fit only for royalty and kings. (Or queens!)
Roast Porcelet w/ Boudin Noir

The mains we had were varied. We shared so much I’m not sure I remember whose was whose. But I remember the taste of the pork. It was a splendid roast porcelet accompanied with a boudin noir (black boudin sausage), and a mortar sauce of fava beans and mint, with a sprinkling of crispy potatoes. It was rich, moist and delicious. The mint a nice addition to the naturally greasy pork & sausage. We had also the Beef Bavette, a beautiful little trio of perfectly grilled steaks, pink and bloody on the interior and brown and caramelized in its own fat on the exterior. There is nothing quite like biting into perfectly prepared red meat. The juice of its blood with the smoky crunch of the grilled fat blending on your tastebuds — nature’s original flavor profile.

Heavenly Cheese!
Ah, but we are not done yet. There was also the Roast Duck. It was roasted in rhubarb and beet, a musty symphony of black trumpet mushrooms in the background, echoing a delicate canticle of the earth, pierced gently from time to time by the acidic punch of the citrus-y orange puree. All these things integrating perfectly together in yet another masterful flavor profile.

And then there was the cheese board. This was unlike any cheese board I have ever partaken of. Not only were the selections vast and varied, the board itself was magnificent. A red-laquered cabinet resembling nothing if not a magician’s cabinet, one would have expected a beautiful, sequin-clad woman to pop out of its depths at any moment. Instead, it opened to reveal all the cheeses one might possibly imagine. We were talked through our selections by the knowledgeable and charming Cheese Meister (is there such a term?). Once we had made our selections he cut lavishly proportioned samplings of all of our favorites. They were just delicious, and they were accompanied by nuts, toasts, dried fruits, fresh honeycomb and tiny little ballet dancers. Okay, maybe not the dancers, but everything else imaginable that compliments the flavors of cheese.

Spring Flower Pot - dessert!
But we’re still not done! At this point we were ready for something sweet, and sweet was to be had. There was actually a dessert on the menu titled “Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans” My heart fluttered, my senses reeled. Could it be? Did they get it? Yes. They did. A sampling of coffee & chicory ice cream, pecan praline, beignets and banana. All the flavors of my favorite place in the world on a platter. Magnificent!!!!

The other desserts were tantalizingly, temptingly and teasingly springlike. One was actually titled a “Spring flowerpot” and as you can see from the picture, it really was a flowerpot of goodness. Can there be any flaw in a dish in which “earth” is replaced with shaved chocolate? I think not! The colors were inspiring and the taste was like eating magic. The final dessert was a Kieffer lime parfait, smothered in the ripe red goodness of Mother’s nature’s kiss, the strawberry.

The flavors were all simple perfection. Bits of natural sugar, citrus and cake. So many combinations of that rainbow. Like a simple bouquet of perfection, as tasty as a newly blooming flower garden is pretty.

The meal was finished off by a lovely little “post” bouche of truffled chocolates. The Grad Student had a pot of the most mezmerizing tea, another play on the flower theme, it literally bloomed before our eyes.  As it was a special occasion, we were graciously invited back to meet Chef Kinch, which was a delight in itself.  I am always honored to be in the presence of an artist, and the modern chefs are the Picassos and Monets of our time.

Tea - Before
The meal was springtime itself, all the promise, all the beauty and color and all the fulfillment. A lot like the Grad Student herself, in the bloom of life, blushing with promise. May things turn out as well for her as that lovely meal did for us. A meal at Manresa will turn any special occasion into a memory worth keeping. Memories are something we can replay over and over again, like a favorite song. This was a song of spring. We can keep those memories to take out anytime in the future, like a pressed rose in a scrapbook, the scent still clinging to the petals. Eyes closed, we breathe in, and all the experiences come floating back.

Definitely check it out. Bon Appetit!

320 Village Lane

Los Gatos, CA 95030-7218
Tea After!
(408) 354-4330

Service: perfection
Table Size: ample
Noise Level: intimately quiet