Manresa - Los Gatos - California
A Dining Epiphany
Stupid me. I let a whole year pass between the time I first met Chef David Kinch and a visit to his Manresa restaurant. But I was scared. That's my excuse. How would I manage to persuade my partner in crime to feast on over 15 courses, when he seldom chooses to have as many as two?
Ours was not an anonymous, professional-critic-like visit. I had bumped into David about eight hours earlier at the market and mentioned the fact that I hoped he already knew: "We're coming to yours for dinner tonight and I'm so excited", I blurted out in a manner that wasn't even the slightest bit cool.
When we arrived at 6pm, two beautiful, fat glasses of champagne were delivered to our table immediately, a perfect start to our evening, courtesy of David. We didn't even need to look at the menu. We had already decided on the tasting menu, mine with no restrictions and Fred's seafood free, with appropriate wine pairings to match.
What followed was an indulgent celebration of new experiences and astounding tastes, some familiar and some less so, that spanned no less than 19 courses. Don't expect me to describe each one, but do let me enthuse about some of the delicacies that passed my lips on that evening, the ones I will never forget: My first taste of intense abalone, which haunts my memory with the essence of the sea. David's take on the Arpege egg, so creamy, so unctuous, it defies any level-headed description. A bite-sized cube that explodes with warm chestnut and foie gras when you pop it in your mouth. A spoonful of tomato curd with aged balsalmic that left an aftertaste so bold I wanted the entire meal to stop in its tracks, for ever. Romanesco and foie gras royale with which David persuaded two haters of that particular green vegetable to eat their brocolli with gluttonous gusto. Stolen from Fred's plate, the best boudin noir I have ever tasted, bar none. One buttery, maitake mushroom ravioli I could happily have eaten six times over and a dessert that included the unexpected but successful matching of avocado, citrus and condensed milk. Huh? When did I ever agree to actually take pleasure in condensed milk?
The wine pairing taught me a lesson. Not only did it make me a little too tipsy by the end of the evening when David so graciously paid us a visit at our table (I hope I was coherent at that point), it plainly illustrated that I definitely prefer particular wines over others. Next time I would care less about which wine I ought to eat with which food, and simply stick with the wines I enjoy the most, like my current crush, Riesling for example.
Our meal at Manresa has changed us for ever. David Kinch has knocked the stuffing out of our fear of fine dining and made us brave. We will return, but hell if I'll wait another year for a repeat experience.