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Image 1: It was Manresa that attracted us all the way to Los Gatos, a small town in the Bay Area. With so much distraction from the surrounding boutique shops it was easy for anyone to pass this unassuming rustic house without realising food pilgrims from all over the world could be found inside.
Image 2: If you didn’t recognise the name Manresa, it would probably ring a bell if I said the name David Kinch instead. Yes, the chef who destroyed the Iron Chef Bobby Flay in the Battle of Cabbage.
Image 3: We expected our jet lag would hit us soon so we went straight to the dining table and initiated the "The Summer Garden" tasting experience. The title of the menu clearly indicated that the cuisine at Manresa was driven by seasonal ingredients.
Image 4: Haha, our meal began with petits fours! What a playful amuse bouche with a black olive madeleine resting on red pepper jello. It was served with a Fieldnotes cocktail - apple, lime, celery, volka, and lemongrass.
Image 5: Followed by a croquette cube; thin crispy surface with a burst of warm liquid of sweet corn. Wow!
Image 6: More amuse bouche, a tall stem glass of fresh strawberry covered in coriander granite.
Image 7: Finished with a strawberry gazpacho on top. This was an amazing summer soup combining the flavours of strawberry, tomato, and coriander; a perfect combo of fruit, vegetable, and herb just like putting a chilled garden into my mouth! Hidden at the bottom were small cucumber cubes and almond for a refreshing and crunchy finish.
Image 8: The kitchen continued to deliver superb amuse bouche one after another - deep fried kale balanced on a couple of warm garden beignets.
Image 9: And the last amuse bouche turned out to be one of the highlights of the meal. Gorgeously presented in this cute round box were pieces of abalone and radish bounded by a layer of abalone liver jello.
Image 10: Underneath was a very silky layer of milk panna cotta. High quality execution here! The subtle flavour of the milk panna cotta and the light jello did an excellent job of highlighting the deep flavour of the abalone. Love the vivid presentation! A wonderful treat for the eyes and on the palate!
Image 11: A large selection of warm bread was presented to us, signifying the end of the amuse bouche segment of the meal.
Image 12: Our first course, a sashimi plate of wild Amberjack's back and belly garnished with seaweed and daikon. Elegant flavour from both the Amberjack and Katsuobushi (dried tuna shaving) in the dashi. A great example of top notch ingredients!
Image 13: Another Japanese influenced dish - marinated surf clam with seaweed and lemon ice. I loved the broth underneath which had a slight hint of acidity. The precise harmony of flavours was outstanding, combined with a soft-crunchiness and smokiness from the clam. Simply addictive food!
Image 14: I enjoyed the fact that the tasting menu comprised mainly of seafood. The cured salmon had a remarkable creamy texture. However, the fish itself, even without the Osetra caviar, was a bit too salty, although the cultured cream did help to balance it out a bit! Interestingly, there was a tiny bundle of lettuce from his garden.
Image 15: Roasted aubergine coated with an original black tea sauce with bonito and sesame sprinkled on top; converting a simple eggplant to a delicacy! Nutty sesame, rich and silky eggplant, along with a crispy paper thin eggplant leaning on its edge, truly a miraculous dish! The only unpleasant aspect was the bitter aftertaste from the burnt skin of the eggplant.
Image 16: I was planning to ask David about his achievement from years of working closely with Love Apple Farm, the farm Manresa sources all their vegetables from, however, this Into the vegetable garden answered all!
Image 17: This simple salad drizzled with olive oil, containing more than 50 ingredients with black olive dust at the bottom, was truly a celebration of the garden. Minimal work is required from the kitchen when you have vegetables of this quality!
Image 18: Despite many outstanding courses, this mini seafood feast was THE dish of the meal, titled "A Summer Tidal Pool"! Sea urchin, mussel, abalone, lobster, clam, enoki mushroom... basically a bunch of flavoursome goodies swimming in a dashi broth infused with dried mushroom and oyster.
Image 19: Moreover, I was stunned by the exceptional quality of sea urchin sourced from the coast of Santa Barbara - creamy, rich, intense and without any trace of bitterness. Definitely the best ones that I had ever tasted outside Japan.
Image 20: Yes, the seafood kept on coming. Blanketed under some bitter leaves was a piece of cod cheek coated in "pil pil", a classic Basque sauce in which olive oil is emulsified by the natural gelatin from the cod skin. Like the salmon course earlier, it was a bit too salty for my palate. Again, a colourful dish.
Image 21: A lovely bright colour from nasturtium further enhanced by the gold leaf. Yes, there was more seafood -- a piece of crab was submerged in this bed of rice. Excellent flavour and texture from both the risotto and the delicate crab meat. A perfect dish except for the sharpness from the passion fruit which was distracting.
Image 22: Sweetbread is one of my favourite food, if it is cooked right like this one. Great texture, nicely seasoned with a hint of charcoalness, together with crunchy chanterelle and turnip, and a touch of fruitiness from drops of apricot onion sauce. It was another fabulous course. I loved every ingredient on this dish.
Image 23: An artwork depicting a bloody pigeon scene with an eye-catching pigeon's foot! Beautifully cooked leg and breast complemented by crushed raspberries and dried beets. The meal was not only about seafood!
Image 24: If one good meat wasn't convincing enough, there was another one! A combination of Napa Valley lamb with juniper, blueberries, black olives, and cucumber. Just wasn't sure about the yogurt element though!
Image 25: David has a better idea than using fruity sorbets as a pre-dessert palate cleanser.
Image 26: He created a "Garden tisane" using mint, lemon balm, anise hyssop and verbena from the garden! Very refreshing as we definitely needed a boost to keep us going with the jet lag kicking in.
Image 27: A light dessert of buckwheat ice cream and fresh cream cheese together with pickled plums.
Image 28: And for the final course, the buttermilk sorbet and drops of dulce de leche were excellent, but the focal point of this milk and chocolate dessert was the disk at the bottom that was made from a remarkably creamy chocolate mousse! I also liked its texture contrast with the coconut milk crumble cracker and the cocoa dusted nut.
Image 29: A small petit-four of apricot camellia macarons. Loved the presentation here!
Image 30: Looked exactly like the amuse bouche, but this time it was chocolate madeleine resting on strawberry jello. Haha, it was fun to end a meal the same way as it had begun.
Image 31: Though coming from such a long way, this meal did meet my high expectation as David successfully delivered the best of what the region had to offer in the season. There was only one thought that I had in mind when I was walking out from the restaurant, "I now need to come back to try David's cuisine during a different season!"