Manresa tasting menu w/ a few friends last week. 1st time for any of us at the restaurant. Expectations not high. Nonetheless, the consensus from all of us was disappointment. To quote 1 friend, "nothing blew me away." On top of that, there were 2 major problems: REDUNDANCY and a pathetic excuse for a substitution course.
First, the redundancy issue. From reviews by Chowhounds, critics, and other boards/websites, I was hoping for innovative food with a good variety of ingredients and flavors. Again, our expectations were not high. However, what we got did not match any of those hopes. Not that I really "hope" for innovative food - frankly, I just want something to taste good. If it's different from anything I've had AND it tastes good, then it's way past my expectations.
As for my complaint of redundancy, I should also say I don't mind basing a menu on a particular flavor or ingredient, e.g. entire animal type menus. But at Manresa, it was: here's an ingredient or flavor several times throughout, with nothing tying them together. That really disappointed me, but I'd be curious to hear if others think I'm off base.
summary of tasting menu:
+ 1 petit fours
= 17 total dishes
- 4 dishes w/ foie gras (1 course w/ a slab of it, 3 others included smaller amounts)
- 3 or 4 dishes w/ "greens from the restaurant garden" (sure they're fresh, but can't we have other vegetables, too?!)
- 3 dishes w/ some kind of foam (nice for 1 dish, messed up the texture of 2 other dishes - and shoot, foam is not innovative, especially 3 times!)
- 3 or 4 dishes w/ scallions (again, I like some, but in so many dishes?)
- 3 dishes with mushrooms (ditto)
- 2 seafood dishes cooked a la plancha (leaving both dry and one of them badly overcooked)
Personally, the use of foie gras in 4 dishes didn't bother me because I didn't get those 4 dishes, but everybody else thought, enough with the foie gras!
Which brings me to the substitution issue. I actually requested no foie gras because I just don't like it. I also asked if some seafood (perhaps scallops?) could be substituted in the actual foie gras course. Our server said they didn't get their scallops today, but I thought, there's so much going on here that I'll get something decent instead. For the 3 dishes that used small amounts of foie gras, I got satisfying substitutes.
For the actual foie gras course, while my friends got a large lobe of foie gras on some greens with a sliver of apple, I got ... some greens with a sliver of apple. In other words, they substituted foie gras with a couple extra leaves and passed off the course as "greens from the restaurant garden." That was the 1st actual course of the tasting menu (i.e. post-amuse), so I didn't complain because I figured the rest of the meal would more than make up for it. Looking back, I think it's unacceptable for Manresa to serve something like that.
Finally, service and atmosphere. Like many others have already said, more casual than the "fine dining" places in SF. I appreciated that, though. Our server was very friendly and shared a lot of info about the restaurant and food.