East meets West, meets locally sourced produce at Manresa
Say you’re on the phone, booking a dinner reservation at Manresa, a two-star Michelin restaurant nestled in the foothills of the Santa Cruz mountains.
“What is the dress code? Black tie?” you enquire.
“Business casual is fine,” replies the restaurant staffer.
‘Doh, of course,’ you realise, ‘it’s the Silicon Valley.’ Along the West Coast, in fact, billionaires regularly storm into meetings in a t-shirt, cargo shorts and flip-flops. Such attire is permanently tattooed on the pasty skin of many a high-earning engineer, e.g. my friend John Doe. John’s mom had to wrangle him into a tie for his wedding. Forget the cummerbund.
The restaurant staffer also notes there is a no-show fee. And not to name prices, but it was equivalent to that of a pretty nice bottle of wine. And I don’t mean Kendall Jackson or Gallo jug wines. By God, no. If you want to blow serious money and be preposterously wasteful about it, go home and pour a bottle of Château Lafite Rothschild down the kitchen sink. Then while you’re at it, snip your Dolce & Gabbana wallet into shreds with a pair of scissors–and stir fry the remnants in white truffle oil.
Or, you could become a snooty alcoholic…. which would suck for you and everyone who crosses your path.
Hard to find and around US$1,000 per bottle, Domaine Armand Rousseau Chambertin Grand Cru reds can quickly grow to be a pricey addiction.
Needless to say, you probably arrive 8:00PM on the dot for your 8:00PM reservation. Or, in my case….my party and I scurried in 15 minutes late. We like testing restaurants’ patience. And raising their hopes of getting free money.
One discerning guest in our party noticed the ladies’ place settings were such that she and myself would face the bar, while the gentleman got a lovely view of the windows. Unacceptable. We waited in the receiving area on grey suede marshmallows of seats — while staffers kung fu-ed the table 180-degrees around.
Our smiling, chipper hostess promptly presented us to the now-acceptable table. She passed out a leather-bound menu to each guest, as well as a wine selections list. Everyone’s face sunk with furrowed brows and bemusement. I felt as if I couldn’t read — I felt uncertain as to what page 2 offered to eat. I saw the wino at the table leaf back and forth, back and forth between the wine selections. She couldn’t recognise most; the ones she knew or knew of failed to pique her interest.
Manresa’s tasting menu offers a host of fresh, yummy ingredients. It loses me, however, in the sense I don’t know what to do or where to start. For all you user experience designers out there, the affordances to the user are unclear.
After humming and hawing and thumbing through our menus, we concluded the tasting menu pretty much equates to omakase — “I leave it to you (the chef)” in Japanese. Cool. I hate ordering anyway, because I can be indecisive when it comes to food, clothes and shoes.
A neighbouring table’s boisterous chatter emanated throughout the dining area. At least the atmosphere wasn’t that of a mausoleum. That being said, generally if I want a loud restaurant setting — I opt for a good dim sum place in Cupertino, CA.
Regarding allergies: between the three table guests, myself included, we had many for the chef to consider. Gluten, uncultured milk, pineapples, raw strawberries, strawberry seeds, carrots and sweet fruits. Out of preference, no one ate pork. Our hostess took note of everything and asked for clarification where necessary. Never did her toothy smile grow lacklustre.
Sommelier Jeff Bareilles suggested a champagne, a bordeaux and a white wine — all local. The champagne nose was crisp and pure, like the first rainfall of the season, as drops amalgamate with the toasty ground oils. Slightly sweet, but balanced by slight acidity and bitterness. Hints of lychee.
The bordeaux was smooth, smooth, smooth like Valrhona dark chocolate fondue. I cannot remember the white wine, so I guess it wasn’t anything to write home about.
Sommelier Jeff Bareilles is enthusiastic, knowledgeable and has a quirky grin that’s endearing.
We started off with something savoury: olive madeleines and red pepper gelees, served on a slab of slate that reminded me of a bathroom tile. For those of us unfamiliar with gelee, it is simply an arrogant, somewhat elitist jelly. The red pepper gelee caught my attention — crisp on the outside from a delicate dusting of sugar, soft but not mushy on the inside, totally pleasantly spicy and umami. Incomparable with drugstore gummy worms, Haribo gummy bears and Swedish Fish. I detected notes of umeboshi (pickled plum) amongst the red pepper.
A savoury appetiser in the form of dessert-before-dinner. Not overtly sweet.
Bread service came and went — I couldn’t participate because of being gluten intolerant. The next thing I found myself enjoying was, a lemon and lavender granita. Attacking sorbet swimming in froth is like drinking bubble tea for the first time — the question arises, should I eat or drink it? I ate the lavender; I looove lavender. In the dim, golden lighting, however, I failed to see and thus failed to remove the tie. FAIL.
In this picture, you can see the tie on the lavender quite, quite well.
It tasted like a rubber band. Which makes sense.
We enjoyed the abalone and oysters very much. I wasn’t the only one who noticed the flavor of tonkatzu sauce.
Abalone in a bonito broth.
Oysters and sea urchin in their own juices.
Japanese turnips, chanterelle mushrooms and roasted onions make for a pleasing gastronomic experience. Not to mention, the presentation is exquisite. Definite Japanese influences here. That’s a cool thing!
The medallions of venison — which were not gamey at all — satisfied what little meat-tooth I have. The venison looked like a rosy filet mignon and tasted earthy and buttery.
Deer meat done right. Yum.
The ‘Into the Garden’ salad was a major highlight; it featured an array of locally grown, freshly harvested leafy vegetables and colorful, edible flowers.
Featuring ‘dirt’ made of dried root vegetables.
At last, we finished the same way we started — except the madeleines and gelees were sweeter. And a spot of tea made of fresh flowers. Much cleaner-tasting than tea made of dried flowers or leaves.
I love tea.
The staffers greeted us at the entrance, returning coats, re-corking an unfinished red wine and offering homemade caramels (quite greasy) and cupcakes (none for me). Chef David Kinch was nowhere to be seen.
Did I say, Manresa uses locally sourced produce? All from Love Apple Farms.