LifeStyle Restaurant Review

Manresa – Restaurant Review

Manresa - Restaurant Review

Well, it’s my wedding anniversary month, so I figured it’s about time I posted my photos and thoughts from last year’s anniversary dinner at Manresa (a year later…get on that already!). As most of you know, Manresa has been closed since July due to a fire, but they do promise to be back! I look forward to then because this really was a great meal.

For this anniversary dinner, I was so excited to check off a biggie on our Michelin bucket list in the local Manresa. I’ve been intrigued by their seasonal menu and the fact that their produce is all sustainable and locally sourced. I’ve heard good things about their themed menus as well (this month they did a menu based on tomatoes, but we weren’t there on a night it was offered). {Sidenote: If you’re interested in this year’s tomato themed dinner, Manresa is still offering it despite being closed. This year (2014) it will be hosted at Love Apple Farms.} Needless to say, I was doing internal cartwheels when I got a reservation on our anniversary! Internal only as I was also enormously pregnant at the time.

“Our goal is to deliver an ambience, service and cuisine that speaks of who we are and where we are located, the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains on the wild Central Coast of California. The Manresa menu changes frequently to highlight the best products grown using biodynamic practices from Love Apple Farms in nearby Santa Cruz, with which we have an exclusive partnership.

By sourcing our own produce by sustainable methods, we hope to create a closed circle between guests, the farm, and Kinch’s highly personal haute cuisine.”

– from the Manresa website


How sweet of the Manresa staff to leave us a little note for our anniversary! Inside was a card wishing us the best, signed by four…people. They’re real signatures (as in ball point/ink pens), but I really can’t tell what the signatures say. I could have David Kinch’s autograph, or I could have a few scribbles from some of the waitstaff. *shrug* Still, very kind of them to include this.

Unless a themed menu is offered, Manresa offers two menus. Option one is a prix fixe menu of eight courses – two amuses (they count these as courses) / appetizers, four savory courses and two desserts. All courses are listed out on the menu so you know exactly what’s coming. The second option is a Seasonal and Spontaneous menu of twelve courses – three amuses/appetizers, seven savory courses and two desserts. This “menu” is listed as a series of seasonal ingredients that the chef will highlight that month. You have no idea what the chef is going to serve you. You’re literally in the hands of the chef’s whims of the moment. It’s basically omakase but not Japanese.

We went with the spontaneous menu. The likelihood of coming back and getting the same dishes is pretty much zilch, so who could pass up the opportunity for a once-in-a-lifetime set of dishes?

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One semi-gripe I have is that they didn’t explain all the dishes. Some they named. Some they gave a little description. Some they just listed the main ingredients. Since there was no actual menu, I could only go by memory of what they said. Below I tried to name each dish by whatever ingredients appear on the seasonal list above unless they gave the dish a “name.” In that case, I listed what they said and put the seaonal ingredients in bold.


Courses 1-3 : Amuses / Appetizers

1 : Petit Fours – Red Pepper Jelly with Black Olive Madelines

2 : 25 Tomatoes – Twenty-five different tomatoes in a clear gazpacho

3 : Abalone, Radishes, Cilantro – California abalone panna cotta with fresh radishes

1- This was a really cute and flavorful bite, but the ratio of jelly to madeline was a little off for me. It might be because I love olives so much, but I thought the red pepper jelly overpowered the olive flavor. I wanted more olive.

2- First off, how pretty is this thing? And second, clear gazpacho! Clear! Okay, now that that’s out, this is one of the few tomato based dishes I’ve ever truly enjoyed. Ever. The combination of flavors was light and refreshing. It did taste like tomatoes, obviously, since there were so many of them, but it was mild and one of the only preparations where I was able to understand what people mean when they say that tomatoes taste sweet. The gazpacho was so so good. I took small sips partly to savor it and partly because I was afraid the next bite would remind my palate that it wasn’t friends with tomatoes. In the end I actually wished there was more.

3- Oh, this abalone panna cotta was heaven. When they first brought this out, Aldwin and I looked at each other like, “uhh..abalone…panna cotta??” It just sounds like an odd combination. Then we both took a bite (yes, we do that weird thing where we try to take the first bite at the same time), and looked up at each other all wide-eyed. This was easily one of the favorites of the night. It just had great texture – smooth panna cotta and crunchy radishes – and flavor.


Course 3.5 : Bread

Top : Local California butter with sea salt

Left : Lavain Bread

Right : Green Olive Bread

When we go to nice restaurants, for some reason, I always take a picture of the butter. And then I get home, look through my photos and think, “why did I take a picture of the butter?” And then we go to another nice restaurant, and I take a picture of the butter. I should do a separate post or make a collage – How Michelin Restaurants Serve Butter.

Anyway, bread. Lavain bread and olive bread. Good bread for sure. In fact, Kinch has a little Manresa Bread side project going on.


Courses 4-7 : Savory

4 (right middle) : Octopus, Tomatoes, Pole Beans – Octopus and tomatoes with a medley of beans

5 (bottom left) : Fava Beans, Sheep’s Milk – Rice-less fava bean risotto with aged sheep’s milk cheese

6 (top) : Into the Vegetable Garden

7 (bottom right) : Clams, Seaweeds, Sea Bream – clams, mussels, sea bream and sea weed in broth

4 – This sounds like a weird combination, and to be honest, it was kind of odd to me. I haven’t eaten a lot of octopus in my life, so I don’t know if it’s just a very “fishy” tasting sea creature. This one definitely had a noticeable hint of ocean. The texture was good, though. Not at all chewy like I was expecting. What I found odd was the pairing with beans. Lots of beans. Not lots of beans in amount but in type. There were a bunch of different beans on there. I admit I did have a bit of fun trying bits of octopus with each bean to see which combination was best. Maybe that was the point.

5- This one was so cool. The fava bean “risotto” was surprisingly smooth and creamy (I expected a little grain from the beans) topped with a light foam (I still don’t “get” foams) and that amazing cheese. The big downfall of this dish was that I wanted more cheese. Like a block of it served on the side. Please and thank you.

6 – I was so excited about this one. When I was reading reviews on Manresa, many of them mentioned this vegetable garden dish. It was so polarizing – people loved it or hated it. From what I gathered, it wasn’t really the same every time, so I was curious to see what today’s interpretation of a vegetable garden would be. Ours was a tiny little mound of greens and pretty flowers piled on top of…dirt. It looked exactly like dirt, but tasted like…awesome. It was savory and had a smoky, woody hint to it. We were literally sitting there eating our mini salads saying, “oh my goodness, this dirt is so good.” Maybe that was just me. I don’t remember Aldwin talking. I asked the server what the dirt was made of and he said that it was made of root vegetables – parsnip, potato and chicory. Not at all what I expected, but that explains the hint of smoke.

7 – Just by the name you can tell that this one tasted like the sea. That can be good or bad depending on your taste preferences. Seaweed isn’t one of my favorite foods, so Aldwin finished mine. He likes seaweed.


Courses 8-10 : Protein

8 (bottom left) : Albacore – California albacore lightly smoked with puttanesca

  9 (top) : Duck, Wild Fennel, Fig, Amaranth, Milk, Honey – Slow roasted duck

10 (bottom right) : Young Lamb  

8 – Tuna and puttanesca – a combination I would not have thought of but works surprisingly well. I thought the salty puttanesca would overpower the tuna, but I think the light smoke brought it together. Or, you know, I could just be saying things.

9 – Slow roasted duck. That’s really all that needs to be said, right? This was one of my favorites. I’m already a fan of duck with fig, and keeping the other components mild but complementary just elevated it to another level. And this is where I say that it was soooo goooood and giggle into my hand (please tell me you watched old school Iron Chef).

10 – This one was delicious and a little confusing. The piece in front is a perfectly done medium rare. It was awesome. What you don’t see is that behind it there was another, smaller piece of lamb that was well done. I didn’t really get it. It wasn’t dry, but it was definitely tougher than the other piece. What made it weirder was that the table across from us received the same dish, but only had one larger piece of medium rare lamb. They didn’t have the smaller, well done piece. Since the dishes are “spontaneous” I can only assume that either the chef just really wanted to make a couple of small, well done pieces of lamb or we looked like the types who would enjoy well done lamb. We’re not.


Course 10.5 : Cheese

Clockwise from top left: goat’s milk cheese with elderberry washed rind, raw cow’s milk cheese with washed rind, sheep’s milk gouda, half cow – half sheep’s milk cheese

Normally I would number cheese as its own course. However, in this case the cheese course is an optional extra course (for which you pay extra of course), so I didn’t want to number it since it’s a course that not everyone might want/get. Though if you don’t want a cheese course I’m not sure we can be friends.

At Manresa the cheeses come out on a custom designed cheese cart. Cheese cart! I know some places have dessert carts, and I always think those are cool…but cheese cart! Be still my heart. Aldwin said my face actually lit up when I saw the cart coming towards us. I mean, come on. Cart…full…of…cheese. I also needed our server to repeat the options a few times because I was too in awe of the cheese. I didn’t even remember the names of the cheeses because my mind was too busy thinking, “I want that one! No, that one! No, ALL THE CHEESE!!”

After how difficult it was for us to just choose the cheeses can I please have a pat on the back for actually taking a picture before I ate it all? Especially considering I don’t have a very good track record with photographing cheese plates before digging in (see here and here). Honestly, I was disappointed in the size of the pieces we received. I mean, they wheel out a cart covered in huge chunks and wheels of cheese then cut off these tiny slivers to serve you. Such a tease. In fairness, the portions were comparable to many cheese plates we’ve received and even larger than some. Those restaurants didn’t taunt me with a cart full of cheese, though.


Courses 11-12.33 : Desserts

11 (top and bottom right) : Plums, Buckwheat – Butterscotch with plums and buckwheat

12 (middle right) : Raspberry – Chocolate, raspberry and tonka bean

12.33 (bottom left) : Chocolate mousse cake

11 – They had me at butterscotch. Then they killed me by making it the smoothest, most delicate butterscotch I’ve ever had. Add in the tart plums and the surprising texture of the buckwheat and this was easily my favorite dessert of the night. The worst part of the dish was the size. See my hand? It’s small. I wanted more!

12 – So…I don’t know what tonka bean is. Correction. I just googled it, and I still couldn’t tell you what the tonka bean was on that plate. I can tell you that the dish was yummy – rich but not too sweet.

12.33 – Again with the decimals. This isn’t a normal dessert, so I didn’t want to give it its own number. In another thoughtful gesture, the staff brought us this little chocolate mousse cake for our anniversary. I looked at it and immediately assumed it would be rich and heavy. It wasn’t. It was light and just sweet enough. Manresa has really mastered the art of keeping dessert from making you feel like bursting.


Course 12.66 : Chocolate

Top : Petit Fours  – Raspberry jelly with chocolate madelines

Bottom : Mint chocolate balls

To “come full circle” – a second set of petit fours in the exact same colors as the first set, except this time, they’re sweet. The mint chocolate balls…I don’t know why I tried it when I know I don’t normally enjoy chocolate and mint together. No, I know why. It’s because the server explained that you needed to pop the whole thing in your mouth and press gently with your tongue to make the ball pop. I was intrigued enough to try it only to find that “pop” filled my mouth with mint liquid. Fun experience. Not fun flavor (for me).

As we exited the restaurant the hostess offered us one more treat before we headed out the door – salted caramels. She had a large apothecary jar full of them and told me to take as many as I wanted, so I grabbed a handful. Unfortunately, my hands are small and I only ended up with five. Aldwin, whose hands are significantly larger, was too embarrassed to grab a handful and only picked up three. Fail. The caramels were delicious. I wish I could say that I savored them over a period of time, but they were gone before we got home.

Overall I think I didn’t really know what I was getting into when I booked Manresa. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but whatever that was, Manresa blew it away. Throughout the meal I kept thinking that things were odd pairings or there was one ingredient in a dish that was completely out of left field. Looking back, I can see now that that was the point. Everything had just a touch of the unexpected, and somehow that unexpected ingredient just brought the dish to another level of awesome. And then there’s the cuisine types. There were influences of Italian, French, Asian and maybe more that I didn’t recognize. It sounds like a jumble of crazy, but I still felt like the meal flowed well as if I was intentionally brought all over the world.

On the spontaneity of the menu, it really was spontaneous! Around us people were served what looked like an identical course to ours, then the next one would come out and it would be completely different. There were times when I found myself craning my neck to see what other people were eating because it looked nothing like what we had. Aldwin called me out on it. It must be stressful fun to work in that kitchen with the dishes constantly changing not just day to day but table to table!

And finally, what did I think? Loved it. The staff was wonderful. We’ve had great service at restaurants before, but the staff at Manresa surpassed all our previous experiences. They’re so friendly. The food was so unexpected – refined with a hint of whimsy, and I love that we can come back and not receive any of the same dishes. And I do want to come back! I can’t wait until they rebuild. :)

Though they’re currently closed, you can still see Manresa’s website HERE and their yelp reviews HERE.

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