How do you end a carb-a-licious week of fabulous eating in San Francisco? A smart answer might be with a juice cleanse, but I think intelligence fell out somewhere around my 4th piece of artisanal toast. There was still one more gastronomical adventure to experience before leaving Northern California, Manresa.
Manresa has held two Michelin stars for eight consecutive years. No easy feat. David Kinch, the chef at Manresa, has won the Best Chef in America for the Pacific Region from the James Beard Foundation. His technique and cooking shadows his culinary experience in France, Spain, Japan, Germany and the US. Back before everyone got on the bandwagon of having farms grow ingredients for them, Kinch formed an exclusive partnership with Love Apple Farms, not far from Manresa in 2006. It almost goes without saying that Love Apple uses biodynamic and organic farming principles for everything they grow, and they work hand in hand with Manresa in creating and producing the freshest of ingredients all year round.
I've had the good fortune of dining at Manresa once before, but now they've opened up and covered their back patio to include more seating and another dining room, which was light, lovely, comfortable and cozy.
When we sat down, small slips of partially translucent paper were placed on our table, next to a Manresa branded cutting board. The sheet contained a simple, but elaborate listing of ingredients that included a who's who of the seasonal ingredients for May that we'd be seeing in some form or another during our meal. The list went from abalone to dandelion to juniper and kohlrabi, nasturtium, orach, ramps, viola, whey, ending with yuzu.
And then the pomp and plates began, starting with a series of amuse bouche that definitely amused in presentation and taste. I must note that the first plate we received were petit fours laced with red pepper and black olives, a savory treat that was placed on a sweet sugar coated jelly cube. We'll get back to this, but a lovely start with a refreshing champagne cocktail adorned with a single purple petaled flower.
Three more small plates came out with seemingly simple descriptions that when bit into, revealed layers of complexity. Round, crisp croquettes were light in texture and weight with hints of meyer lemon that unleashed a sweet, mild liquid kohlrabi. Fresh, slighting oozing sheep's cheese sat at the bottom of deep green bowl, filled with an assortment of leaves and herbs. Some of the greens were baked for a crisp exterior, while others were bright green and pliable, recently picked from the farm.
My favorite amuse was the delicate abalone generously cubed and poured on top of a local milk panna cotta.
The delicate touch continued with cherry salmon with its roe and fennel stacked high in beautiful display of orange and reds.
Each physical plate, bowl, dish was different than the next. One plate included a single, charred asparagus spear, resting beside a noriade - think tapenade, but with nori seaweed.
The most interesting plate in terms of design was the one the waiter simply called "from our garden." Cupped, outstretched hands sketched in black and white reached out with a handful of fresh greens and edible flowers ready for consumption.
There was Spanish mackerel with chips of sweet potato and apple aioli on one plate, and carrot, onion and candied olive in a subsequent bowl that received a warm pour of a savory stock over it.
Black cod demi-sel with morels finished out the multiple fish course round before we received the final savory dish, and sole meat dish of the evening of spring lamb with chickpeas and chamomile. Even the lamb kept a very delicate, feminine touch. There were no heavy sauces or really any heavy bites. It was all light, and seemingly simple, but complex in the fresh, diverse flavors.
We had to have a visit from the cheese cart for a few local favs. The selections were all from the US and streamlined to 10 choices that included your gamut of cow, sheep, and goat.
Desserts saw a continued delicate hand like a rhubarb compote with elderflower, serving as a nice palate cleanser. The fresh fruit continued with a few choice pieces of ruby red strawberries resting on a fennel - lemon verjus with crumbled short bread on top.
Sorrel and chocolate closed out the fruit round, quickly followed by a lovely sight of a large sleeve of homemade macarons.
I had finally reached saturation, but there was one more dish to close out the night and that was petit fours with strawberry and chocolate. As you may recall from the beginning of the meal, hours ago, they started us with the same arrangement of sugared jelly square with a savory top, and now we finished with a sweet topping. Nice touch.
Not completely finished just yet, a few more treats came with the check, along with a goodie bag to take home that included a menu from the evening and a beautifully wrapped orange scone. On our way out we received a final goodbye with an offering from a large jar of homemade caramels.
Manresa by the numbers. 20 servers, 4-1/2 hours, 20 dishes. Over 20 servers touched our table at one time during our 4-1/2 hour meal where we had over 20 different dishes. I left full, but not uncomfortable, satiated, but not overwhelmed. Kinch knows how to put on a show, but not just for shows' sake. He is thoughtful with his ingredients, plating, portions and combinations. It was a truly special meal that ranks up with my other favorite, show-stopping dinners at Noma and Next.