Saturday, January 8, 2011

Marvelous Manresa

Every year for my birthday I choose a special place to enjoy a meal with my husband. This year I already knew months in advance what my choice would be: Manresa in Los Gatos. Manresa boasts two Michelin stars among its accolades and the inventive cuisine of Executive Chef David Kinch.  It's also received outstanding Zagat ratings (27 out of 30 for food, 25 for decor, and 27 for service) and has won OpenTable's designations for best ambiance, best food, and best overall restaurant in Silicon Valley.

The restaurant doesn't look like much on the outside, but feels warm and inviting inside. The comfortable, elegant interior combines refined lighting, crisp white tablecloths, and Asian rugs.

One of the secrets to Manresa's success is its fresh vegetables grown exclusively for the restaurant at the Love Apple Farm in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The menu only hints at these secret ingredients, a tease of the unexpected flavors and simple visual beauty set on the table. One of my chosen courses was risotto without rice. It looked like risotto, but it felt and tasted different, made from some kind of vegetable. I still don't know what it was made from, and that's part of the fun.

My husband and I ordered the four course menu, choosing from an enticing list of options. The waitress informed us that the larger and more expensive tasting menu added up to about the same amount of food but with more courses. Brad ordered the wine pairings and I went with still bottled water. We also enjoyed the extras: amuse-bouche, bread, and palate cleansers.

Everything tasted lovely and different. Besides the bread, I can say that everything offered a new experience to my senses. It all felt elegant and elevated, subtle yet daring, like caring creations from a perfectionist artist who doesn't shout his achievements for all to hear but simply shows his work and lets it speak for itself. I appreciated the impeccable service, a chorus of wait staff circling throughout the restaurant in an almost constant rhythm, smoothly and efficiently refilling water glasses, removing dishes, and presenting food for the entire table at once.

When I made the reservation on OpenTable I hesitatingly admitted that it was my birthday. The waitress gently inquired if this night was a special occasion, a light and simple confirmation of the evening's import. I knew they wouldn't do anything too embarrassing to mark the occasion, and I was right. We enjoyed and ate up every bite of our meal:

- pear gelato with avocado cream and salty crunch topping
- brown egg yolk cup with maple syrup and red wine vinegar
- green garden soup with variety of vegetable purees, flowers, and herbs, presented first with the solid ingredients before the soup was poured over
- assorted breads with butter (my favorite was the little brioche bun)
- risotto without rice, and with green sauce and mushrooms
- salad with vegetable foam and puree (this description sadly doesn't even begin to do the dish justice)
- wagyu beef ribbons with mushrooms, greens, and black tea broth
- meyer lemon gelato with grapefruit palate cleanser
- chocolate disk melted by warm caramel sea salt sauce, revealing vanilla shortbread with dark chocolate ganache and coconut ice cream
- apple, quince, and cranberry compote with oatmeal ice cream and sugared vanilla bean strip
- green tea cake with yuzu icing for my birthday

The standouts for me included the green garden soup, wagyu beef ribbons, and Samoa chocolate-vanilla dessert. The soup's flavors melded together in a swirl of colors, each bite standing on its own as the soup melted into the ingredients first presented in the bowl. The beef dish had an intoxicating umami scent and flavor, a heavenly blending of mushrooms, beef, and black tea. The chocolate vanilla dessert delighted not only in its presentation with the warm salted caramel melting the chocolate disk to reveal the added lusciousness underneath, but also in each and every bite of chocolate, caramel, crunchy vanilla shortbread, and cold, creamy coconut ice cream.

If I could choose my four courses with no witnesses (or only those who really knew me well), I'd be tempted to go with four desserts, it was that good. Brad was equally enthralled with his apple, quince, and cranberry finale. He kept tipping his plates and bowls to scoop up every last bit.

Manresa is marvelous, magical, and mysterious. It earns its customer vote on OpenTable as best overall restaurant in Silicon Valley. I'll be back for more.

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