Manresa’s menu a dream come true 

Even Michelin has taken notice of David Kinch’s Los Gatos restaurant

After 22 courses, I floated out of Manresa, David Kinch’s personal house of haute cuisine. Incredibly, I was not stuffed, but excited. I had just eaten a meal I’d traveled all over the world to find — and here it was at my backdoor.

Kinch opened Manresa four years ago. He converted a Los Gatos village ranch house into an intimate, breezy, California-style dining room with dark wood trim, tile floors and Persian carpets, and he built a serious restaurant kitchen that’s visible behind a small window off the entry hall.

I have no idea what his cooking was like when Manresa first opened, although I recall that a meal at his first restaurant, Sent Sovi, struck me as a little gimmicky. Now his food is inspired — seamless and revelatory.

Kinch starts with seasonal ingredients hours out of the soil. He also likes things from the sea (which, as a surfer, has always been a respite for him). He draws on ideas he collected doing stages in restaurants around the world, the most influential of which was probably Akelarre in northern Spain’s San Sebastián, Europe’s nexus of cutting edge yet grounded cooking.

All meals at Manresa — whether four, 17 or 22 courses — start with a series of bites. Some are as simple as nascent radishes so tender and tiny you eat them whole, tops and all; others are technically savvy, such as golden corn croquettes which release velvety corn cream as you bite into them. No less than seven of these gem-like creations began our $130 grand tasting.

Eleven savory dishes continued to thrill by contrasting rich, clean, sweet, salty, ethereal and earthy qualities, sometimes all in a single mouthful. Imagine buttery foie gras, clear date soup, salty slivered almonds; or one briny raw oyster with creamy chive sauce, nutty sea urchin roe and lemony seawater gelatin, all in an oyster shell.

We sipped cool, intense tomato soup from a stemless wine glass; discovered capery nasturtium risotto blanketed in pale orange foam; devoured swooningly luscious filet of sole — John Dory to be exact — in a butter sauce perfumed with sweet and pungent Indian spices exquisitely calibrated to seduce but not overpower. A martini glass of phenomenal shiitake-infused abalone broth held a whole, tender baby abalone, its meatiness underscored by shavings of foie gras. Even after 17 courses, I still had appetite for a suckling pig riblet with a slice of custardy blood sausage, crackling skin, an elegant jus and a dab of celery root puree.

Heaven.

Refreshing raspberry sorbet with figs and honey gelee started the dessert parade. A crusty-topped, divinely creamy passionfruit soufflé ushered in a magically airy napoleon of the thinnest, crispest layers of puff pastry alternating with melting, dark chocolate; and then petit fours that wittily reprised the beginning of the meal

Through it all, I knew exactly what I was eating. The flavors were crystal clear. None of the food was so manipulated that it lost its character. In fact, only the most beautiful ingredients could have yielded such pure essence.

Service was perfect except for one misstep — we weren’t told that a bottle of wine chosen by the sommelier cost $170.

The next time I get one of those plaintive calls asking how to get a table at the French Laundry, I know exactly what to say: "Head south to Manresa."

You can subscribe to "Unterman on Food," a printed, bi-monthly newsletter by e-mailing pattiu@concentric.net.

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Patricia Unterman

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