Monday, December 26, 2011

Manresa (Los Gatos, CA)

To celebrate my brother's 21st birthday (only a month in advance), my family went to dinner at Manresa. Usually we steer away from tasting menus, but my father's colleague strongly recommended it to us. Thus, we embarked on a gastronomical adventure through the Santa Cruz mountains.
The tasting menu consisted of 7 savory courses and 2 desserts, with little extras at the beginning and the end. We did not know ahead of time what each course would be.

The first amuse-bouche was olive madeleines and cubes of red bell pepper paste. The pepper paste was sweet but slightly spicy.
The second little appetizer looked like little donuts, but we were told to eat them in one bite. Each ball was filled with liquid foie gras and chestnut which gushed into the mouth when eaten.
The last of the pre-courses was the Arpège egg, a dish borrowed from the Parisian restaurant L'Arpège. The egg was opened at the top and filled with a light mousse. At the bottom rested the partially cooked yolk with sherry vinegar and spices.
For the first actual course, we were served a cold dish of razor clams, geoduck clams and sprouted lentils covered with jellied chicken broth. The grassy flavor of the sprouted lentils made an interesting contrast with the sweet clams and the savory broth.
Next came the raw scallops with onions, seaweed, avocado, and broccoli tempera. I liked the delicate flavor of this dish. The combination of the sweet scallops and creamy avocado was very good.
The next course was introduced as "A walk through the vegetable garden," and it lived up to its name. On our plates was a salad of colorful and flavorful leaves, flowers, and roots tied together with a savory foam. Hidden beneath the leaves I found various sauces, some citrusy, others vinegary. What was interesting about this dish was that each mouthful tasted different from the last one because the leaves and flowers had their own distinctive flavors.
The "Midwinter Tidepool" was our favorite dish. In our bowls was a warm broth that burst with flavor. It was briny like seawater but was also savory and sweet. In the broth I found clams, sea urchin, enoki mushrooms, seaweed, and even a thin slice of foie gras. It was delicious.
Compared to the previous dish, the partially cooked trout was disappointing. The trout seemed to have been shredded and reconstituted and was served with fresh fennel, caramelized fennel, and honey.
After this dip in quality the flavor came back up. The next dish was goat confit (prepared in the same way as duck confit) with compressed persimmon. The salty-sweet worked very well, and the portion was perfect.
Next came the last savory dish: venison cooked "sous vide" (in a vacuum) with quince purée and a chanterelle mushroom. The venison was tender but appropriately strong tasting. The quince purée was surprisingly starchy rather than sweet.
The first dessert was citrus tapioca with yuzu sherbert and toffee pieces topped with a light citrusy cream. It was light and tasty.
The second dessert was strange but good. We were served mushroom ice cream with maple syrup and chips with cinnamon and a churro. The mushroom ice cream with the maple syrup reminded me of bacon with maple syrup. 
As a link back to the beginning of the meal, the servers brought us chocolate madeleine with strawberry paste.
And finally, because it was my brother's birthday (kinda), we got an extra dessert to share: a lemon cake!
Manresa was all in all, a wonderful experience.

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