Saturday, July 01, 2006

manresa

A little over a week ago, Mr. Cupcake, a bunch of friends, and I had dinner at Manresa in Los Gatos. I first learned about this restaurant when I started perusing A Taste of the Suburbs blog. There was a entry about how this restaurant was named one of the top 50 restaurants in the world in 2005 according to Restaurant Magazine. Because the restaurant is in Los Gatos which isn't much of a trek for me, I decided I had to go. My good friends were coming in town and we made reservations for 7.

There are three options when ordering at Manresa. The first is a three course meal, the second is four courses, and the final is the chef's tasting menu. If one opts for the tasting menu then everyone in the party will need to do the same. We all had the intention of ordering the tasting menu so this wasn't a problem.

As each course was presented, a server would then give us a description. I'm going to do my best to describe each course from memory, but don't hate me if it's a little vague.

The first amuse was a walnut cookie and a red pepper jelly. The walnut cookie was good and the jelly was a little surprising. I definitely wasn't expecting red pepper, but it was actually very nice. Some of the people in our group weren't fans though and preferred the walnut cookie.

The next amuse bouche was radishes, sea salt, and a creamy side with stuff in it. Mr. Cupcake says it was creme fraiche, but it kind of reminded me of ranch dressing. I can tell you it wasn't ranch dressing though. Anyway, the salt was very complimenting when dipping the radish in the salt before the cream. I was sharing a plate with Mr. Cupcake and CI. They weren't big fans so I ate most of it.

I honestly don't remember what was in this amuse. I know it was two types of citrus and a milky foam. I do remember liking this course a lot, but preferred one citrus over the other. Yes, vague, but at least I can say it was very good!

Here we have the pea croquette. The outside was nice and crispy and the inside was a liquid pea filling. Our server told us to eat it in one bite. I was a little concerned that it would be too hot, but that wasn't the case at all. The temperature was just right and the liquid pea oozed when I popped it into my mouth. It was fantastic.

The final amuse was the soft boiled egg with maple syrup and creme fraiche. From what I've read on various blogs, this is a signature dish. I can see why because it was lovely. The server advised that we scoop all the way to the bottom before eating. The flavor layering was very nice. I could taste the maple syrup which was very complimenting and not overwhelming. It was different and I enjoyed it very much.

This was the first of seven savory main courses. The main ingredient was foie gras and it was very interesting. The foie gras literally melted in my mouth. Normally, the texture of foie gras reminds me of butter, but this was different. It was light and airy but the soup that went along with it made it very rich. Some people thought it was too rich though.

Strawberry gazpacho with cucumbers and an almond (I think) was up next. It came with grilled strawberries pictured below:

The strawberries also had finely minced cucumbers. I preferred the gazpacho over the grilled strawberries. I found the grilled strawberries to be a little too tart for my taste.

This may have been my favorite course. It was cod with a potato. Everyone thought the potato was a scallop. I guess most of us didn't listen to the server when he described it. I was expecting a scallop when I bit into it and was pleasantly surprised to find it was a potato. The outside had a thin, crispy layer and the inside was soft. The cod was flaky, soft, and buttery. I don't think I've ever had fish cooked this perfectly before.

Here we have blackened sea bass with fresh spring veggies from their garden. There was some disagreement from the group over whether or not this fish was blackened. I think I remember the server say it was blackened so I'm sticking to it. Just like the last course, this fish was very well prepared, but I still liked the cod better. One of the nice things about this fish was the outside was crispy and complimented the fish nicely. It didn't have the rich buttery flavor that the last one had. I guess after watching so much Barefoot Contessa and Paula Deen they've made me into a butter freak.


Up next was veal sweatbreads and an escargot ravioli. Some of the people in our group weren't familiar with sweetbreads, so we didn't tell them what they were until they tried it first. I'm not really a big fan of veal or sweetbreads, but I figured I'd give it a whirl because it's always good to give things a chance. The sweetbreads were incredibly light and extremely tender. Again, a very different experience from previous versions of sweetbreads I've tried. The ravioli was only so-so. The texture of the snails were slightly rubbery which is consistent with other variations I've tried. Can't say I'm a big fan.

Here we have a goat curry with peas and a polenta ring. I have mixed feelings about goat. When I was very young, my family use to have a handful of goats. They were really mean, but I couldn't imagine eating them. Though come to think of it, we did drink goat's milk. Then one of my Indian friends fed me goat curry that his mom made and it was great. However, I couldn't help but think about Gail the goat from my childhood. Anyway, this goat curry was fantastic. It was extremely tender and the sauce was slightly sweet. I loved it and R couldn't get enough so he ate part of SH's. I think I'm going to have to get over Gail the goat and eat more goat in the future.

The last savory dish was the squab. This is the only dish that really did not work for me and the only dish I didn't finish. The squab was undercooked which I think was intentional as everyone else's was served the same way. The texture slightly rubbery and it just didn't do it for me. I guess I'd describe it like eating undercooked chicken. The wing was cooked a little longer and the texture was better, but I was still a little put off.

For the first dessert we were served sorbet cones. The flavors included peach, strawberry, and raspberry. I had a strawberry cone and the sorbet had an intense strawberry flavor. The highlight for me was the cone. It was a very light and sweet wafer. I wish all cones tasted like this.

Up next was sour cherries with a rice pudding ice cream. I was surprised they made rice pudding into an ice cream but it was quite good. Mr. Cupcake being the rice pudding fiend that he is wished that there was more ice cream. I thought the ice cream went so well with the sour cherries. While the cherries were sour, they were also sweet. It was a very nice combination.

Next we had a chocolate souffle with a caramel (I think) ice cream. The black sheet that looks like nori was a piece of dark chocolate. I wanted to like this a whole lot more than I did. The souffle was very light and airy. The chocolate flavor wasn't quite as intense as I normally like it to be. And, the chocolate piece was a little too bitter for me. It wasn't bad by any means, but the cherry dessert was definitely my favorite of the dessert courses.

We ended the meal with what looked like the same thing we started with. However, instead of a red pepper gummy, it was strawberry. I liked the strawberry better than the red pepper. It was a good way to end the meal because I don't think I could have eaten anymore.

So four hours later, we were all stuffed. Then came the bill. How much does something like this cost for 7 people you ask? Well, let me show you the tab:

It looks scarier than it actually was. Each person spent about $155 for the dinner including gratuity, a bottle of water, and a bottle of wine. It was definitely worth the experience and I'm looking forward to going back. However, I will skip the tasting menu and go with a three or four course meal instead. The portions are bigger, and my stomach was in some serious pain afterwards because I was so full. Part of that was my fault because they also served bread. If you go, go easy on the bread. Unfortunately for me, I did not heed our server's warning and ate too much bread anyway. No worries though; it was worth the pain.

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