Sunday, March 28, 2010

Manresa--Los Gatos, CA

We last went to Manresa about a year ago and were pleased to see last night certain things haven’t changed, such as the Arpege egg served as an amuse bouche. Having been served at Manresa for several years, this gift from the chef has come to be an expectation for returning diners. For this dish, the top of the egg’s shell was cut and the egg white removed. Added to the yoke were chives, maple syrup, sherry vinegar and cream. The concoction was then heated in warm water, but not boiled. Preceding the egg was a first amuse bouche, crispy mussels with black lentil puree. I was amazed by how similar in flavor the mussels were with the puree; but, that was all. While eating the mussel I was concerned that this would be our only amuse bouche of the night and we’d be shortchanged out of the egg—Manresa spoiled me.

My first dish off the menu was the shellfish in a roasted tuna broth. The “shellfish” were geoduck clam, clam, crab and octopus. The plate, served cold, offered an interesting mix of textures and it was fun trying to guess what exactly I was eating. If I could try ordering again, though, I’d go for the prawns, which my wife thought was the highlight of the evening.

Next was the Atlantic sea bass with mashed potatoes, cabbage and chopped oysters. Dominating this dish, for better or for worse, were the buttery, rich mashed potatoes. The finely chopped oyster was so sparsely distributed in the sauce it was only barely noticeable. To access the striped bass I needed to dig through the cabbage. The fish was served as a small strip, slightly underdone. The cabbage was crisp and delightful to munch through, especially with the buttery mashed potatoes as a dressing.

The spring lamb and tongue confit with bulghur porridge in whey proved to be the best dish of the night. Although not detailed on the menu, this entrée came with three different parts of the lamb: the tongue, shoulder and loin. The tongue was heavy but delicious. The shoulder, braised at low temperature, was so tender it fell apart under the weight of a fork. The loin was a tad underdone for my taste, but still worthy of this little masterpiece of a dish. “Porridge” would normally bring to mind a big bowl of soft grain in hot water. Tonight, though, it was perhaps a tablespoon or two of whey in a strong sauce. If there was ever a dish to go with a heavy red wine, this was it. (We went with a sparkling Riesling, which was a fine choice given the breadth of our courses.) For all its weightiness, though, Manresa delivered a dish full of distinct flavors along with one terrific shoulder.

My dessert had the charming name, “Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?” and came with coffee ice cream, froth, chicory, pecan praline, Manresa’s version of a Bananas Foster and beignets. Our server told me it’s best to save the beignets (which are much like small square donuts topped with confectioner’s sugar) for the end to wipe up the rest of the dessert plate. When I asked if this would be bad manners, he said “no”. So, I went at it. The dessert was creative, but perhaps more of a treat for the eyes than the mouth. The competing sweet flavors (especially from the praline, banana and beignets) overloaded the buds.

Just before the check arrived we were given chocolate truffles resting in cocoa nips and flavored with Armagnac and tobacco. With its creative recipe, competent execution and hint of whimsy, this little gem epitomized tonight’s experience. On our way out, our server offered us homemade chocolate saltwater toffee. He told us to take a few—I was more than happy to oblige.

We’re sure to enjoy another dinner at Manresa, but probably not over the next year or two. In this tier there are too many other local restaurants we’ve yet to try. Moreover, I don’t dare risk relegating that exceptional Arpege egg to customary status.

320 Village Lane
Los Gatos, CA 95030-7218
(408) 354-4330