Manka's Report (Early December)
F O O D
Light buttery biscuit warm with herbs, fragrant lettuce, local cheese, and slice of roast pork (not listed on the menu... Sorry for the inept description). Excellent--the biscuit was very light and the insides were savory and perfect.
"Soup fashioned from local leeks" The soup was full of leeks and in a cream base. Good. I could take or leave this one, but then I'm not a huge soup person. I enjoyed it though.
"Warm leaves of Annabelle's escarole draped over fire grilled whisps of lamb dappled with pomegranate" Very very good. The lamb was sliced into thin discs and was incredibly tender if not very fire grilled; the escarole, however, was fire grilled and the edges charred (mmmm). The curious thing about this one was that the escarole part was very salty; I'm not sure if it was intended or if there was a slip with the coarse salt, but we all remarked on it. I'm a salt-loving person so I liked the saltiness. The escarole was drizzled with a reduced stock (jus) and pomegranate seeds were sprinkled over the lot. There was a pinch of something else on the side and I couldn't tell if it was slivered mushrooms or another type of meat (it was a mushroomy texture but a meaty flavor).
"Dungeness crab...[from Chimney Rock area]...Pulled from our wood burning ovens plated with an autumn garlic mayonnaise" Super Excellent (!!!) This was maybe the best course--they gave us some crab-dismantling tools and let us go from there. The crab was smeared with a coarse-chopped garlic butter (lightly salted) and then roasted. I don't know if they roasted it entirely or if the crab was boiled first, then garlic-buttered, then roasted... but it was awesome. The aioli had meyer lemon mixed with it and all of us completely forgot about it until we had finished the crab, whereupon we dipped the ends of our forks to taste it: it was okay, the crab was surely better without it.
"Tenderloin of Bill's pig grilled in the fireplace and Peter's potatoes crushed with housemade bacon served with a red wine pork sauce enriched with knuckle and trotter" Very very good to excellent. The tenderloin was indeed very tender and flavorful and cooked so that the centers were just a bit rare, the potatoes (I am normally not a big potato fan) were very tasty, not overly 'bacony' and perfect with Bill's pig.
Deserts: a flight of three deserts that we shared. All were very good with particular highlights.
1. A stack of sliced apples (dried a little or maybe baked, and sliced paper thin) served over goat cheese (Laura Chenel) with candied walnuts and a tangy reduced apple "gravy" over the top (gave it a very savory effect). This was very good. The apples were warm, the walnuts were buttery and perfect, the cheese was mild.
2. Warm ginger cake with whipped cream over the top and a drizzle of butterscotch. The ginger cake had an intense ginger flavor which I like and the whole desert was very good.
3. No-flour chocolate cake with double-caramel ice cream. The ice cream was unbelievable and excellent in combination with the cake. The caramel flavor (as the "double-caramel" description stated) was indeed intense. The cake was good and fudgy and the chocolate flavor had a bitter edge.
W I N E
Sean Thackery Pleiades (one of the wines by the glass, we were offered this while waiting to be seated. How sweet!)
David Noyes Pinot Russian River valley 2001(?)
Duval-leroy Blanc de Chardonney Brut 1996
Sean Thackery Sirius 2001
Sean Thackery Orion 2001
Pinot & Champagne: I have actually only had maybe two pinots I liked, have purchased them now and again, and have tasted several in various wineries, etc. Normally I find that the ones in my price range have an unfortunate grape jelly smell. (And I hate grape jelly.) One of our party had spotted a familiar pinot noir and so we ordered that. It was pretty good--sweeter than I would have expected, with a slight effervescent tickle, and luckily no grape jelly whatsoever. The champagne was for desert. Interesting to note is that due to the vintage ('96), it was specifically not put on ice because the waiter felt that the flavors were better represented cool but not ice cold. We agreed since we had no idea.
Why the apparent Sean Thackery obsession: My uncle spent a lengthy evening at Mankas a year ago with Sean Thackery doing intensive research for an article about his wines, Orion in particular, and hasn't shut up about it since. Shortly thereafter, my brother and I were given gift certificates for dinner at Manka's and we finally got our act together to do it. Unsure that we would survive the next family visit without being able to talk Orion/Thackery/[petit] syrah, we figured it was the time and place to try it. My brother uttered the word Orion, the waiter did a double take, stuttered a little about what a big wine it was and disappeared. Once back at the table he displayed the bottle, pulled the cork, we did the taste (it was happily unspoiled), he described the wine a bit more and left us with filled glasses to taste for ourselves. Immediately we pulled the bottle closer to inspect the very understated mauve-ish label in the dim light and whoa!--it was Sirius, not Orion. We weren't sure what to do at this point.. except taste Sirius. After a bit the waiter swung by to see how the wine was progressing and we were sort of silent wondering what to say when I blurted out that it was good, not Orion, but very good. Then I blushed all sorts of red. The waiter was so nice and we didn't really know what to do or what he would do and he just snagged the bottle, disappeared again, and returned with the correct bottle--the label of which was identical to the Sirius except that it said "Orion" instead. Now we had two full glasses in front of us: Sirius on the left, Orion on the right (both year 2001, by the way). It was a treat really to get to try both of them. Both wines are very extreme (I'm used to Trader Joe's $8-15 calibre wine honestly, and rarely have much opportunity to try more serious fare)--the Sirius is a Petit Syrah; the Orion is an old vine syrah. Unfortunately I lack the proper terminology for describing wine, but comparing the two side by side, we felt that the Sirius was more floral (to smell) and the Orion more fruity and cheesy (if that makes sense--again, I am not a wine pro here)--you almost got the sense you get from smelling a ripe cheese: it smells strong and you know that is what makes it awesome inside. Both wines were practically black in color; the Sirius in particular actually made the glass pink for a moment when you swirled, it was so dense. Both of them changed considerably upon airing a bit. All of us preferred the Orion I think, the flavor was heavier and more intense and did a sounder job of blowing us away. They both were unlike anything I've really ever tried before; each sip was very rich with flavor and texture.
W A I T S T A F F
We had three basic servers:
Water dude: He appeared to be new, or at least projected the nerves of someone a little unsure of himself. He refilled water glasses using a stylish old water pitcher that had the function of damming up the water with ice cubes so that the water fount is a trickle at best--taking a million years to refill all four of our glasses. We had been hiking all day and were drinking a lot of water, thereby necessitating several refills. During one such refill, two of our party swear he muttered, "thirsty buggers!" at realizing that the water he just filled a minute ago was again empty.
Waiter Minor: He appeared to our table maybe three times, bringing plates and describing the contents with a thespian voice and a concerned wrinkle in his brow.
Waiter Major: Super nice, low key style, goofy mannerisms; overall a perfect waiter for us. We were a lucky table that night and were brought a taste of another petit syrah from another party (they were in fact from the winery) who was having a dinner/tasting event extravaganza. I'm such a bonehead and can't remember what the name was so I'll spare you the comparison details.
The only vague complaint I can think of was the wine glasses were not very *fancy*--one thing I was particularly excited over when dining at Chez Panisse a few years ago. In the website photo of the dining room, the stemware looks like Spieglau bordeaux or something similar; the stemware we had (and indeed everyone else) was okay, but thick-walled with a bulbous rim around the top (I don't think that the white glasses differed from the reds either from what I could observe from other tables). Water glasses also had a bulbous rim, but it was intentional and exaggerated and they were very cute because of it.