I have been to Manresa before but did not seem to enjoy the experience. Maybe it was because it was on a quiet Sunday and the company I was with did not seem to enjoy thinking about food as I would and brought down my mood. Maybe because the service seemed not totally polished as one would expect in SF.
This time around I took photos of the food, but J hasn't copied them over from her camera yet, so I'll have to post the photos later.
I decided to go to Manresa again last night with the hopes that all the glowing experiences I continue to read online and in print would match my own.
Note: If you are coming from the North and use Google or Yahoo maps, you'll get incorrect directions, they have you turning right on to Village Ln, when the street is one way going left. There is a small parking lot near the Bank of the West that seems to be filled pretty quick, but parking is easy to find along the street.
The restaurant last night was humming with conversation as the place was packed. The first half of the evening, J and I had to speak with raised voices to hear each other. There were some younger people dining, and the dress varied from business formal to uber casual (tshirt and jeans). Tables are spaced generously apart, maybe three feet spacing on both sides.
Ordering was straightforward: the tasting menu ($110) each, a glass of sauvignon blanc, and a half bottle of the 2001 Calera Pinot Noir.
The first amouse bouche brought out were petit fours: a red pepper pate de fruit (think gumdrop) and black olive madeleine. Nothing mind blowing but nice to munch on while waiting.
One of the runners/bussers brought over the bread basked and offered choices from wheat, sourdough and french breads. Throughout the night service seemed much improved from the last time I was there. 90% of the time, the runners would serve from the left and clear from the right. Some were smoother than others, but overall well trained and pleasant.
The second amouse was a "Citrus cocktail" but the runner described it as a date & champagne cocktail gelee. Foamy on top. Very clean and bright. This was my first "wow" uttered of the night.
Quickly following was a chestnut and foie gras croquette. Same shape but slightly larger in size than a crouton, the runner suggested eating it in one bite. The molten center gushed in my mouth and after swallowing, uttered my second of many "wows" of the night.
The last amouse is the famous egg that is usually served as part of the tasting menu. I remember enjoying it immensely the first time I was there and was not let down. The egg is served in its shell with the yolk and eggwhite soft boiled and layered with a balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, and a bit of creme fraiche. The saltiness, sweetness and slight sour tang all blends together very well. J wasn't so enthused about this amouse, instead rating the foie gras croquette her number one. She asked around now whether the portion sizes for the dishes would stay small. I assured her that at the end of the meal she would be satisfied.
Next was a raw oyster on the half shell topped with fresh sea urchin roe in a gel. There was some spread under the oyster meat that I couldn't identify. There was a short cylindrical cake of salt that supported the shell that was a nice looking but useful detail to the dish.
I wasn't too hot on this dish, but the flavors again were fresh and vibrant of the sea.
Next was a small cup of watercress (pureed +stock) soup, bright green, with the bottom third of the cup lined with foie gras. Another tremendous 'wow' and simple dish.
The seafood when the runner brough us each a big white bowl with a small mound of raw seafood on the bottom. He listed the creatures as sea bream, squid, and clam. He then poured a hot broth over it and recommended us to stir it for a few seconds to allow the heat to somewhat cook/heat the seafood. He said the broth was a miso broth, but it didn't taste like miso and the printed menu we later received said "dried sardine broth" which seemed closer to what I tasted. This dish didn't really work for me. The soup/stew ended up being very luke cold and the sardine broth didn't seem to combine well with the seafood. I probably would have enjoyed to sip the soup and eat the seafood sashimi style.
More seafood! Next was a "escabeche" (looked like a small piece of fillet lightly steamed) of mackeral atop some ruby grapefruit and a pear vinegar sauce. The natural salty/oiliness of the fish was balanced by the bright acidity of the grapefruit and sauce. Another winner. Around now, J realized that we were barely half way in, and all those small bites did add up.
Dish number 9 for those who are counting was a marvelous lobster meat cooked with "aromatic" Indian spices over lentils, a butter sauce, with a mound of leeks. The meat was pretty soft with almost no rubber texture often experienced. The Indian spices got masked a bit by the butter/oil in my opinion but overall a very nice dish. J puts this dish near the top of the "memorable" dishes list.
Finally, we moved out of seafood to a "Devilled" dates, pig belly and jowl with carmelized onions. The soft, juicy textures of the pork (belly fat mm) and textures of the jowl and onions worked really well with the aromatic date sauce. One of my favorites of the night.
Milk fed poularde, poached, then roasted, with foraged mushrooms came. The runner almost joking described the poularde as a "big chicken." This dish I dont' remember enjoying immensely because my energy was flagging about this point. Aside from the meat being moist and matching well with the pinot noir, I don't remember much on this one.
Last "main" dish were small slices of beef roasted in its fat with veal sweetbreads roasted whole, and black truffles. I thought the beef was pleasantly chewey, while J spit out some parts as unswallowable. I enjoyed this dish, but found the sweetbreads kind of just "there" and not doing much to the dish.
There was a palate cleanser of a "pineapple consomme." Around now it two and a half hours had passed and I took a quick break to stretch my legs. The women usually sit on the couch/bench side with comfortable looking cushion while the other side's (you are facing the wall/window while your back faces the rest of the room) chairs have a very thin cushion which hurt my back and bottom by this time.
Dish 14 was a miniature strawberry souffle with lemon cream. We both enjoyed this a lot, as I am a big fan of all classic souffle desserts. J mentioned that she could eat another one.
Dish 15 was a chocolate marquis, banana (forgot how it was prepared), and coconut ice cream. Good, but by now three hours had passed and for me, dessert peaked at the souffle. =)
The whole night ended with us coming full circle with petit fours (again in the gumdrop and madeleine variety) but with strawberry and chocolate respectively.
We were the last ones to leave the restaurant three and a quarter hours later, with the tasting menu taking just over three hours. Final judgement of all this food? Very deserving of the four stars and any other accolade the restaurant has received. For a while, Gary Danko's has been my favorite restaurant but I've changed my mind to put Manresa on top.