As you know by now, last weekend we took a little trip to Los Gatos. It's a cute town surrounded by lots of natural beauty, and we enjoyed that, but really? We went to eat at Manresa. It is not vegan, but like most fine dining restaurants, they will be happy to accommodate you and I've wanted to go to this high-end joint for a few years now. Chef David Kinch is known to do remarkable things with vegetables, all of which are grown exclusively for him at the biodynamic Love Apple Farm. When your food is harvested in the morning and served in the evening, well, it's just better. But, in the hands of the crew at Manresa, what you get is not just good veggies, but food as art that comes at you in 14 different plates (15 if you include the bread!) over the course of about 4 and half hours. I promise to keep the writing to a minimum, but you still better get comfy in that chair because there's a lot to look at!
The first four courses (served with a champagne, if you're doing the wine pairing, which we did) are called "Snacks from Garden."
First up: A warm stone serving up 2 red pepper gelee squares. If you've never had a gelee like this, imagine the very essence of a red pepper (or whatever flavor they happen to be) cooked down into a soft bite size soft candy. It is surprisingly intense and I get a smile on my face every time I have one.
Next we had an herb granita (like shave ice, but better) in a carrot foam. Bright flavor and texture galore. Light and airy foam meets cold and crunchy ice. Such fun!
The fun continued with this strawberry gazpacho shot. This had such a nice combination of sweet and savory - not to mention a luxurious mouthfeel that leaves you wanting more.
Our last 'snack' was a lemon granita with lavender and mint. Perfect end-of-summer palate cleanser.
With the first of the non-snack courses, you get your first class of wine, as well as bread service. The vegan breads that evening included the whole grain (on the bottom), the black olive (on top) and an amazing sourdough (not pictured, sadly). Bread at Manresa = some of the best ever.
First savory course was this cucumber salad. It had tons of herbs and what appeared to be way too much pepper, but it was all so nicely balanced. A lovely mouth awakening for sure.
Our second savory course was one of my favorites. This dish of gorgeous carrots, edible flowers and herb oil gets a little hint of sweetness from those tiny berries. I would eat a lot more carrots if I could make them taste like this!
Up next was Manresa's famous "Into the Garden". Picturesque and delicious, I adored it. The name is quite appropriate as it contains the best of what the garden has to offer, and all the ingredients work in concert to create one heck of a salad.
In the fourth savory course, I was introduced to a vegetable I'd never met before: Celtuce. How I managed to go my whole life without eating this hearty green is a mystery, but paired with paper thin radishes (look, you can see through them!), silky potatoes, and truffle shavings, it really shined. I need to get my hands on some of this unique veggie and try working it into some dishes at home. Thanks for the tip, Manresa. Just for the record, we've been getting a half - 3/4 full glass of wine with each dish. It was around course 4 or 5 (gee, I wonder why I can't remember?!) that we were switched from white to red. Wine pairings are crazy awesome!
Savory course number 5 was a mushroom fest. "Hello, umami," said my happy mouth. :)
One of my other favorites of the night, savory course 6 was a bean dish with garlic oil. These were beans elevated to another level. Smooth, creamy, and wondrous, especially with the garlic oil and herbs. This dish just sang.
Our last savory course of the evening revisited the mushroom theme, but this time the little beauties were paired with fresh basil and pine nut "pudding". If it hadn't been for the fact that I was reaching capacity, I could have eaten a lot more of this dish. As it was, though, I was ready for some sweetness.
With dessert came a full glass of port. A full glass this time because it is to last you through two desserts and a post dessert 'snack'. Number one was this stunning strawberry ice. It was refreshing and just screamed STRAWBERRY. In a good way of course. I could have licked the bowl.
Real dessert (because, for me, "real" dessert involves chocolate) was this simply amazing dish you see above. First of all, I love the use of space on this plate. Definitely one of my favorite platings of the evening. But then the taste! Oh my god. The heavenly chocolate sorbet did a tongue tango with the coconut tapioca - so enjoyable to eat. The two slices of perfectly caramelized banana added just the right amount of warmth to the dish. Way to end on a high note! But wait, there's more....
Just when we thought the check was on its way, we got this dish. Confused at first, because it looked like we were starting all over again with the red pepper gelee, we then found out that this was instead a strawberry version. Flavor intensity and luscious texture was exactly the same, only this time sweet not savory.
All in all, I loved this meal. I even loved the freakin' coffee I got at the end (above). Superb coffee to cap off a superb meal! What I did not love was the price tag. Don't get me wrong, I knew it would cost an arm and a leg to eat here. However, most fine dining restaurants charge a lesser price for the vegetarian tasting menu than the regular tasting menu. * Not here. So, while it was amazing and I loved it, I don't think I could justify the cost again. Not when Fleur de Lys, right here in SF, will create you something just as fantastic for about half the price.
Phew, well I'm exhausted just remembering that meal. I hope you all got to eat well over Labor Day two, even if that meant good veggie burgers on the grill! Up next, I return to an old San Francisco fave and visit some new places too... so stay tuned!
*One notable exception would be The French Laundry, which is also more expensive than Manresa. However, the experience of eating there is unparalleled, which is why it is known as the best restaurant in the country, if not the world. Go if you can.