Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Printemps in Los Gatos/Les Chats

320 Village Lane
Los Gatos, CA 95030
Chef David Kinch
Dinner Tuesday through Sunday

Manresa on Urbanspoon

Tried: March 2007
Guest Chef Alain Passard

(Manresa last tried: April 2007)

I have been enchanted by Chef David Kinch's cuisine since I first tried Manresa several years ago. As soon as I heard that Alain Passard of L'Arpege was coming to Manresa to cook with David Kinch, I begged and pleaded with General Manager Michael Kean for a spot. At $285/person plus $95 for wine pairing ($195 for the reserve wine pairing), the privilege did not come cheap, but I figured it was still less than a plane ticket to Paris.

The amuses included the familiar fresh baby radishes with beurre blanc sauce blended with chives and parsley (I usually keep the sauce to put on bread, even though the dark yellow salty butter served with the bread is quite richly scrumptious as well), followed by the tiny gumball-size deep fried croquettes, which on past visits have been filled with either corn-vanilla gelatin or foie gras creme. This time, they were filled with lettuce creme. Who knew lettuce could be so opulent? The wines selected for the amuses were nonvintage Krug for the reserve pairing and nonvintage Henriot for the standard pairing. Both were lovely, with generous refills.

The nonvintage Krug was also the pairing for the first course, a wakame (seaweed) consomme gelatin topped with a quenelle of osetra caviar served in a martini glass, accompanied by a thick slice of brioche speckled with bits of seaweed. Generally, this is a presentation I have never cared for, as I find martini glasses appropriate only for martinis, but the flavors were so incredible, I forgot all about the discomfort in reaching into a tall glass with a spoon. The consomme with the caviar was both refreshing and decadent and delightfully well-matched. The standard pairing with this dish, Sawanoi junmai ginjo sake, highlighted the briny sea flavors while the Krug brought out the creaminess of the caviar. As for the seaweed brioche, although everyone else seemed to ooh and ah over it, I actually found it a bit too cakey in texture and too buttery to be able to taste any of the embedded seaweed.

The second course was by Chef Passard (the menu listed the dishes by Kinch in English and the dishes by Passard in French), braised baby leeks in a foamy emulsion of oyster, cream and muscadet wine vinegar. Displaying Passard's obsession and expertise with vegetables, the bright green leeks were so creamy and sweet that it was hard to tell where the leeks ended and the oyster foam began. Both the standard (2001 Leon Bayer Riesling from Alsace) and reserve (2001 Weinbach Cuvee Theo Riesling from Alsace) pairings for this dish were elegant and complementary with this sublime creation.

Kinch expertly returned the serve with a dish that could only be a Kinch-Manresa creation-- braised Monterey Bay abalone with a slow-cooked soft boiled egg cut open to reveal the golden liquid yolk inside, with sweet beets and radishes, all dressed with puffs of fennel foam, looking like a piece of priceless modern art and combining a host of different flavors and textures (creamy, crunchy, chewy, briny, sweet) into a series of mindblowing tastes and sensations. This dish was my favorite of the evening. On the wine pairing, this time I preferred the standard selection, 2005 Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, to the reserve, a 2002 Rayas Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc.

The following two courses were both by Passard: monkfish and smoked potato, followed by sweetbread with chestnuts and black truffles. I absolutely adored the smoked potato, a tiny brown potato, the size of a kumquat, that tasted like it was made of just the fluffy center of the world's most perfect baked potato and surrounded by an invisible coating of bacon, apparently the result of just the smoking process. It was the most amazing potato I have ever tasted and clearly the star of the dish. The small square of braised monkfish that accompanied the potato was soft, delicate, and not the least bit chewy. With a glass of the 2000 Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet, I could have died from pleasure. (The standard pairing was a 2001 Jobard Bourgogne Blanc, a perfectly nice wine but it paled in comparison with the Puligny.)

Oddly, I was less enthralled with the sweetbread dish, which is apparently one of the signature dishes of L'Arpege that Passard has not been able to take off the menu for fear of customer revolt, despite his almost-exclusive focus on vegetables since 2001. I assumed that this less than ideal execution was likely the result of the fact that he was not working out of his own kitchen, compounded by jetlag and exhaustion. Yet I was still disappointed that the sweetbread was somewhat tough and overcooked, notwithstanding being masked by the delectable sliced chestnuts coated with crushed black truffles. I also found the ringmold-like presentation a bit dated. The reserve wine, 1999 Bruno Clavelier Vosne-Romanee, accomplished a great deal in bringing this entire dish together. (The standard wine, 2004 Domaine le Sang-des-Cailloux Vacqueyras, did not work as well, as it overpowered the chestnuts which were the best part of the dish.)

Roast spring lamb with dates, kale, and root vegetables, this one by Kinch, was the final savory dish. The lamb was cooked perfectly, with the gaminess both controlled and highlighted by the sweet dates. The pairing was a classic one, Bordeaux with lamb, although this was another time that I preferred the standard (1994 Pichon Lalande) to the reserve (1997 Cheval Blanc). The Cheval Blanc was a bit too harsh despite multiple decantings for days prior to service.

To conclude, we received two desserts-- the first by Passard, the second by Kinch-- followed by the miniature olive madelines and pepper jellies usually served at the beginning of the meals at Manresa. The Passard dessert wins points for originality, baby carrots in a chocolate sauce, but it tasted as odd as it sounds. The carrots were lovely, and the chocolate sauce would have been perfect on anything but. I would have preferred the carrots with ginger sorbet, vanilla ice cream, mascarpone sauce, or even plain, as they were certainly sweet. But this combination I could only describe as interesting. The wine pairing was a banyuls (1961 Andre Parce for the reserve and nonvintage Mas-Blanc for the standard), which obliterated the carrots but matched nicely with the chocolate.

The final dessert, a small ramekin of meyer lemon souffle, was perfect-- fluffy, creamy, ethereal, and the small size kept the souffle from being overwhelming (why doesn't every restaurant do it this way?). To me, a souffle always sounded better than it actually tastes. This time, I finally understood why people are so obsessed with souffles.

Overall, I loved the experience, and I thought that cooking with Passard brought out even more of Kinch's creativity, and Manresa was the perfect setting for this amazing Duo of Chefs showcase. Passard even made the rounds several times in the dining room to talk to the guests, which was an added treat (although I can't decide whether it was endearing or sexist that he seemed to ask only the women diners whether they cooked).

The only thing missing? I wanted the Arpege egg! A comparison of the Kinch rendition with the original would have been fascinating. N'est-ce pas?


Anonymous said...

i haven't posted the dinner on my own blog yet ( but i'd prefer a Manresa or L'Arpege meal over this hybrid any day.

A Manresa meal is as close to perfection as you'll find in the US but this meal wasn't close. The Kinch dishes were off and out of context. A L'Arpege meal is usually divisive - the best ever or "he charged me $500 for that?!?!?". Unfortunately, I don't think his genius shown through on this effort.

I am w/ you on the egg - why wasn't there a side by side comparison? or at least the original? My personal guess? The Manresa is better!

- chuck

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure a ring mold was used in the sweetbread presentation.
See link to photos.

cynthia said...

I'm Manresa's farmer, and was happy to hear that the carrots were sweet and your favorite dish was the abalone with root vegies and egg (all mine but the abalone, of course). I had the supreme pleasure of dining at Manresa the first night of the Passard dinners, and thought it phenomenal. I loved the potato, as well - one bite of pure heaven - who knew a potato could be so sensational? I actually really liked the carrot/chocolate combination. I guess I'm the only one. BTW, I'm a finicky lawyer as well, just now I'm finicky about growing proper vegetables. Please come up to the garden and I'll give you a tour.

Anonymous said...

I was at the dinner and asked Chef Kinch for a egg would have been fascinating and I was a little disappointed that neither version was offerred that evening...

Sam said...

Great write up - thanks for bringing my memory of the evening flooding back.

Which night were you there? My sweetbreads were not in a ringmold either and my first mouthful of them was a truly orgasmic experience interspersed with gasps and sighs. However my view was not shared with several friends that evening, many of whom complained about sandiness - which I detected but didn't really get bothered by.

I am such a lover of chestnuts which is why I think I loved this dish so much.

Overall - like others here- I think I would prefer to return to Manresa on a regular night for a more Kinch dinner.

Anonymous said...

Cynthia: Thank you for growing such beautiful vegetables. With tastes like those, I could (almost) understand how people could be vegetarian. I would be thrilled to get a tour of your gardens whenever you have time.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Sam. I thought the truffled chestnuts were tremendous as well. I also did not detect any sand or grit in my truffles, but to me, the sweetbreads were less spectacular than the rest of the meal. (I understand that ringmolds were not actually used; I suppose the fact that the dish could look that ordered without the use of a ringmold is impressive in and of itself.) As much as I enjoy Kinch solo, I treasured the dual-chef interplay experience.

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