Manresa is set in a quiet street in the prosperous community of Los Gatos, near San Jose. You walk along a tiled stone path past the dining room into a reception area. The dining room itself is carpeted, with quiet piano music and jazz playing unobtrusively in the background. Tables are well spaced, and the dining room has a high ceiling and plenty of natural light from a picture window to one side of the room. Manresa itself is the name of a beach near Santa Cruz where chef David Kinch surfs. David has worked in Spain and at Esperance with Marc Meneau, as well as at the Quilted Giraffe and at Hermes in San Francisco, before opening his own Spanish restaurant prior to Manresa. David's foodie travels are reflected in the framed menus in the bathrooms at Manresa, from famed restaurants such as Girardet and El Bulli.
The wine list is well put together, with plenty of choices from the US and France, but also a particularly strong section on German wines. Example wines were Lioco Demuth Chardonnay 2007 at $72 for a wine that you can buy in the shops for $39, Chateau Haut Segottes 1985 at $265 compared to a retail price of $154, and Vega Sicilia Unico 1994 was $575 for a wine that will set you back $485 to buy. We drank the excellent Maximin Grunhauser Kabinett 2007at $77 for a wine that you can buy retail for $45. The sommelier, Jeff, was knowledgeable and helpful.
We began with roasted bell pepper jelly topped with black olive madeleines. The jelly had excellent texture and good flavour of the bell pepper, the olive madeleines having lovely soft texture (18/20). This was followed by superb Gorgonzola sable biscuits, bursting with cheese flavour and having excellent texture (19/20). The next nibble was garden vegetable beignets with crisp kale; the beignets had surpassingly soft texture but good flavour, and the kale was delicate (17/20). I enjoyed chicken skin chicharrones (essentially deep fried crackling), which was nicely seasoned and full of flavour (18/20).
Broccoli custard with spiced sunflower seeds and lemon emulsion had an interesting texture element with the seeds, though I wondered whether the lemon flavour was a little stronger than needed (17/20). Stone ground mustard cream with broccoli puree came with edible flowers and a garden green velouté, with the mustard cream carefully balanced (17/20). So far we were still on the nibbles.
At this point the bread arrived; this is made in the kitchen from scratch and comprised a choice of brioche, multi-grain, black olive with rosemary and levain. I thought the multi-grain had an excellent crust, the brioche was technically very strong, while the black olive bread could have had more rosemary (18/20) but the star for me was the levain, which had terrific texture and crust (easily 19/20 for this).
Octopus a la plancha was placed on a bed of wild rice with chrysanthemum pesto and a chicken broth gelee; the octopus was of the rare, non-chewy variety and the wild rice was carefully cooked (17/20). Dungeness crab salad was served with wild Iranian caviar and "poor man's orange" (a tangelo also known as New Zealand grapefruit), while beside this was soft shell crab, fried and prepared with seaweed persilalde. The crab had plenty of flavour and the salad was good (17/20), but I was particularly taken with the soft shell crab, which had fabulous texture (19/20).
A "vegetable garden" dish was prettily presented with assorted leaves and flowers, with a little pesto and lemon puree; the leaves were good (they are grown in a garden that Manresa own) but I could have done with more dressing (17/20). Porcini chervil cream was served with smoked lentil puree, carrots and beef bone marrow broth. The broth had good flavour but the carrots were distinctly overcooked, a rare technical blemish in this meal (17/20).
Cod and squid came with a sauce made with clam juice and coriander seeds; the squid was tender and the jus good; the cod was correctly cooked but I didn't think it had great flavour (17/20). Better was bass with salsify, cucumber and avocado mousse, the bass beautifully cooked and having plenty of flavour (18/20). I really enjoyed suckling porcelet with green garlic panisse (a fried chickpea flour cake from the south of France), and unripe strawberries, with cream polenta and a meat jus perfumed with rhubarb puree. The pork had excellent flavour and terrific crackling, and the garlic panisse was particularly good (19/20). Lamb was served with crispy potatoes, morels and porcini puree enriched with white soy sauce. The morels were large and of high quality, and I really liked the cubes of potato, which were a little salty even for me, but delicious (17/20).
The first dessert was yoghurt mousse with rhubarb and strawberries, served with a strawberry sherbet; the strawberries had excellent flavour, lightly poached, and there was a little crumble with the dish (18/20). Vanilla parfait was served with strawberry sugar and flavoured with hibiscus; the strawberries had very good taste, a rare thing these days, at least in the US and the UK (17/20). Peanut butter crunch was biscuit-like layers of peanut butter with chocolate, with cocoa nibs and tiny chopped peanuts. The peanut butter flavour seemed dominant (17/20). Caramelized bananas were prepared with muscavado sugar with maple syrup and iced milk, the overall effect curiously bland (15/20). Mignardise consisted of gorgeous vanilla shortbread (19/20), frozen banana wrapped in chocolate (17/20), terrific warm cherry cup cakes with lovely soft texture (19/20), eggs filled with chocolate mousse and passion fruit granita (18/20). Coffee was very good.
The bill came to $237 (£145) per person before service. Service was excellent, though perhaps I didn't need my table dusted down for breadcrumbs after every single course, untidy eater though I am. Overall this was a very impressive meal, with good ingredients and technique that hardly missed a beat, the cooking modern but with flavour combinations that make sense. It fully deserves its current two Michelin stars, and would be at the high end of the two star band anywhere in the world.
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