: views from the Hill

Friday, September 17, 2004

[FOOD] modernista with friends

Manresa Restaurant
320 Village Lane, Los Gatos.
(to the W off Saratoga Avenue between North Santa Cruz and University Avenue)
Dinner Wednesday through Sunday from 5:30 p.m. - 10 p.m.
Reservations are recommended

The invitation arrived a couple weeks ago.

Modernista with Friends
The Next in Manresa's Popular Dinner Series

Manresa Welcomes San Francisco Chefs
James Ormsby of Plumpjack Restaurant Group and Bruce Hill of Bix.

For one special evening, Chef David Kinch and invited
Chefs will tantalize your palate with diverse
Flavors, Textures, and Temperatures.

Be the first to experience new dishes that will
Debut on Manresa's fall menu.

Join us Thursday, September 16th at 6:30 p.m.
Dinner will be a multi-course tasting menu.
$90 per person with wine pairings available (additional).

How could we pass that up? We put our reservations in and showed up at 6:25 p.m. last night. Esteban Garibay told us we'd be sitting at Table Four and invited us to join the short before-dinner reception out on the patio while the restaurant waited for all the guests to arrive.

Out on the patio, Kinch had two stations serving before dinner drinks. We each decided on a Manresa cocktail: staff added a twist of orange and a bit of sherry to the glass and then filled the glass with champagne.

Wait staff came around with bits of nibbles. I missed one or two, but did get a mango smoothie with black olive madeleine and a taste of the parmesan/cheddar churro-like puff. Right before we were called in to dinner, the three chefs came out to check out the house and schmooze with the customers.

Surprised I was to see a guy I know from rec.arts.mystery, Bouchercon and Left Coast Crime. Turns out he and his partner are regulars (every few months) at Manresa and had followed Kinch to Manresa from Sent Sovi. They drive all the way down from San Francisco, have a delish dinner, and drive all the way back. That's coming a long way for a meal.

The dinner was very leisurely. The restaurant, after all, had all tables being served simultaneously. There're only so many wait staff you can have before they crash into each other and Kinch's kitchen is much larger than the one he had at Sent Sovi, but there were still three chefs and various aides mucking around in it. ... For a couple of the courses I even had a suspicion that there weren't enough dishes to go'round and the staff was waiting to clear, clean and dish-up another helping for the couples in the corners.

Ken Parker played flamenco guitar through dinner, moving his stool to various corners of the restaurant so that everyone had a chance to hear his soft playing. The music was a perfect background to the meal.

We chose to go with the paired wines rather than select a bottle. We asked for Los Gatos' finest tap water. Staff offered a choice of walnut bread or sourdough. Sometime after seven, the dinner began and proceeeded as follows.

clear v8 (bruce)
The vegetable cocktail came served out of a silvery shaker into a martini glass. The cocktail was a deep, clear red-blue violet. We tried to suss out the eight vegetables but only managed (we think) beet, carrot, scallion, cucumber (maybe), green tomato (maybe). Tasty, tasty vegetable cocktail.

a green zebra tomato juxtaposing (james)
The plate delivered four different renditions of green zebra tomato: a dish of green zebra tomato sorbet, a "ravioli" of green zebra tomato with goat cheese, a small glass with warm green zebra tomato gazpacho, and (my least favorite) a slice of green zebra tomato wrapped in gelee. But as it is with the world, when James came by to see what we thought of his creations, the woman to our left said that the gelee rendition was her favorite. I would be hard pressed to decide whether the goat cheese rendition or the gazpacho rendition was my favorite.

Our first wine pairing (a muscadet) arrived.

albacore with fried avocado, macadamias (david)
The albacore was marinated in aged soy and quickly seared. The fish was garnished with fried avocado (really! I'd never imagined frying avocado), scallions and chopped, roasted macadamias. The dish was settled on a bed of avocado sauce. Tasted like there was perhaps sesame oil drizzled on the tuna. Three perfect drops of aged balsamic to decorate the plate. Ymmm.

We'd finished our muscadet by the time they came by with the next dish, so they poured us a bit more.

monterey calamari on vacation in bangkok (james)
This dish was a beautiful sight. The calamari had been dusted with something chili-pepper hot and crisped with its tentacles waving, skewered with a bamboo skewer with a twistcurl at the end. (We'd met our first such skewer at Gerald Hirigoyen's Bocadillos last week.) The skewer was set in a cut-side-down half-lime for balance. We were told to eat the calamari and then use the lime to juice up the remainder of the plate: marinated grapefruit sections, a coconut-curry foam and marinated calamari rings (I think ... or maybe noodles). I took what was left of lime and juiced up my water.

Staff brought a different white wine for the next course, a Spanish white wine.

sand dab pave reconstructed (bruce)

The sand dab was served with capers and lemon rind. The "reconstructed" bit of it was that the sand dab was de-boned and the bones were deep-fried. Then the fish was reconstructed with the bones back inside. The deepfrying made the bones edible, adding a crunchy (and tasty) contrast to the sand dab.

Another top-up on our wine took us to

tartare cone of atlantic cod "bacalao" (james)

The cones were delivered to the table as hand-food. The cones were seasoned with fennel. The cod was lightly salted, seasoned with chili and other seasonings. Another delish dish. (Nothing had failed us yet.)

The foie was coming up and we were each given a glass of a sweet wine produced "just across the river" from Sauternes. Lupiac, maybe?

twice cooked foie gras with quince (david)
The foie gras was poached, then baked. The flavor was like nothing I'd ever tasted foie-wise. The piece of foie gras was nestled in a quince puree. I still like Luke Sung's seared foie gras the bestest of all, but this foie gras was quite interesting, intriguing. Talking with my RAM acquaintance's partner after dinner revealed that not everyone is as enamored of seared foie gras as I am. He really liked this dish and much prefers poached foie gras over seared. I, on the other hand, like poached foie gras but much prefer seared. Takes all kinds. This was an novel way of cooking foie gras and a success.

The wine pairing switched to a red wine. (Duh. Look what follows.)

The couple to my left had brought a La Tache to drink with dinner. They also ordered a glass each of different white wines to drink with the fish courses. The couple to my right brought a red and a white with them because they'd been disappointed with the wine pairings the last time they ate at Manresa. I thought the pairings were great. I'd rather have pairings than drink a white all night or a red, what with the variety of dishes we were served. The red that the couple next to us brought was delish. (He poured me some when we were schmoozing near the end of the meal.)

kobe beef tartare on a disintegrating potato (bruce)
This dish was also hand-food. Plates were brought 'round and you took your serving, then gobbled it up. The beef tartare was terrific. The potato was like the best fried shredded potato patty you've ever eaten. When James came by to get comments (he seemed to be the designated "how did they like my dish?" comment gatherer), he laughed when I told him the "disintegrating potato" was far better than anything from OreIda I'd ever eaten.

boudin of pig's trotters with apple (david)
The boudin was yummy. I don't know if I could've figured out the insides were pig's trotters if Kinch hadn't said so. The woman to my right asked the guy, "What's a pig's trotter?" "A sausage," he replied.

We'd had pig's trotters at Bocadillos last week. I guess I really should write down my reactions to that meal. The pig's trotters there were not disguised in a boudin and were as yummy, if not yummier, than Kinch's rendition.

Last but not least, we were given a dessert wine to accompany

chocolatebananacurry (deanie)

This dish was a slice of deep chocolate pastry with a crunchy top, served with a banana curry ice cream. The chocolate was amazing -- rich, dark, semi-sweet and just enough, not so much that you'd overdose. The ice cream was a good foil and tasty in its own right.

I finished off dinner with a double espresso. His nibs had the blossoming tea ball that he'd had last month when we ate at Manresa.

By this time, the couple to our right was chatting with us about wine, restaurants. What was amazing to us was that the woman at the table had an allergy to onions -- poor dear! -- and the chefs managed to deliver her dinner, working their way around that wrinkle. Impressive.

We'd also overheard staff asking one of the guests before dinner whether he was allergic to tomato seeds. Imagine serving that many dinners and keeping straight who was allergic to what. The woman to my right had been served a different variant of the clear v8 dish, a different dish in lieu of the boudin, and other modifications. No problem with the kitchen. I thought it terrific that they served her up a great meal around her allergies.

The guy I knew from RAM came over with his partner and the six of us discussed San Francisco and food and wine and restaurants and Bouchercon until we finally looked at our watches and noticed that we were the last people in the restaurant. We said good night, nice to meecha, and everyone headed home.

The San Franciscans had a long drive home. We were home in five minutes or so, a little after midnight. Dinner had taken over five hours. Well worth the time spent. Slow food is good for you.

We'll be eating at Manresa again before we sell our honeymoon cottage and head up full-time to San Francisco. I doubt if we'll be as faithful, making long drives down to Los Gatos, after we're in San Francisco full-time.

(Imagine David or James or Bruce finding this some day and thinking, "That wasn't what was in it! How could she forget the cucumber? Mango? No! It was passion fruit!" These are the things I remember. My memories may not accurately reflect reality.)

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