Occupying an unassuming corner of leafy Los Gatos, California, is the most recently-minted 3-star in the United States; David Kinch's Manresa. Known for his farm-to-table dishes that showcase the great natural abundance of Northern California (he wrote a book that describes his process), David Kinch is an up-and-coming American culinary star.
Some overall comments about my experience—after doing so many in Europe, it feels weird going back to an American one again. I had forgotten that along with dining at a high-minded US 3-star will come lots of long, self-congratulatory stories about the ingredients, the prep, the plating, what the chef was thinking about/trying to accomplish/showcase about the terroir or the farm or the process... Literally almost two paragraphs per dish of exposition—always welcome, and never boring, but it was jarring to recall how much this practice A) lengthens the meal, B) heightens the already high sense of overconsumption about the experience. A recent attempted decapitation of Manresa by the New York Times highlights some of the anxiety I felt in the room.
Speaking of service, this place doesn't have the equation quite right yet. Less than two savory courses into my meal, I had gone through the pretty delicious bread that they're famous for (they have a separate retail outlet next door, Manresa Bread, that offers take-home versions). The server came by, scooped the bread plates without uttering a word, and was on her way. I tried gently calling after her to request more, but just like a kid hauling ass to the school bus who pretends not to hear a teacher assigning homework, she was outta there. A bizarre move, especially for a place that seems pretty crazy about their bread.
LOS GATOS, CA, USA (SOUTH BAY/SILICON VALLEY)
PRICE PAID: $326PP (INCL. WATER, TEA, TAX, TIP- PRE-CHALLENGE)
FINAL SCORE: 7.0/10
The place settings were somewhat minimalist, understated. A smooth, polished, well-decorated piece of wood served as a beginning- and end-of-meal centerpiece/serving platform.
In a sign of things to come, a "savory" set of amuse-bouches starts the meal. Red pepper pâte de fruits, a black olive Madeline, and a savory granola bar on the left.
The madeline isn't warm but rather room temperature, and tastes like fresh olives. Could have been served warmer, but it just as likely is my own fault for pausing to take photos. 8/10.
The red pepper pâte de fruits is surprisingly sweet—the texture and flavor is similar to sugary pizza sauce. 8/10. An inspiringly cool dish.
The "savory granola bar" is a cool idea that quite literally falls apart in practice. Composed of many tasty seeds, it instantly flakes all across the dining area upon first bite. Once again, user error may be to blame, but this was a very delicate bite. 7/10.
The next amuse, titled "Savory Beignet," was served upon a bed of pebbles. With a crème fraîche center, slice of red pearl onion, and osetra-grade caviar topping, this was a decadent little starter. Kent, the server (who was awesome), recommended that one consume it all in one bite. The warm, super saline topping of caviar dominates the flavor profile, and the tempura coating of crème fraîche is surprisingly thick. Like a really awesome, warm mozzarella stick. 8/10.
Next, a "savory steamed bun" with dehydrated shellfish on the inside, a small sweet-and-sour sauce dollop on top. In a nod to traditional preparation techniques, a sweet egg glaze with broccolini is the final accoutrement. Crustacean flavors dominate this pretty interesting take on a Chinese tradition. 8/10.
An egg custard of "soft farm egg," Meyer lemon honey, and coriander. I'm advised by Kent to dig all the way to bottom of the egg shell, which has been expertly cut, but not with the machine-like precision of French Laundry or Per Se. Kent described their cutting process—the egg is sliced while in a holding device, they remove the yolk and put it off the the side. add the fleur de sel and chive, and put the yolk back in lightly cooked. 9/10.
I'm feeling a touch under the weather, so I ask for a chamomile tea service that shows up in this lovely set. 8/10.
Bread service showed up next, and Manresa has a Whole Big Thing that they like to talk about with their breads... As I mentioned earlier, they have a neighboring store that exclusively sells their baked grains, and they mention repeatedly throughout the night their supposed virtuosity with the product.
First, the choices I was offered—sea salt brioche, multigrain, and einkorn (likely for it's fun, foreign-sounding name). I picked all three, natch... As part of a package deal, I also got some whipped butter with sea salt.
The brioche is ... Actually a touch dry. The salt on the bread gangs up with the salt in the butter, which gives it a strange and likely unintended texture. The multigrain is smooth and very soft, wth a fantastic mouthfeel. Almost like a slice of cake! The einkorn has a very plain flavor and a rougher mouthfeel; almost like a cornbread. Nothing special. 7/10 overall.
A gorgeous, colorful, well-plated garden salad with a "garden velouté" on bottom, made from all the roots and leaves ground up together. A combination of fried and fresh greens on top. The deep-fried wisps are crispy, and the potatoes aren't cooked much, which boosts the texture contrasts. 9/10.
This next dish, titled "Courgette Stir Fry," breaks apart with ease. Wonderful, rich, oily fried-veggie flavors. The textures are remarkably similar between the veggies and the protein, which isn't helped by the fact that said protein is squid. Basil flavors help smooth things a little, but this dish burns the mouth with salt. 6/10.
Next, the small tapioca pearls here are hot and full of flavor. Each "quadrant" is a different flavor; upper right (abalone) and lower right are a bit dry. Tamago on the upper left is totally excellent. To make the tapioca pearls, the kitchen used a small dollop with dehydrated in Bonito stock. Bonito flakes form the basis of the savory stocks used in Japanese cooking- think miso soup. Similar flavors here. 8/10.
And now onto the fifth main course: striped sea bass in a barigoule sauce with strawberry gazpacho on the right to accompany. Bright fruity flavors leap out of the fish dish, the strawberry gazpacho plays along cool and lovingly. 8/10.
And now, the main-main. Poularde (a fancy word for chicken) with morel mushrooms, plated with a small rivulet of anchovy and white wine sauce, which pairs up perfectly. Quite heavy on the pepper. Another small note; the dish itself was liquid-magma hot, like literally unsafe. Still a totally incredible dish. 9/10.
Next, a kingly dish of super well-prepared, savory lamb from Don Watson's farm in Napa, California. The beautiful, jewel-like fruit on the left is nectarine, whose bright sugary notes pair well with the dry, earthy tones in the lamb. Lots of knifework-heavy prep on this dish; small cubes in the back of espelette (a special kind of pepper) and eggplant. 9/10.
As we exit the savories and head into dessert, a small layer cake of cherry, green tea matcha, and lime. The cherries and green tea matcha go together perfectly, and the cherries used in this construction are perfectly, burstingly fresh and ripe. 9/10. It's also super rewarding to break apart (see left).
Next, a completely charming dessert of strawberry, pistachio, and toasted milk.
A few delicious chocolates—the one on the left had heavy peanut butter flavors. The one on the right; strong notes of ginger. 8/10.
As we conclude, a nice rapprochement with the opening course—a sweet chocolate Madeline and strawberry pâte de fruits (in contrast to their earlier, savory versions). 8/10.
Almost very lastly, some macarons. Cookies and cream in front, crunchy and delicious. Menthol on the upper right is cool and creamy. Upper left is strawberry, which tastes exactly like several layers of variously-dehydrated strawberry jam. 8/10.
Lastly, "breakfast for tomorrow"—some lovely handmade coconut granola. Copy of the menu. Well wishes. 8/10.
I'll try to offer a few original thoughts on this experience, inspired mostly by the NYT article up top but also my own observations. Most of the patrons were, true to Northern California form, wandering in "as they were," which in many cases meant an XXL t-shirt (I'm not kidding) and cargo shorts. It was definitely a little odd to sit down for a meal that, for half the room, was a once-in-a-lifetime moonshot, and for the other half was a casual weekday meal they had probably decided on as they drove to the place. More thoughts to come on this topic. Thanks for reading.