- Address: 320 Village Ln, Los Gatos, CA 95030
- Phone: (408) 354-4330
- Price (after tax + tip): $334 (incl. drinks [$20 pre-tax] and cheese supplement [$35 pre-tax]) // ~$250 without
- Courses: (11 main / 22 total): 5 amuse / 5 bread / 7 savory / 1 cheese / 3 desserts / 1 mignardises
- Price/Main Course: $30
- Rating: 18/20
- Value: 2.5/5
- Dining Time: 220 minutes
- Time/Course (total): 10 minutes
- Chef: David Kinch (ex. Quilted Giraffe, L’Esperance, Akelarre, Sent Sovi); Chef de Cuisine Jessica Largey (ex. Providence (LA))
- In Own Words: “When we’re young cooks, what we do is we’re always putting one more thing on the plate – “what can we add to this plate?” But the older you get and the more confident you are, and the more you realise that really – what nature gives us is the key to what we do, it’s – “what we can take off the plate?”” – source
- Style: Vegetable-focused
- Michelin Stars: 2
The town of Los Gatos, CA is one of the most prosperous communities I have seen in America. Think immaculate bushes, and, tastefully decorated houses. It is among the richest communities in the Bay Area, and America at large. (verified according to this Businessweek report). The town is home to some notable personalities, including the immortality researcher Aubrey de Grey.
In the midst of this wealth stands a restaurant dedicated to vegetables, Manresa, the spiritual counterpart to l’Arpege (Paris) in the United States. Its debt to l’Arpege is clear in many ways. In his cookbook, Chef David Kinch devotes a chapter to Alain Passard’s philosophies; Manresa has an egg dish explicitly named the “Arpege egg”. Indeed my meal would show a similar care and respect for vegetables, (the signature “Into the vegetable garden…”), as well as an impressive duck dish featuring harmonious ingredients colours, reminiscent of the similar colour-coded cooking of some of l’Arpege’s most spectacular dishes, a signature Passard “style”.
In my visit there, I thought the flavor profile was subtle, seeking a quiet harmony. Manresa is not a restaurant that seeks out to shock and awe in every course – a sign of a mature aesthetic. There is something of the Japanese kaiseki philosophy in Chef Kinch’s cooking – trust in the ingredients, restraint. Dishes which I was not sure whether I liked right after eating them, have in the course of remembering them, grown in my estimation.
The cooking wasn’t always this vegetable-forward. My server for the night had been with the restaurant from the start. Conversing with him about the changes he has seen, I found out that about 70-75% of their clientele is regional, from around California, and the remaining 25-30% is national, with internationals still forming quite a rare minority. This is probably due to Los Gatos’s geographical position right in the very end of the Bay, more internationals passing through the further SFO (San Francisco) than SJS (San Jose) – it takes a special effort to head down to Manresa. In the early years Chef Kinch, cooked in a more rustic French style, but that shifted towards his current vegetable forward fare. The transformation of the restaurant towards haute-fare was made complete this year, as now Manresa only serves a $195 tasting menu.
Again, the blogger “Food Snob” has written the canonical post about Chef Kinch’s history, so I won’t re-invent the wheel and direct you to his write-up if you want to find out more about Chef Kinch. An excerpt:
Kinch first hit the national headlines in the summer of 2004, when at the behest of Eric Ripert, he prepared a meal at Le Bernardin for a group of journalists. Ripert had just eaten at the chef’s then newly-opened restaurant and was amazed: ‘that guy is seriously talented. I was like, Son of a *****! He has an incredible, obsessive knowledge of his products and the rare talent to elevate ingredients to their best.’ The assembled guests were stunned and delighted by what he had cooked with the local produce that he had brought with him all the way from the Bay Area.
Since then, inspired by Passard’s biodynamic gardens, Kinch has followed in his footsteps, establishing a partnership with farmer Cynthia Sandberg to create their own potager to produce Manresa’s produce. This search for superior ingredients, in combination with his creativity and talent as a chef, has won him loyal and growing admiration locally and globally. In 2007, he was invited to speak at Pamplona’s I Congresso ‘Vive las Verduras’ and then at the Festival International de la Gastronomie de Mougins the year after. He is currently recognised as a chef on the forefront of gastronomy.
Kinch believes that ‘there are two characteristics that enable restaurants to transcend the ordinary. First is that someone has a vision…the other is a sense of place – the restaurant couldn’t be anywhere else than where it is.’ He wanted the cooking to reflect who and where he was and to, like Chapel had, ‘create a sense of place’. Thus, sandwiched between the mountains and the ocean (thus bringing to mind the Basque country) and amid some of the richest farmland in the United States, he quickly fell in love with the area’s unique and fruitful terroir. Whilst in Saratoga, the chef had his own herb garden and employed a forager on nearly full-time basis, but after the move to Manresa, he expanded his local supply lines: he buys from (and surfs with) the producers at the much-loved Dirty Girl Farm; sources his cherries, apricots, peaches and nectarines from the nearby Novakovich family; and knows well the retired IBM software developer, Gene Lester, who owns twelve acres filled with hundreds of rare and exotic citrus to which he lets friends help themselves.
Each of these suppliers is important yet secondary. It is actually a two-acre plot in Ben Lomond, twenty-five miles from Manresa, which shares a mutually-dependent and mutually-rewarding relationship with the restaurant. It is called Love Apple Farm and run together with attorney-turned-farmer, Cynthia Sandberg. Several years ago, it dawned on Kinch that local chefs were ‘go[ing] to the farmers’ market and all…buying the same organic leeks and lettuces. We’re all doing the same thing. I wanted to do better.’ To him, the natural next step was growing his own. Originally, he thought about buying a farm, but after tasting some of Sandberg’s organic tomatoes, he asked her to supply him exclusively. When it came to negotiations, each had a final condition, which fortuitously turned out to be the same thing – to try biodynamics. By November 2005, the pair had made their first ‘preparation’ of manure-stuffed cow horns to be buried beneath the soil. By summer 2006, the garden’s crop was on the restaurant’s menu.
Manresa is famous for its sole-customer relationship with Love Apple Farms; the farm supplies exclusively to Manresa. When I went in late April, there was going to be a celebration in Los Gatos the next day to celebrate the release of the film “The Farmer and the Chef” – the film about the relationship between David Kinch and Love Apple Farms proprietor Cynthia Sandberg. It is one of the great culinary partnerships.
I would recommend Manresa to a diner who is tired of the sensational but anonymous New International style of cooking – dashis, gelees, exotic citruses, foie; mindless trend-following – cooked up in so many Michelin-starred kitchens. Here is a kitchen that intelligently brings the taste of California to the diner.
Memory: “Into the Vegetable Garden…”, Duck and rice, “yuzu-jalapeno”, Rhubarb compote with elderflower
Other notable write-ups
The Early Spring Garden (late April)
Promotional Flyer for a May visit by Eneko Atxa (Azurmendi, 3* Michelin, Bilbao)
- A cute piece of visual trickery, where similar looking dishes are presented at the beginning and end of the meal. (also see, Eleven Madison Park)
- Here black olive madeleine, a buttery delight. On top of petit-four of red pepper. Strong and intense capsicum scent and flavor.
- Liquid center of lemon and kohlrabi. Lemon butter (rich) was the dominant taste, complemented well with side ingredient kohlrabi, root-vegetable taste.
- Olive oil ice cream, made from Sciabaca olive oil, an exceptional and fruity olive oil.
- On top a kale chip savory.
- This was served as a palate cleanser.
- A Manresa specialty. Abalone of Monterrey Bay, CA. Dashi gelee made with braising liquids of abalone. Radish greens.
- Taste profile of the dish was towards savory side.
- Highlighted the rubbery texture of abalone, in small bits so it did not become unpleasant.
- I appreciated the qualities of the dish, but my personal opinion is that the rubber-iness of abalone is a lesser quality to emphasise in an abalone, at best an acquired taste. I had eaten an abalone dish at Saison a few days earlier where the meatiness was emphasised (by roasting), which appealed much more immediately.
- (Context is everything) In Singapore, rubber-iness of abalone is de-emphasised. Cantonese fine-dining restaurants choose to braise it for hours in dishes like “Buddha jumps over the wall” to achieve the ideal texture of a gelatin-meat.
- The sociological reason for this general Singaporean preference, I suspect, is there is a prevalence of low to middle grade canned-abalone in Singapore, the canning process of which increases the rubbery texture. So the “luxury” connotations of abalone in Singapore attach themselves to non-rubbery abalone.
- By special request, I had to try the Manresa version of the l’Arpege egg. (famous due to the hot-cold contrast of cold sherry cream with just-poached yolk, and ginger and chive for spice, topped with maple syrup. Thanks)
- I had made this myself using Kinch’s recipe a month before
- Was equally delicious, though I have to say, ironically I did enjoy my version of the Manresa egg a bit more than the actual Manresa version of the Manresa egg (because I blitzed mine with maple syrup, unlike the Manresa version which was a light drizzle) Here they use Tahitian maple syrup.
- Clockwise from 12 o’clock: Levain [using a low production Einkorn flour], Baguette, Onion Roll, Brioche (sitting on top of Sourdough). My favorite was the buttery brioche
- Sciabica olive oil, fall 2013 cold pressing, from Modesto California. You may buy it from http://sunshineinabottle.com/. A real paragon of fruity olive oil
- Cherry salmon/ its own roe/ freeze-dried tangerine. Assertive and strong fish flavor from the cherry-salmon roe, cut by citrus from roasted grapefruit and dried tangerine. Dried tangerine crisp, with crisp of fish skin. Not bad.
- Cherry salmon: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oncorhynchus_masou
- “norinade” = seaweed tapenade.
- Blue cheese, grapefruit. A bit lackluster.
- This was the signature Manresa dish that had brought me to the restaurant. It did not disappoint.
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpN-sUXJZnQ At 14:00 in this video Kinch discusses this dish, comprised of purees, vegetables, their juices, flowers and stems. It is a dish about showing respect to ingredients
- Each of the vegetables were cooked to individual perfection, including the best peas I have ever tried – petite, juicy, not a trace of starchy texture, firm to the bite, one could almost describe them as “pea caviar”.
- The smells and scents of this dish reminded me a wafting cloud, within which I could only grasp at only a few familiar scents… wasabi, mint, pea, carrot, anise.
- The last time I was so bewildered was when I dined at Central, in Lima Peru. I could not even begin to describe the unique tastes I was trying. Here, my palate was insufficient to distinguish a third of the 60-70 ingredients, other than to say it is an amazingly complex dish. An invigorating taste of Northern California.
Hands all over the plate. It’s that good, folks.
- A soft white fish, raw-ish inside. Sweet potato chip and caramelised sweet potato. Nasturtium
- Smoked carrots, musky roasted lentils and grains, juniper (giving a complex anise flavor to the broth of roasted grains and earthy carrot)
- Paired with morels, reminding me slightly of a Cantonese preparation of cod with black fungus. The earth (morels) and sea (roasted cod) was paired with fava bean puree, and leek oils on top.
- An intriguing dish was served as the last savory. This was a dish about presentation and complimentary flavors. Roasted aged duck, with Japanese rice underneath, and the fermenting blend of yuzu+jalapeno (yuzu zest+chopped jalapeno) had been fermented since December. Daikon.
- The invigorating scent and taste jalapeno brought to mind wasabi. My mind associated this dish with a sort of roasted-duck wasabi sushi.
- The focus on complimentary color, pink-ish roasted duck meat, pink herbs, pink daikon, the pink yuzu-jalapeno brought to memory for a second time l’Arpege, where Passard often cooks dishes of the most brilliant color harmonies
- I was not immediately taken by this dish. But the memory of it refuses to die, it was one of the most interesting dishes I was served on my California trip.
- This was a dish with an intriguing taste, but rooted in an amazing play on color. Two points of harmony.
- I liked very much the Meyer lemon-pepper inflected Sandy Bottom, (Sullivan Pond Farm, Wake, VA), goats cheese. Apparently it is aged in grape leaves. (5/5) top row, right
- Also of note was the Kinderhook Creek sheep, Old Chatham Co in Hudson Valley, NY. bottom row, middle. (5/5)
- Thanks to my server Bryan who was also the cheese curator. Very interesting selection
- Another exercise in quiet harmony. Rhubarb foam with elderflower sorbet, and leaves of micro arugular. Elderflower pearls beneath (made with agar), and poached rhubarb. Green grapeseed oils on top
- strawberries from Cook County CA, with fennel fronds, fennel puree, crushed shortbread. Vanilla parfait. Freeze dried strawberries. Pleasing.
- Sorrel gave it a herbal flavor, rounding out chocolate
- Reversed, now a chocolate madeleine and a strawberry petit-fours. Visual doppelganger.
The kitchen. In the absence of Chef Kinch, Chef de Cuisine Jessica Largey presided over the kitchen.
A bowl of caramels