Sunday, March 25, 2007

Manresa 2

So, pictures are forthcoming, but I want to get my impressions down now, so they'll be added later.

Ei-Nyung (and her family, by proxy) took me out to Manresa tonight for the tasting menu. We'd been there once before, and had a spectacular meal, so I was really excited to go back. If you've never been there, it's sort of a modern Californian food - not quite Alice Waters' "let the natural flavors just do their thing," but also not the more insane stuff that a place like WD-50 might serve. It tends to be basically what you'd think of as "normal" fine dining with just enough of a modern twist to be regularly somewhat surprising.

The run-down:

  • Petit-fours "red pepper-black olive": We'd had this the last time we came - same as it was before. The black olive madeline may be my favorite thing at the restaurant. Just a little unexpected, but still absolutely perfect in execution. Everything is in perfect balance - texture contrasts crisp with soft & chewy, and the savory-sweet interplay is just *delightful*.
  • Garden croquettes: These are also something we'd had last time - basically a deep-fried cube of liquid something, that's supposedly garden greens. These are *magic*. They just burst in your mouth - the crisp, fried exterior basically giving way to an intensely flavored liquid center.
  • Oyster in urchin jelly: This isn't exactly the most appetizing-sounding thing, but like everything else we had, the execution was brilliant. It had essentially a seawater gelee, which the oyster, and a small piece of uni were suspended in. The saltiness of the gelee, and the er... oyster-y texture of the oyster were really well served by the creamy uni, and it's the first time I've had uni where I've been completely in love with it. I still haven't had the uni at Angelfish, which is supposedly quite good, but it just worked perfectly here - the creamy texture, a perfect complement to the rest of the ingredients.
  • Arpege farm egg: This is something we'd had before. The last time we had it, my egg was completely out of balance. There's some sherry vinegar, and maple syrup in this egg, which gives you an idea of the balances they're trying to achieve, and in part because I ended up eating it wrong, and in part because I think the ingredients were actually out-of-whack last time, I didn't really "get" this dish. This time, I understood it. The twang of the vinegar contrasts nicely with the creamy egg, and the sweet, lingering hint of maple really makes each bite a whole variety of experiences all in one. Great stuff.
That was just the amuse-bouches (amuses-bouche?) and appetizers. The "main courses" were
  • Beef and oyster tartare, asparagus: This, to me, was the standout dish of the night. A perfectly cooked spear of asparagus was flanked by a bright red beef & oyster tartare, and a canelle of horseradish cream. If I'd seen this on a menu, I'd not likely have ordered it, but when I go back again, I'd *definitely* get this dish. The richness of the cream and the tartare was offset by the asparagus and spicy hotness of the horseradish. Most dishes have a "perfect bite," where you get just the right amount of everything, and it just works the way you're sure the chef intended. This, I felt I could eat in a whole variety of ways. Every bite had a different balance of flavors, but they all worked, and were all interesting and delicious
  • Amberjack, sashimi-style, olive oil and chives: This was good, but I've had things that are similar to it, but better - primarily, the best single dish I've ever had was the hotate hot-oil sashimi at Morimoto. Chez Panisse had a similar dish as well, and neither of them have held a candle to Morimoto. Still delicious, mind you, but it suffers only by comparison.
  • Watercress veloute with cauliflower, green garlic: The watercress veloute was *intensely* green, and somewhat bitter on its own. The cauliflower was a little sweet, rich, and mixed with what I think must have been little fried bits of green garlic. The mixture of everything was excellent, offsetting the bitterness of the watercress veloute. By the end of the plate, when excess veloute was all that was left, it was too bitter on its own. But still, quite good. The only disappointment was essentially how this interacted with the next dish.
  • Slow roasted monkfish, potatoes with anchovy, pine nut: This was a piece of monkfish, some tiny potatoes, and a pine nut puree with a foam of some sort. I thought it was quite good, but the strange thing about it to me was that a lot of the flavor components were very similar to the previous dish, and the way those things balanced together felt very similar. As a result, these two dishes immediately blended together for me, and between the two dishes, the only thing I really remember was the bitterness of the watercress, and the general overall balance of savory, slightly salty flavors. Don't get me wrong - each one was delicious, and on their own, would be excellent at any restaurant - but I think the fact that these two dishes were very similar in the way their flavors were constructed meant that instead of complementing each other, they ended up detracting from each other.
  • Pig's trotters, frisee salad, gribiche: This was a fried ball of pork. I think Ei-Nyung thought it was a little too salty, but I thought mine was fine. Very similar, strangely, to the fried ball o' rabbit we had at the French Laundry, though the rabbit was a really interesting flavor I wasn't used to, and though I don't think I've had "trotters" before specifically, still pork. Not necessarily as interesting, but still delicious.
  • Local spring lamb, carrots with dates, mache: The lamb was awesome - perfectly seasoned, tender, just the right amount of gamey. No complaints whatsoever, and one of the best pieces of lamb I've had. But the weirdly incredible thing to me about this dish was the small piece of carrot that garnished the lamb. Best bite of carrot I've ever had in my entire life. Nicely caramelized flavor, a perfect match for the more straightforward sweetness of the carrot. It was just like every distinct flavor of the carrot had been amplified by the slightest hint of caramel. Awesome.
And that was that for the mains. On to dessert!

  • Grapefruit and tarragon soda, campari: Holy mother of god, this was GREAT. There was a 'tarragon sugar' that lined the edge of the glass. The overall impact reminded me of a dessert we had during Dine About Town at Rubicon two years ago that had a lot of similar flavors. I think grapefruit, in a dessert like this is just a fantastic palate cleanser, and really ends a dinner on a bright, happy note. Lovely. I've gotta figure out how to make something like this.
  • Avocado mousse, gene's mandarins: This was basically a canelle of sweet cream, avocado mousse, and a citrus granita. While I "get" why there's avocado here, honestly, I thought the avocado flavor wasn't necessary, and actually unbalanced the dish a bit. The sweet cream and the citrus granita, to me, were perfect together. Maybe I've got a simpler palate, but there you go. The creamy ... uh... cream, and the bright, frozen crunch of the granita, and the sweetness and citrusy twang were great.
  • Chocolate beignet, hot fudge, and tonka bean ice cream: Whoa. This was great. There was some sort of foam I had trouble identifying on top of the beignet (my nose was partially still stuffed from an afternoon encounter with cats), but the hot fudge was HOLY SHIT CHOCOLATE!!!!! intense. The ice cream, hot fudge, beignet combo was inarguably awesome.
  • Petit fours "strawberry-chocolate": This is the punchline to the joke at the beginning of the meal, a more traditional version of the initial amuse-bouche. Delicious as before, but nothing particularly surprising.
All in all, I really like Manresa. It's likely my favorite restaurant in the Bay Area, and possibly anywhere. It's 95% the quality of The French Laundry at 50% of the price, and with a more laid back, comfortable atmosphere.

I'm not saying that Aperto, or Geta, or any of the various day-to-day restaurants have anything to fear - but if I'm looking for "fine dining," Manresa's got to be at the top of the list for me. Excellent food, excellent service, just relaxed enough to be comfortable, just upscale enough to be special, and an experience I would gladly repeat, again and again.


Blogger ei-nyung said...

Where are the pictures?!

1:58 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home