The Last Harrah at Landmark Manresa
It’s said that all good things must come to an end.
So apparently, must all great things, too.
When Chef-Owner David Kinch announced that he would be closing his Michelin three-starred Manresa in Los Gatos at the end of this year, it was a seismic jolt felt ’round the culinary world.
But after a glittering 20-year run, including the last three rocked by the turmoil of a global pandemic, he felt the time had come.
Although he will continue with his more casual concepts of Manresa Bread, the Bywater, and Mentone, come 2023 the South Bay will no longer boast a Michelin three-starred establishment. The property is up for sale. While Kinch says he has a few projects in mind to consider next, it’s a good bet that it will be a long time — if ever — that a restaurant exists in these parts that will draw discerning diners from all over the world in numbers like this one has.
I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy several superlative meals at Manresa over the past two decades. While I’ve mostly dined outdoors since the pandemic hit in 2020, I couldn’t pass up the chance to dine indoors there one final time.
After all, I’ve enjoyed Kinch’s cooking since his days at Sent Sovi in Los Gatos, where in a minuscule kitchen, he somehow managed to make magic.
I remember the opening of Manresa. At a time when Ferran Adria’s molecular wizardry was on every chef’s mind, Kinch served a dramatic drink constructed of tiers of vividly colored foam, and described how it was such a delicate construction that he would shout, “Foaming now” to alert servers that they had seconds to serve it to diners before its distinct bands of color would start to dissolve.
And over the years, I watched as Kinch refined detail after detail to finally make the leap from two Michelin stars to the elusive three that cemented his status for all time.
Last week, when I dined with my husband and friends, the elegant, minimalist dining room with its whimsical miniature turquoise Vespa perched on a shelf was abuzz with plenty of diners drinking in their last moments there.
As is customary, the tasting menu started off with an array of savory petit fours, including tiny black pepper Madeleines with crispy edges and pate de fruits with the intense jolt of red bell pepper. Alongside were seeded granola sandwich crisps hiding a filling of soft, whipped goat cheese.
Next, an oyster on the half shell cradled on a bed of river rocks. Over top were precise circles of pink turnip, a sliver of fermented truffle, and a spoonful of dashi to boost the briny, savory, umami taste.
The last introductory nosh is one of my all-time favorites — the Arpege egg, a shirred egg in its shell that’s a tribute to the original one created by legendary French chef Alain Passard. It is a beguiling combination of warm and cool, sweet and wine-y, and velvety and foamy. Gently dig a spoon all the way down to get the liquidy, velvety rich egg along with mace, ginger, chives, nutmeg, sherry vinegar, and maple syrup for the perfect bite.
Two types of bread from Manresa Bread, whole wheat and levain, are set on the table with creamy herb butter, guaranteeing you will eat every single slice.
“Into the Vegetable Garden” has long been a signature, too, spotlighting the best of the season on one plate. At this time of year, there are beets, both fresh and dehydrated, peppery nasturtiums, crunchy shallots, and leaves of Brussels sprouts so tender that it’s as if you’re tasting the veg for the very first time.
While the rest of our party was served a plump scallop, owing to my allergy, I was given a lovely kinmedai instead garnished similarly with luscious koji butter sauce and a generous amount of caviar.
The high contrast of black and white was on display with the creamy turbot fillet afloat in a deep, dark cuttlefish sauce with collard green leaves hidden underneath.
For real drama, it’s hard to beat the squab presentation with its juicy breast served sliced, and its entire leg, talon and all, at attention on the plate. A tiny piece of string is conveniently wound on the leg at the very point where you’d pick it up with your fingers. And you should, because you don’t want to miss the devilishly crisp skin and succulent nugget of meat it holds.
The last savory course was a 45-day, dry-aged Flannery beef, incredibly robust in flavor and meltingly tender in texture, served with a thick slice of porcini, creamed spinach, and sorrel.
To reset the palate, a petit quenelle of pear sorbet arrived, done up with cardamom cream and caramelized whey squiggles with the perfect pinch of sea salt.
Dessert was a chocolate lover’s delight with chocolate gelato and a dark cocoa sable with rich chestnut puree, a touch of rosemary, and flecks of edible gold, making for a different taste sensation in each spoonful.
Before long, Madeleines and pate de fruit arrived, echoing the ones that came at the start. Only, these were sweet, with the former flavored with chocolate and the latter with bright strawberry.
Orange linzer cookies were set beside them, along with teeny maple marshmallows with a touch of salt, pink peppercorn truffles, coffee truffles as potent as a demitasse of espresso, and sticky-chewy vanilla bean caramels.
After the last bites, we walked out the doors for the final time, already feeling wistful as we bid farewell to a landmark that won’t be forgotten.