There’s a reason why David Kinch spanked Bobby Flay in Battle Cabbage when they competed on Iron Chef. The man knows how to turn the humblest vegetables into rockstars. As to be expected, Manresa is a showcase for the Kinch’s skills in crafting incredible dishes without sacrificing the integrity of the ingredients.
I had been wanting to dine at Manresa for a while and almost gave up on it as my last few days in SF ticked away, when AT somehow scored us a reservation right before I left San Francisco. It was a fitting meal with which to say goodbye to the land of Alice Waters and the farm to table ethos.
Manresa did not disappoint and throughout the meal, I felt like I was eating out of someone’s vegetable and flower garden and everything was seasonally apropos. We started with a bite sized black olive madeleine and a roasted red pepper gelée. According to AT, Manresa likes to bookend a meal with the same dishes but different flavors. These bites were savory and rather tasty, especially since I’m an olive addict.
The first course was pickled unripe strawberries with a coriander granita, on top of which was poured a tomato broth. Delicious and refreshing. I didn’t know until recently that coriander was the result of cilantro left to bloom and seed (thanks to Bacon for enlightening me). The sour berries contrasted nicely with the fragrant granita and the tomato with both sweet and sour flavors, balanced it all out.
We were then presented with warm cubes of bite-sized sweet corn fritters. When popped into our mouths, the liquid center coated our palate with a pure taste of corn and sunshine. If summer could taste like something, it would be this.
Foie Gras Royale was incredible. (Segue: whenever I hear the world royale, I think of Pulp Fiction and Royale with Cheese.). A base of foie gras mousse covered with a puree of sorrel tasted grassy and earthy. On top of it was a deep fried squash blossom that could used to dip into the cup. This was probably the most decadent dish of the evening and one of my favorites. In this dish as in others, there were a lot of microgreens on the plate and I think I ate enough to make me feel like a bovine grazing in a pasture.
The humble egg must be the most perfect container in the world and anything that comes in an egg shell is bound to be delicious. This is Manresa’s arpege egg, with sherry vinegar and vanilla maple syrup. Creamy and yolky, this is another one of those dishes where if I could ignore table etiquette, I would be licking the last bits of yolk and cream off the egg shell. I could dive into a pool of this stuff but I would definitely be sinking to the bottom with all the food I eat.
Shellfish in unripe tomato broth couldn’t be simpler in appearance and flavor. The assorted clam, octopus, crab and the like were so fresh and sweet and the light acidity from the unripe tomato balanced it out. It didn’t need anything else except for the light touch of herbs and oil.
Nasturtium ice cream with pumpkin soup. Interesting dish and I enjoyed it. Reminded me a little bit of the Persian ice cream I used to have at Mashti Malone but not as perfumy or sweet. The grassiness of the nasturtium was well offset by the sweetness of pumpkin. Again, I felt kind of weird munching on flowers and clovers but I liked it.
Greenbeans and potatos in a bonito butter broth was utterly rich and the bonito kicked in the fifth element of flavor of umami to round out the plate. There was a blossom on top whose name escapes me but it was deep fried and bitter(not a bad thing).
Another Manresa classic is Into The Vegetable Garden. Thin slices of root vegetable such as turnip along with greens, flowers, and some buttery foam rested on a carrot puree and also chicory root and potatoes made to resemble dirt. The ingredients were delicious and tasted like they were picked that morning which I’m sure they were. It reminds me of Blue Hill’s Vegetables on a Fence where the raw ingredient itself provided all the necessary flavors. You can’t really appreciate how good this is until you taste it because most of us haven’t grown up on a farm, harvesting our vegetables at the peak of flavor.
Lobster with peaches, basil leaves, topped with a peach granita, and resting on top of pesto. I loved this dish as well. The peaches were sweet and the lobster perfectly cooked. The basil added the right amount of herbiness to the dish to offset the richness of the lobster and the nectar of the peaches.
This next dish was also incredible (common theme here). Albacore with chervil cream on buttery morels in a sweet onion and marrow broth. I can’t really say what the chervil tastes like because I’ve rarely had it but for some odd reason, I’ve always associated it with the British. The name just sounds like a British butler, all stiff and proper but you know he’s hanging out at some bawdy alehouse late at night. I can’t say much else, just let your imagination run wild because my mouth is watering again just thinking about this plate.
Wood-pigeon in watercress and a bark made from white chocolate and barley. This was a good dish although the majority of the meat was kind of tough for my taste, except for that one tender pink slice you see in the picture. The flavors were nice, but in general, I’m not a huge fan of pigeons by any name. They’re just round, fat, little flying rodents. I’m not sure what the bark did for it but it was a cute play on having a tree, leaves, and a bird.
Perfectly cooked spring lamb with cranberry beans, chanterelle mushrooms and goat’s milk yogurt. The juices from the meat had tones of rosemary and the lamb was tender and the yogurt added a great tang. Hands down the best lamb I have ever tasted in my entire life. Next time you see me hanging around some sheep with a crazed look in my eyes and a knife and fork in hand, chances are I’m thinking of this lamb. Good gawd it was frickin amazing.
Dessert was another showcase of summer bounty. Tree ripened plums of different varieties with a fromage blanc ice and sweet corn pudding, over which was poured a spiced red wine reduction. Some of the plums were soft and sweet, others were more tart and crisp, a lovely contrast of taste and texture. There were bits of arugula scattered on the corn which added a nice bitterness to the dish. It was so fresh and naturally sweet, I felt like I was sitting underneath the shade of some great oak soaking up a cool breeze and warm sun.
The last dessert was an homage to the Big Easy. Praline ice cream, caramelized banana, a walnut tart, and beignets. The tart had an awesome crust with a nice grainy texture that I loved. A swirl of coffee syrup on the plate gave it an added kick.
We book-ended our meal with another madeleine and gelée. The madeleine was chocolate and the gelée was strawberry, a nice final bite.
My overall impression of Manresa is that Kinch has a quiet reverence for ingredients and each dish was elegant in its simplicity. There weren’t a gazillion ingredients or flavors on a plate to overwhelm the senses. Perhaps there were six or seven items of the best quality and I could taste each component and appreciate the flavors and textures without struggling to wrap my head around it. I could taste the essence of the peaches, the plums, the lamb, the coriander, and the shellfish and just take the time to savor and enjoy.