I must start my report by saying that I've been suffering from writer's paralysis w/ this one. I can write a long-winded post about homemade ice cream, a simple dinner in Santa Cruz, the joys of bone marrow...UGH, how was I possibly going to write about a complex 18-course tasting menu at arguably the best upscale South Bay restaurant right now, Manresa?
Well, fortunately, many other hounds and bloggers have filled you in on the minutae that surrounds the tasting menu at Manresa. *Deep Breath*
I'm particularly grateful to "wlw18" for her wonderfully detailed report on June 27th: [BROKEN LINK REMOVED]
Alice Patis also recounted her May four-course dinner w/ photos here: [BROKEN LINK REMOVED]
So everything I had read, seen, and heard got me charged up for our anniversary dinner last Fri. At the same time, I tried to enter w/ openness and tempered preconceptions to not set myself up for disappointment.
Rather than go into every detail of the meal or give impressions of each dish, I present to you a tasting menu of thoughts that floated in my mind during and after the meal. Photos of all but two dishes can be viewed at the link below. I refused to use flash, so some photos are blurry or have been brightened so you can see what's going on. For photos that were altered, the coloring of the dishes may look artificially saturated so keep that in mind.
Here goes my tasting menu of thoughts:
1. Chef Kinch's food is generally inventive and well-conceived. Every centimeter of food is packed w/ bold yet deftly-balanced flavors.
2. While I've read that Chef Kinch's strength lies in his starting amuses, I thought the entire meal hummed along fairly evenly.
3. A large part of the wonderment I felt was due to the teeny-tiny food. Not to say the portions were too small, but rather many ingredients were leprechaun-sized. The smallest herbs I had ever seen. I was also in complete awe over the tiny, dainty wild asparagus spears that were tied together w/ the most nimble of fingers. How does one cook and handle such tiny food?!
4. I found the use of salt throughout really interesting. Sometimes the first bite would taste too salty and then my mouth would calibrate w/ successive bites. Nothing was undersalted, but some dishes were a little too salty w/o being offensive.
5. Hits that I will remember for a long time: plum w/ hibiscus and lime; corn croquettes; the egg (of course!); cool crenshaw melon soup w/ almond tofu; ABALONE W/ PIG'S TROTTER (my favorite dish if I had to choose!); melon sorbets; chocolate marquis w/ condensed milk ice cream.
6. Misses that didn't come together for me: cioppino jelly; rouget w/ cous cous and black olive caramel; plum souffle w/ accoutrements. All were muddled in expression to me.
7. We each had two different wines by the glass to accompany the meal. Very limited selection but happy w/ what we got. Sorry I'm not obsessive enough about wines to keep track of names. Got champagne and riesling to start and then moved onto a pinot noir and another red (don't remember what grape). No pressure from staff to order more.
8. Service was professional and attentive but not pretentious or fawning. Our main female server was helpful but a bit passive and not smooth or charming enough to match the food IMHO. While everyone was pleasant and provided solid service, I didn't find that the staff enhanced my experience much. I wanted a bit more "personality" and noted that noone verbally acknowledged our anniversary even though I know this got entered into their "files." I did really appreciate that they honored my request and gave us typed up menus at meal's end.
9. I was stuffed by meal's end. It was too much food for me personally while husband was sated. The steady pacing w/ pauses helped, but I literally didn't eat again til dinner the next day. While I was physically full, I think my senses were also oversaturated.
10. In sum, I'm happy we had our first tasting menu and our anniversary celebration at Manresa. We enjoyed the food enough to want to return one day to try the 4 or 5 course dinner. While we both left w/ a generally positive feeling and no regrets, I will say that I wasn't as emotionally moved by the gestalt of the experience as I had wished. Even though I enjoyed all the little tastes and appreciated the pain-staking prep and execution around the food, something was missing at the core and I'm not sure how much that has to do w/ Manresa specifically or tasting menus in general or both. I think I prefer rustic improvisation and the opportunity to really immerse myself in a few dishes rather than sophisticated precision across many heightened but fleeting tastes. Ultimately, I was in my head more than my heart which is kind of ironic for an anniversary dinner...
PS. I always include prices so the tasting menu was $98pp and our total bill including wine, tax, and tip was about $320.