Thursday, October 03, 2013

Manresa (09/15/2013)

I've abandoned the idea of writing up our meals in chronological order, in favor eagerness-to-write order.  So, Sunday night, The Cats: Manresa.  (We were actually on time for this one, thanks to Phil's dropping us off.)  We opted for the longer seasonal tasting -- "The Late Summer Garden" -- a split wine pairing, and a bottle of wine (I believe a younger Clavaillon, as I vaguely recall contrasting it favorably with the Saison bottle).

The savory petit fours were a cute idea -- a red bell pepper jelly and a black olive madeleine -- but neither was good enough -- the red pepper too sweet from the sugar dusting, the madeleine too heavy -- to really warrant being the amuse.  I would have found them more effective as dessert petit fours.
Petit fours "red pepper-black olive"

However, our streak of awesome tomato dishes continued with this vibrant tomato-in-textures dish.
25 tomatoes, coriander

Unlike the disappointing abalone at Saison, Manresa's was perfect.  A thin layer of yuzu gelee over the chawanmushi-reminiscent panna cotta added unexpected citrusy brightness.  The creamy custard contrasted with the slightly chewy abalone, enhanced by a bit of dashi.  It just all worked.
Abalone and local milk panna cotta

The smoky eggplant flavor in the puree was great, but the rounds of eggplant had that sort of mushy texture that cooked eggplant can get, which detracted from the overall effect.
Smoky eggplant and lightly cured mackerel, toasted rice

I didn't love the faux-risotto; the cleverness didn't compensate for the too-starchy texture of the finely chopped fava beans, although the flavor of the beans and creamy foam predictably worked.
Without rice, fava bean risotto, sheep's milk cheese

I couldn't tell you want exactly was in this lovely salad or the earthy "soil" beyond greens, edible flowers, and some shaved vegetables underneath -- and unfortunately neither could the server whom I asked.  This highlighted one of my complaints about the service at Manresa, which was the stodgiest we had all week.  It seemed like each course was set out by different (often multiple) people, so we never really had someone with whom we could chat about the meal.  (Also, the somm was sort of weird; not very chatty or enthusiastic, although he seemed friendly to a nearby table at which one of the diners appeared to work in the industry.)
Into the vegetable garden . . . 

Another not-particularly-exciting miso soup-reminiscent course.  Meh.
Clams and chickpeas, a pine mushroom bouillon

The tuna looked sort of boring, but was surprisingly pretty good.  But we love smoked pretty-much-anything.  I don't recall this dish's being a standout, though.
Albacore "puttanesca," lightly smoked

I liked the next one more.  Milk skin added an interestingly textured dairy element, leeks are always great, I love sweet figs, and the fennel (sliced and fronds) nicely bridged the sweet-and-savory.
Figs and wild fennel, milk and honey

I really enjoyed the surprising pairing of tomatillo sauce with the acidic-sweet pop of the gooseberries, but the mussels were a distraction that I could have done without.  
Block cod and mussels, tomatillo with gooseberries

Manresa is apparently known for doing a L'Arpege egg, so we were disappointed when it became clear that we weren't going to get it.  When we asked a server, we were told that the chef was moving away from it, but he'd check.  A few minutes later, this appeared.  While delicious, this variation wasn't the maple-syrupy sweet-and-creamy version that I'd been excited to have again.  I don't recall what was flavoring it, but it was something seasonal; I want to say cucumber but I think I'm just conflating it with the next course.

I was so full that I declined cheese, although it's cool that they have an all-American cheese cart, with some from places that I didn't even realize produced cheese, including the Hudson Red from Twin Maple Farm in Ghent.  We'll have to visit on a future trip upstate with Narissa.

Our first dessert was so good.  Adam loves a salad for dessert, and we both love when dessert plays with traditionally savory elements.  Not-too-sweet from the fresh fig and marshmallow, freshly vegetal from the cucumber, basil, and basil seeds -- fantastic.  (The take-home menu listed a different dessert: "Andy's plums with butterscotch, buckwheat, black walnut" also sounded awesome.)

The sorbet and raspberry bits were tasty, but there was too noticeable a coffee flavor for me, and I rarely like chocolate desserts.
Raspberries, chocolate-coffee parfait, golden raspberry sorbet, almond

A bit precious maybe, but I liked the parallel of the jellies and madeleines.  I always like jelly petit fours, but cocoa powdered truffles aren't my thing.
Petit fours "strawberry-chocolate"
Adam thought that Manresa was the #2 for the week, but I'm torn between it and Meadowood, which was an undoubtedly better overall experience.  (He's probably right purely on the highs of the food.)  Hard to know how much I was influenced by the difference in atmosphere -- Manresa was drowsiness-inducingly dark, and the service wasn't our taste -- or less impressed by the ingredient-driven focus given how familiar I am with Stone Barns.  Still, an excellent meal; definitely above the eager-to-return line.


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