A little over a year ago, I had the privilege of dining at Manresa in Los Gatos. It was my birthday celebration, and what could possibly be more special than dinner for two in one of the world’s premiere restaurants?
|An Imaginative Amuse Bouche|
While sitting in the tiny foyer waiting for our table, my glee at glimpsing the kitchen preparing the night’s repast became evident to the well-dressed man who I mistook at that time for the Mâitre d. He approached and we chatted. Being a food writer, I asked about the restaurant’s upcoming plans, and he told me that they were building a sort of garden bar, the specifics of which he did not disclose as it was to be something of a surprise. Polite and informative while holding back any real detail about the planned project that might spoil it’s launch, I found him charming. I’d met him before, on a previous trip to Manresa, and he was no less gracious on this second occasion, remembering me and addressing me by name.
|Grapefruit & Fennel Ceviche of Scallop with Truffle|
Michael Kean was Manresa’s Manager, but he was more than that. Losing him, they lost a friend and a presence that cannot be replaced. Certainly the restaurant will not suffer any lack of attention to detail, nor will it become less than it was, they will see to it that a great talent is brought in to fill the void. But I felt it important to take a moment to let the world know that anyone who missed out on an evening with Michael Kean, missed something truly remarkable.
He wasn’t just the Manager, he was your host for the evening. The kindly uncle who politely saw to it that each patron’s experience was something better than flawless, something even bigger than memorable. I met him only twice, but he knew who I was on that second occasion, and I felt as though the restaurant was open just for me. That everyone else dining there were guests at my table. I'm sure all the other guests were made to feel the same way. And that’s just how Mr. Kean would have wanted it.
|Into the Vegetable Garden|
Don't get me wrong, the meal was remarkable as well. Chef Kinch is a master of the perfect meal. We began with petit four of “red pepper-black olive” which was a red bell pepper pâtes de fruits mingled with black olives. Next up were garden beignets seasoned with a lovely concoction called “vinegar powder.” The wine that was poured to accompany this delectable treat a Bailly La Tiere.
Next was a red enamel bowl of raw milk panacotta, and beautifully prepared Monterey Bay abalone, the hint of radish giving the briny dish a bit of earthy balance. It was followed by a lovely garden green velouté, a sort of soup with Orleans mustard cream, assorted vegetable purees, and a delightful Riesling from Marin County. The wine pairings are as precise as the feet of the dancing waitstaff.
We savored the scent of house made bread and sampled our Nantucket Bay Scallop Ceviche, delightfully enhanced with grapefruit, fennel & black truffle. Divine. As we nibbled we sipped a crisp, refreshing Ryan Chenin Blanc from Monterey, our wine tour of California landing in every major wine-producing port.
The shellfish in bonito butter was a mix of octopus and dungeness crab accompanied by a Cheverney Domain de Sabard Sauvignon Blanc.
One of the highlights of the meal was the next dish an amusing and whimsical salute to the winter “garden” theme of the evening: a platter of warm greens on a bed of faux “dirt” — picturesque and toothsome. The wine, a Chenin Blanc, Chateau de Pierre.
The garden itself was followed by another bowl of liquid enchantment, the Winter Tidal Pool, warm, inviting and delicious. The colors somber but the flavors inviting and reinvigorating. Served with an Arvois red wine from the Jura region.
As our evening drew to a close, the dishes got richer, each portion a partner in a dance, the music lasting just long enough to tantalize before that particular partner was whisked away to be replaced by another. Our plates suddenly contained a roast rack of veal prepared tonnato, chilled and drizzled in a sauce of tuna. The veal atop a mixture of assorted garden cabbage, porcini mushrooms & onion.
Dessert was light and refreshing, a panacotta of orange, meyer lemon and vanilla ice cream & honey over a light graham cracker “crust.” Simple, sweet, delectable.
|Cheese Cart Magic|
As we left, and Michael handed us those lovely envelopes that contain the evening’s menu, my copy thoughtfully signed by each member of the staff with birthday wishes, I had no idea it would be the last time he would do so. So if you haven’t been to Manresa, or to any other special place you’ve always wanted to experience, don’t wait. The lesson is, there is always a beautiful experience to be had, but just like live theater, no two shows are ever the same. I’m glad I was afforded the opportunity to enjoy the Michael Kean experience, and will cherish my memories when I return.
|A Sweet Finish|