Manresa – Los Gatos


320 Village Lane
Los Gatos, CA 95030

I have been wanting to go to Manresa for ages. It seems like it’s harder to plan to go to a place just 20 minutes away over our lovely mountain highway than all the way up to San Francisco. I finally realized, Hey! there are hotels near Manresa too! Just make a weekend of it!. So we stayed at the Tollhouse Inn, which was lovely and comfortable and I would stay there again (next time we eat at Manresa). Oh, did I just give away the ending? Yes, our meal was incredible. We will go back. And now for why…

We were REALLY early for our reservation. They were lovely enough to let us loiter at a table on the patio with the wine list. I passed the time by twittering our wait…what did we do before smart phones? Actually talk to our companions? ;-) Six o’clock rolled around and we were shown in. I listed off my food aversions to the waiter and we ordered the tasting menu with my caveats written in the waiters notes. I’ve decided to make business cards with a list of my dislikes…like a little medic alert card for my taste buds!
Orange in Jasmine Tea Jelly
The meal started with Orange in Jasmine jelly. It was really tart, refreshing and, well, a little soapy but that’s just my weirdness with jasmine. I used to LOVE jasmine green tea…I’m talking up until about a month ago! Something changed on my tongue and now it tastes like soap. Blargh. But this was still lovely!
Pear Sorbet and Avocado Puree with Yeast Crumble
Next amuse bouche was Pear Sorbet with an Avocado puree and “yeast crumble”. This did something amazing to the champagne. The yeast on the dish made the champagne less yeasty…not surprising really but a lovely shift in the mouth. The only thing I would have liked on this one was a few more sprigs of the teeny baby mizuna so I could have one with each bite. It reminded my husband of avocado pie but not me because I’ve never had avocado pie!
Arpege Egg
One of the things my husband can’t eat is sea urchin (Uni). The reason for that is our 2001 trip to L’Arpege in Paris. Something I left out of the review was that my hubby got a wicked case of food poisoning. We’re guessing either from the egg or the urchin…or maybe even something we ate earlier in the day. Either way, the flavor that stuck with him was urchin and the other dish that stands out from that meal was the other risky one: the egg. When talking about our food aversions, he *almost* told the story but I stopped him, why bring that up, right? Well, here’s why!! The next course was, I kid you not, the “Arpege Egg”. The EXACT same dish Alain Passard has made his signature dish. What the hell!?!? What are the odds??? This one seemed a little more poached. We both recall the egg at L’Arpege being raw but when looking back at my notes, it was poached as well. This one was more poached and tasty but I still couldn’t eat it all, I’m not a fan of runny eggs in general, and especially not when it reminds me such experiences!! Don’t let our bad association ruin your enjoyment of this though, I’m sure everyone else loves this to no end!!

The bread came next. The BREAD! OMG, the seeded wheat bread!! So, I love me my carbs. I really do. I think the bread platter was my downfall for the evening. I ate too much bread even though I kept saying, “No, I don’t want to fill up on bread.”….I filled up on bread! This will be an issue later.

The L’Arpege egg wasn’t a weird enough coincidence, there had to be another. In 2000 we went to Sooke Harbour House on Vancouver Island. We had a dish that was a caprese-like salad made with geoduck. At the time, I’d never heard of such a creature. I haven’t had it since…until this: Geoduck with watercress gelee. Well, it was geoduck. It is very, wharfy…and salty…and it tastes like a beach covered in seaweed. The wine cut through the wharfiness in a lovely way though!
Asparagus with Bonito Butter
Now, this next dish blew me away: Sacramento Delta asparagus with bonito butter. This is where the wonderful bread was so incredibly perfect with the bonito butter. And I was grateful I had a spoon. Husband asked, as I was slurping up the contents of my bowl, “You do know that’s butter right?” YES! Fantastic bonito-filled butter. Like a rich, salty soup. Later in the evening our neighboring table said, “It’s like a butter latte.”
From the Garden
I was very excited to see the next dish placed in front of me. I’d read about it, I’d seen it on the Food Forward trailer: From the Garden. A beautiful plate of fresh garden goodness. This plate encapsulates my beliefs about cooking, although it is all raw. Sprouts, leaves, purees. So much flavor and every bite is different. And every day it’s different. The more you eat, the more you uncover in the garden on your plate. This dish made me smile.

The abalone came highly recommended. This was my husband’s favorite of the night. I have no idea how they got the abalone this tender. It was served over smoked lentils which made it taste like there was bacon in the dish. It reminded hubby of my chanterelle-lentil-spinach salad which is one of his favorite things I’ve made…ever. We mopped up this plate with more of the wonderful seeded bread (oh, more filling up! Noooo!). My husband couldn’t figure out why this combination tasted like memories of being in Big Sur…it was an Everything Bagel with lox! The combination of the fishiness of the abalone, the seeds of the bread, the salty of the broth–it was a palate-memory awoken!

I have to say here that at this point in the meal, we have had an insane amount of wine. My notes get scribbly and short. The True Cod with peas and something illegible was beautiful and scrumptious. My picture is dark and I can’t read what I wrote! I do remember it fondly though!

So, one thing I now have on my list of “do not eat foods” is organ meat. I did not stipulate that before this meal. I feel awful about this. The course was Veal Sweetbreads. I thought, “I can do this…I can try it.” Then I cut into it and the texture killed it for me, I could not eat that. So sorry David!!! I bet they were the best sweetbreads ever, to quote my retired-surgeon-father-in-law, “They don’t have a strong organ flavor.”

Then lamb showed up. I managed to eat 2 bites, it was phenomenal…and I don’t like lamb! But I was so incredibly full at this point (told you the bread would be a problem!). I tried to eat more! I really did! I couldn’t do it!! I think I have a savory-fullness level I hit and can’t surpass. Luckily the lamb was the last savory course and we just had sweet to go.

Rhubarb and Fennel with Brioche Sorbet. There was something about this that was reminiscent of pineapple upside down cake from childhood. It was a caramelized-cakey-sugary flavor. Excellent.

I wrote down a quote of my own from the evening at this point that sums up my headspace at this point, “I’m having troblems”. Yes, I was trying to say I was having a hard time writing down info about the meal…”troblems.” Yay wine! ;-)

The finale: Yuzu sorbet, chocolate sorbet and candied citrus, including Buddhas hand, which I looked up and it looks like some sort of creature from Star Wars or Star Trek. Crazy fruit! But a lovely candied treat.

As we were stumbling out, praising the meal, the manager asked if we wanted to see the kitchen. This is really something I would love to do again sober! I wanted to have an intelligent conversation with Chef David but was a slurring mess! Drunk on food and wine. An amazing experience all around. I’m already looking in my calendar to find out when we can go back!

Don’t walk…run! And don’t drive! Get a driver, stay at the Tollhouse (6 short blocks away!). But go to Manresa immediately.