On Friday, Aaron and I had shared a remarkable meal at Manresa. On Saturday, we returned…
Aperitif: Solter Brut Rheingau Riesling 2005. Tonight, we began with a light, well balanced Riesling. Soft and delicate, it had a pleasant sparkle.
Amuse Bouche 1: Petit fours “red pepper-black olive”. Amuses at Manresa always remain the same. Second time around, the red pepper jelly was similar to the previous night’s rendition whilst the black olive madeleine was noticeably better – more moist and more olive-rich.
Amuse Bouche 2: Parmesan churro, crispy kale. Knotted coils of fried fritters permeated through with parmesan were interlaid with crisp curly kale. The churros, thin, smooth and more south-eastern Spanish in style, were well-cooked, but a little doughy for me. The Italian touch from the cheese gave them a nice savoury nuttiness whilst the kale, seasoned and quickly oven-baked, added some saltiness.
Amuse Bouche 3: Garden veloute with stone ground mustard. A cold quenelle of Moutarde d’Orléans cream, thickened with fork-crushed potato, came laced with pansy, pea and fennel flowers; over all, a mild garden green velouté of various vegetable tops with yarrow and amaranth, was poured at the table. Yesterday, the Arpège farm egg was a nod to Passard, today it was this; the Orléans mustard, produced by the French chef with a famous vinegar-maker from that city, is a staple of the Paris restaurant’s pantry. Acidic, sweet and simultaneously spicy, this complex condiment struck concurrent chords with the subtle sweetness of the amaranth, flowers and soup itself and with the gentle tang of the yarrow and calendulas. The blossoms contributed leafy crispness to the substance of the ecrassé potato and silky potage.
Amuse Bouche 4: Citrus and jasmine tea jelly. Interlocked supremes of temple tangor mandarin, immured in green jasmine tea and mizzled in Meyer lemon and lime juice, was an exercise in simplicity. The first flavour was of floral jasmine, which the tartness of the citric juices soon took over, followed by the juicy richness from the tangerine-orange cross. The last savour was of garden spearmint which lingered lazily. This was vibrant and refreshing.
Amuse Bouche 5: Asparagus and foie gras royale. A demitasse was delivered filled with asparagus mousseline splashed with a dash of pistachio oil. This oil emanated a trace of nutlike toastiness whilst its distinct taste matched well with that of the deeper, earthier asparagus. Beneath the cream came a welcome surprise – a secreted deposit of excellent, warm foie gras custard that made this a luxurious treat.
Le Pain: Pain au levain, Pim’s butter. These were just as superb as they were during last night’s dinner.
Entrée 1: Foie gras torchon, rare ginger lime with toasted rapeseed oil. The previous amuse had offered a hint of what was to come – a considerably-sized slice of foie gras coupled with ginger lime marmalade, sunflower shoots and sprinkled with rosemary flowers, Maldon sea salt and extra virgin rapeseed oil. Having been covered in cloth, poached then cooled, the resultant foie was thick yet velvety, dense yet subtle. The spicy, acidic marmalade, also made by Pim, from little-known ginger lime – a citrus similar to Kaffir lime, native to Assam in India and grown locally by Gene Lessor – was a fine foil to the liver’s fullness. The flowers offered a little bitterness whilst the shoots simply astounded with their intense nuttiness.
Entrée 2: Sea bream, sashimi style, with olive oil and chives. Translucent, super-thin slivers of raw sea bream, arranged in a circle that started with flesh from the top of the fish’s back and finished, moving clockwise, with its belly, were drizzled with shiro dashi and Kaffir lime and garnished with shredded breakfast radish, chives, nori and white sesame seeds. The sea bream, brightened by the olive oil and aromatic citrus rind, was succulent and meaty, becoming creamier and gaining bite as one reached the fattier later tranches. Shiro dashi – white soy sauce, kombu, dried mushrooms and bonito – was flavoursome, slightly salty and complex. Crunchy, mild sesame and diced radish varied the texture.
Entrée 3: Buckwheat noodles, bottarga and toasted seeds. A bundle of buckwheat noodles was nicely scattered with furikake and bottarga that been brought back by the chef himself on his last trip to Japan. The soba, typical to Tokyo, were thin and stringy with a nutty mildness that married with the sesame in the furikake. The fishiness of the grated grey mullet roe – that turned to paste on the tongue – worked to amplify the effect of the Japanese condiment. There was also an overlying toasted note to the dish.
Entrée 4: Asparagus, both raw and uncooked, caviar. Alternating demi-spears of cooked green asparagus and uncooked purple, both from the Sacramento Delta, were wrapped around a hen’s egg that came crowned with a quenelle of Iranian Oscietra caviar; lemon and pistachio oil vinaigrette, parmesan breadcrumbs and spots of swede sauce accompanied. This was picture perfect: brilliant green pikes, flecked with purple, rung round an alabaster blanket layered with golden orange orb, whose colour was reflected by amber crumbs and bright dressing, and which was capped with glossy ebony pearls. The green stems were tender whilst the darker ones, naturally sweeter and less stringy, delightfully crunchy. There was a common nuttiness running throughout the asparagus, caviar, root, pistachio and parmesan that grew as one ate. The lemon and brininess of the Oscietra were a nice counterpoint to the yolk.
Entrée 5: Horse mackerel with ginger oil.
An empty tumbler.
A minute later. A blue bottle of unordered sake.
Electric azure, it seemed almost enchanted in its appearance. And the mystique remained as the potion, poured into the glass, instantly became clear.
Gingerly, the Koshino-Omachi Daiginjo from the Niigata prefecture was sipped. Its clean, crisp, slightly syrupy savour was like melted ice. This sake – made only during winter and within an ‘igloo’ – although served at room temperature, indeed felt very cold.
Another minute. An empty plate.
Esteban and two assistants arrived. One carried a large tray. It bore two dark slabs. They sat atop folded white napkins. The maître d’hôtel took one, someone else the other. They lifted each. The linen served as a litter. Slowly they were set before us.
The suspense was intense.
Atop black slate, teamed together with French breakfast radish, mandolined into white wafers rimmed with nearly fluorescent red, were chunky ingots of horse mackerel, ivory coloured at their ends and vermillion in the middle, deepened with puce and speckled with its still shimmering silver skin. From the drops of ginger oil drizzled over the fish, the spice’s warm, sweet citrus scent tickled the senses; it also gave the thick, mild yet tasty mackerel a little smoky heat. The radish had gentle peppery-sweet crispness whilst the ginger notes in the palate-cleansing sake were underscored by the oil.
The dish did not disappoint.
Entrée 6: Orzo, prepared like risotto, with ramps. Pearl barley, blended with pickled ramps and Benton’s Tennessee country ham, was served with the whole vegetables sautéed and flakes of parmesan rind. Plump orzo grains were creamy and full of flavour; the cheese supplemented pleasingly the seasoning; the pickled ramps were juicy, leafy and delicious; while the sautéed, supple and crunchy.
Entrée 7: A spring tidal pool. A bowl bearing barely-transparent broth bursting with shellfish, vegetables and various other ingredients was immediately and strikingly suggestive.
As a tide recedes, crevices, spaces and trenches between rocks are left filled with seawater and sea life. Thus, diverse mini-ecosystems are formed, at least until the tide returns. During the recess though, these pools paint a picture that depicts a scene of the sea. In this dish, Kinch scales down this miniature one step further, using symbolism sublimely to create, effectively, a marine-themed rendition of Into the vegetable garden…
Scallions pretended to be seaweed; nori played itself; as did uni; golden enoki evoked little jelly fish; and the kombu dashi acted as the seawater. There was a listless floating, a stillness which seemed suspiciously misleading given the semi-suspended nature of the stock’s constituents and small, air-like beads of olive oil locked just below the surface. This was however more evidence of the chef’s already noticed attention to detail: silvery oyster water and rusty mushroom jus, both infused with a little xanthum gum, had been added to the dashi, giving it viscidity redolent of the greater density that seawater has over fresh whilst also aiding to detain the ingredients from stirring and forming the said effervescence that could easily have been air bubbles boiling up from beneath.
A chary taste from one corner supplied salty, briny savour from the oyster and umami from the dashi; a stray mushroom was spongy and faintly fruity – golden enoki being sweeter and more intense than regular. Its temperature was warm, just as if the plate, like the rocky puddle would have, had spent the day under the spring sun. Plunging the spoon into the pool brought it to life, animating all the elements who all scattered immediately from the intruding cutlery as if it were really a foreign foot that someone had submerged into what was really a watery habitat. From the depths of the bowl appeared geoduck clam, sea urchin, pickled kabu and foie gras. All raw, they cooled from below, whilst being warmed by the broth above – thus further mimicking an authentic tidal pool wherein the water gets colder the lower one tests it. The foie, at initial sight an irregularity, actually worked very well to enrich the dashi even further and was possible recognition of one of the chef’s own favoured dining spots – Urasawa – where Hiro adds foie gras to his signature shabu shabu.
Entrée 8: Atlantic cod and alliums, bone marrow and vegetable tears. An ample cod cheek, skin still attached, arrived sitting on sautéed sweet onions, besides a scoop of chervil cream and decorated with the same herb. Over the cool crème, hot bone marrow jus was decanted at the table, melting the celadon-coloured paste and causing it to mingle with and disseminate through the copper gravy in vivid swirls. Having already had the cod’s jowl and tripe the previous evening, tonight we ate the cheek – firm, meaty, sweet and luscious with a layer of lovely, yummy fat lying under the skin, it is clear why many consider this the best part of the fish. The aniseed note of the chervil picked up on its sweetness as the onions added crunch. Marrow, which shares a natural affinity with the herb and alliums, was very agreeable here.
Plat Principal 1: Squab roasted with sunchokes, beets and poorman orange. Breast of young pigeon and its brink pink tenderloin were presented with local Jerusalem artichoke, Poorman’s orange segments, golden beetroot slices, chiogga chips and their tops pickled in champagne vinegar, all resting atop parsnip purée and beet confit. Rustic pieces of earthy, nutty sunchoke had crisp skin; the parsnip was pleasantly sweet; beetroot mousse, intense; but the Poorman’s orange – an orangelo (orange-grapefruit hybrid) also called New Zealand grapefruit or sunfruit – was an excellent surprise. Bursting with mildly acidic, fruity juice, its flavour was light relief to the surrounding deeper savours and matched nicely the tender, soft squab too.
Plat Principal 2: Beef bavette roasted in its fat, morels. Large cubes of Kobe-style skirt steak from Snake River farm in Idaho placed on sweet pea purée was partnered with whole and chopped morels as well as pea shoots. The meat, a Wagyu-Black Angus cross-breed raised following Japanese feeding methods – slow-grown and fed Idaho potatoes, soft white wheat, corn and alfalfa hay – barely roasted in suet, was served rare and tempting dark rose. The fatty cut, aged for forty days, had texture and full taste, but was still light. The morels, having absorbed the cooking jus of the beef, were very good and the peas provided a little sweetness to lift the dish.
Cheese: Our cheeses, refined and perfectly matured. Shaded Manresa red, the restaurant’s custom-made cheese chariot from France, was wheeled round and the selection shown off. The cart – which is actually the second version commissioned after the original, having been flown over from Europe, was lost after its arrival at San Francisco International airport – carried eight varieties of which we tried each.
Florette, a goat’s milk Brie, was creamy and subtle; sour and milky goat’s cheese blue balls, soaked for a day in Californian olive oil and garden herbs, resembled palline azzure; and ewe’s tomme brûlée from mount Baigura in the Basque Pyrénées had nutty-smoky flavour, the latter a result of its singed rind. Another French Basque ewe’s milk, the award-winning Petit Agour, this time from Helette, was smooth and salty-sweet; crumbly Roquefort, another (bigger) winner from famed fifth-generation producer Gabriel Coulet, was strong and a little saline; with the Fourme d’Ambert, a blue cow’s cheese from Auvergne, milder. The platter was completed by two cow’s milks, one from the Catalan Pyrénées – Tomme Catalane Urgelia – and the other from Lorraine – Munster. The former, similar to the Petit Agour, was mild, creamy and slightly salted by its yeasty rind. The latter, a little runnier, was much more pungent and a little acidic.
Accompanying the cheeses were cranberry and walnut brioche; crackly and coarse toasted lavash; and a plate of green apple slices, plump Californian dates and Marcona almonds, all with Pim’s own pleasingly tart Meyer lemon marmalade strewn on top.
For our cheeses and dessert, we were served Graham’s 10 year old Tawny port. This was quite rich and fruity with gentle, enduring flavour.
Dessert: Strawberries in hibiscus, goat fromage blanc sorbet. Dirty Girl farm strawberries, laid over hibiscus jelly and overlaid with fromage blanc sorbet, milk skin and rocket flowers, had strawberry consommé infused with sugar syrup and Eastern long pepper sprinkled on them. The sourness of the goat’s milk (from Healy Farm) balanced well with the berries that were perked by the floral hibiscus, peppery blossoms and spicy long pepper. The milk skin, similar to yuba though slightly sweeter and more fluid, was thick and toothsome.
The petit fours and migniardises that followed were those we had already became accustomed to.
Petit Fours: “Strawberry-chocolate”.
Migniardises 1: Armagnac and tobacco truffle.
Migniardises 2: Salted butter caramels. The next day was Easter Sunday and so the restaurant would be closed; since we were the last customers that night, the house was rather generous regarding how many caramels we were allowed to run away with…
Once more, all the staff were excellent. Having already spent one evening together, a rapport had been established, thus, this time there was the added element of welcome familiarity and some friendly banter. There was also, once again, a cheery, festive ambience to the dining room – in fact, I even overheard not only one but several diners at different tables tell others that Manresa was their favourite restaurant.
The meal had commenced with another bout of assorted amuses bouche, their inspiration sourced from France, Spain, Japan and their consequence ranging from rich to spicy, savoury to sweet. The transition to more significant courses came via a common vein of foie gras, which, first enjoyed in the form of a royale, returned as a serious and quite decadent torchon. Next the chef, having just convinced of his comfort in a classical French kitchen, showed he is just as confident in a Japanese one with exquisitely executed sashimi slices of sea bream. Plates then proceeded in the same pattern, leaping between France and the Far East, until the advent of Italian risotto.
The horse mackerel with ginger oil that settled this sequence was simply the most exciting point in my life as a diner. I have never been as thrilled at a dinner table as I was between the arrival of the empty tumbler and the setting of the black slate before me. The unexpected glass, unrequested sake…the deliberate crescendo of events that preluded the actual plate was utterly emphatic. With each step, every action, the momentum matured and the suspense swelled. The anticipation was great – and I do mean that in more ways than one. What finally, actually appeared was as minimal and as understated as might be imagined. Raw mackerel, radish and ginger oil – just three ingredients, immaculately prepared and impeccably presented. Anything less than perfection would have ruined the meal or at least our mood.
We were still as giddy as schoolgirls when another of Kinch’s best known dishes was served. Expressive, graphic, imaginative and tasty, the tidal pool satisfied appetite, intellect and emotion. The chef had considered every aspect, down to the smallest detail – remember the bubbles and briny, xanthum-jellied seawater – to create something engaging and engrossing.
After two (thorough) meals here, there were some material motifs manifest.
The loose structure within which Kinch’s cosmopolitan menus reside starts with a slow ascension consisting of about five very varied amuses, the last of which links to the first entrée. Early after that, a palate-cleansing preparation of raw fish is followed by warm mar y muntanya combinations before the chef’s signatures (vegetable garden/tidal pool). Then hot seafood comes prior to a lighter meat recipe ahead of a heavier one. Dessert itself is relatively abrupt, but as the meal set off, small sweet treats end it in similarly leisurely manner.
My tastes more inclined towards fish than flesh, I must admit that the meaty mains did not maintain my interest as the preceding seafood and vegetables had done – and as an aside, I did favour the night before’s goat and lamb combo over tonight’s squab-beef brace. That being said, this part of the carte still drew my attention. The climatic meat course appears, from reading and reports, to almost always be beef or lamb cooked to a more traditionally French formula. What I thought so interesting was that after a flurry of diverse, inventive and exciting dishes, the chef seems to like to bring the diner back from the exotic and unusual to something safe, comfortable and quite classic.
The amuses are worth briefly talking about again too. It is during these initial nibbles that Kinch likes to remember those from whom he has learned, his friends and favourites. The two dishes inspired by Passard – of whom he has been a fan for some twenty years (‘the first time I went was an eye-opening experience’), by whom he is felt to possess ‘a similar soul’ and with whom he shares a ‘profound respect for the provenance of ingredients’ – evinced this over these two visits, but he has also been known to include chestnut croquettes (inspired by Marc Meneau), used to serve a version of Barry Wine’s beggars’ purses and has also referenced others such as Aduriz.
During dinner, it is clear that the chef is leading the diner on a journey – and Kinch has admitted as much himself. The first evening entailed an expedition from Asia (Yuzu…with mackerel) via the restaurant’s backyard (Into the vegetable garden…) to Spain (Atlantic cod), Italy (Vegetable risotto) and across the western Mediterranean basin (Spring lamb). The second took another route with Japan and France dominating the destinations, although Italy and Spain still featured. Fusing such dissimilar cuisines together on a single menu seems superficially frivolous and, in lesser hands, often justifies criticism. However, where Kinch makes an impact is the smooth segue with which courses flow effortlessly and in flawless fashion from one culinary culture into another. Dishes composed of oriental soba, karasumi and furikake sit alongside plates comprising asparagus and egg – a de rigueur springtime twosome of the occident. More to the point, it feels very much as if they belong beside each other.
Cuisinier sans frontiers is a label that I have already applied to another, however with hindsight, perhaps I was somewhat hasty when I did so…
Something just as impressive as his versatility was the simple fact that the chef was able to serve some forty courses in all, each different to each other and almost each different to those already eaten by my fellow diner (who has dined at Manresa multiple times), nearly everyone of which was complete and original in design and delectable in taste. The breadth and depth of his repertoire was tremendous.
David Kinch is redefining Californian cuisine and these meals left me without doubt how and why. For years, the Bay was best known for Alice Waters and fruit salads. But that is very different today. It is for chefs such as Jeremy Fox, Daniel Patterson and Kinch himself of course for whom curious and excited diners travel the world over to visit. It is no coincidence that Patterson cites the latter as a major inspiration and friend, as does Fox, his former sous chef. Actually, only recently has Fox’s successor at Manresa, James Syhabout, also set out on his own with Commis in Oakland – certainly Kinch’s influence will be felt there too.
On one’s (aforementioned) voyage, nostalgia and whimsy are two constant companions.
The latter is something that I – hopeless daydreamer and romantic – always appreciate, but have already addressed where it was most keenly felt and intelligently employed – the initial amuse bouche, vegetables with caviar, vegetable garden, tidal pool…
Nostalgia – sometimes obvious, but more often not – comes in more than one form.
First (or technically last), there are the petit fours at the end of the night that mirror and remind one of the meal’s beginning. Like coming home, one knows their adventure is over when they reach whence they started. But, whilst Kinch offers his guests quixotic, unconscious closure (and maybe a sense of accomplishment even), he also makes sure there is a little surprise awaiting them. All is not what it seems.
Memoria gustativa is a concept much contemplated by modern Iberian chefs and essentially relates to the importance of remembering the classics whilst creating cuisine anew. Kinch draws from his affinity for and instruction in Spanish cooking in several respects – his adept ability to arrange extended tasting menus, the dynamic nature of recipes, some of his ingredient choices – but this idea of ‘taste memory’ seems to play an inconspicuous yet powerful part. Taking the basic principal, he at once expands it and makes it introspective and very personal. What one experiences, or maybe more accurately, what I thought I experienced was the vicarious reliving of the chef’s reminiscences, as if he were sharing his own journey with me through an edible chain of comestible clues – each plate a photograph. Consequently, though there was a little wistfulness of my own along the way, it was really the chef’s nostalgia that I was tasting rather than mine.
Thus did I form some (sketchy) sense of his style: one rooted in French cooking, but with strong sensibilities for Northern Spain and Japan; his preference for seafood over meat; for savoury over sweet; his fondness for citrus…
More often than not, however, I am able to form a reasonably clearer and relatively quicker opinion of the character of a chef’s cuisine than I did with Kinch’s. I was struggling. I felt this way after the first meal and my feelings had not changed by the end of the second.
I mentioned as much to the chef himself. His answer was short, but poignant.
‘It’s my style’. Half assured. Half comic. Entirely true.
320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030
tel: 408 354 4330