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Manresa, Los Gatos CA

Manton

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Overall, disappointed.

There are two menu options, you can get four courses or a tasting menu. The latter is not specific at all, that is, the menu does not say how many courses you get or what they are. I knew going in that we were not going to order it because the menu says that all parties to the table are supposed to have it if anyone is, and my party was not game. So I didn't ask about it. I overheard one of the waiters say that basically it's just a lot of small versions of all the existing menu items.

As per usual at places like this, there were several little "freebie" or non-listed items. The first was a carrot foam with rock salt and some sort of pureed green underneath. It was quite tasty and the colors were spectacular. The second was a soft egg served in the shell with some other foam on top, and sherry vinegar and maple syrup on the bottom. Sounds awful but really delicious.

So at this point I was enjoying myself but not overwhelmed.

They had two wine pairing options, "traditional" and "premium." The price difference is not huge so I went with the good stuff. It ended up being five rather small glasses of wine, though I got one extra for reasons that will become clear. Overall I thought the wines were well matched. I also credit them for taking me outside my comfort zone. Literally only one of the five (six) was something I had heard of and four were even varietals that I had no experience with. However, for being billed as "premium" pairings, I thought the overall quality could have been higher (e.g., would it have killed them to serve a vintage sparkler?) and also older. The red with the meat course was a 2007.

My first indication that service might be a problem came when I asked about the pairings. I just asked if they had any list of what the wines were. The waitress said something like "No, we don't do that." Really? She didn't try to explain so I offered an explanation for her. "Because it's all chosen by the Somm on the fly depending on what people order?" She said yes, not exactly with a smile, so I went with it. I didn't feel she had been helpful in explaining what they did or why, or why one pairing course was different than the other. I am not much of a pairings veteran so maybe that's just how it is done and I was being a philistine by asking questions.

Now, for the official first course, I ordered the "crispy rock shrimp and nectarine salad, courgettes with assorted basils." My companion ordered Crab risotto, without rice, Vietnamese lemon balm, mushrooms with aged parmesan." Except we both were served the latter. I pointed this out to the server who went to get our waitress. Meanwhile the food was there so I started to eat it. Not bad but not overwhelming either. BTW, the "rice" in the "risotto without rice" was a brunoise of zucchini. Very nicely done brunoise, super-even, though slightly larger than I was taught to do it. Finally our waitress came and sort of defensively tried to blame me for serving the wrong dish. I was very smiley and non-confrontational but I did politely insist that I had ordered the shrimp (which I know I had, and my companion heard it too). So she agreed to bring me a shrimp dish. She took the half eaten crab plate but left the pairing for that dish and poured the pairing for the shrimp dish (a Provence rose). So that's how I got my free glass of wine.

The shrimp dish was easily one of the best things I have ever had anywhere. I can still taste it. Just heavenly. I really savored that one. I tried to "make nice" with the waitress (even though I knew damned well that the mistake had been her fault) by talking to her about the excellence of the dish. But she was avoiding our table except for those moments when she had to be there. I caught her when she took the plate and told her how great I thought it was and all I got was a very icy "That's nice" or something.

So at this point I was very happy and expecting great things from this meal. The next course was "Albacore confit in olive oil, roasted turnips in wild fennel milt, mizuna with bacon crisps." This too was spectacular. Not as good as the shrimp course, maybe, but only very slightly less good. The tuna was rare but soft and perfectly melting. The fennel milk sauce was genius. The little roasted turnips were paired with a super sweet green berry (can't recall the name), just perfect. I think maybe the bacon crisps didn't need to be there. I am not sure what they added and they lacked the intense flavor of everything else.

The other diner had "Local halibut with lettuce, herb and cress vichyssoise, mussels with lemon licorice root." This was also tremendous, though I give the edge to the tuna dish.

So at this point I had tasted three truly spectacular dishes, one sort of meh dish (served by accident) and two very fine freebies. All going well, though the service was quite slow. From that point on it seemed to slow down a great deal. I expect service at places like this to be slow, it's part of the experience but this was too slow. Something was going wrong somewhere. I noticed two strange happenings, but I could not figure out exactly what happened. At one table there was a couple that came in after us. The man at some point delivered harsh words to the waitress (same one as ours). I heard something about "an hour" and "wine" and "wait" but was not sure what exactly he was complaining about. They each had a course in front of them but no wine. Maybe they had ordered wine and the staff forgot to serve it and then the food came and they had no wine. I don't know. But I can say this, I was very sweet and smiley when I pointed out the shrimp error, this dude was pissed off.

Then at another table, this one even closer to us, there was a young couple. The waiters brought out a course but before serving it just stood there holding the food. Then a captain or something leaned in and whispered in the man's ear. I have no idea what he said but the food was not served. The couple got up and left, leaving half full wine glasses still in the table. The table was cleared and they never came back.

All of this was happening quite within my field of vision, I wasn't trying to spy.

OK, my main course was "Suckling porcelet and our boudin noir, smoked pickled plum, butter bean and garlic broth." This was disappointing. It was not bad but it was a real let-down after the super high quality of the prior three dishes. The pork was sort of bland and over-fatty if you ask me (though the skin was nicely crisped). The garlic broth lacked much flavor, whether garlic or anything else. The butter beans were just bland. The plum was excellent however and the blood sausage was the star: really great. But overall, not great.

Dining companion had "Rack of veal roasted with young cabbage, morels with sweet onion and marrow tears." This was significantly better than my dish but still not up to the fish or the shrimp. The morels were fresh and just spectacular. I've made dishes using dried morels a few times in the last several weeks, and they have been very good but these were just on another level. The veal was maybe a touch fatty but tender and tasty. There was a mild sauce that was probably light veal demi. All the accompaniments were good too. All in all, a fine dish.

Then came another little freebie, some sweet and sour berries and sorbet in a martini glass. Intensely sour. My companion could not eat it. I thought it was great.

Dessert for me was "Flavors of 'Marjolaine' and bitter chocolate sorbet; Cashew, chocolate, hazelnut, vanilla, meringues ..." Excellent. No complaints about this. Companion had "Do you know what means to miss New Orleans? Coffee, chicory, pecan praline, beignets, banana ..." She said it was her favorite dish of the night. I think it was better than mine but not as good as the great trifecta of fish-fish-shrimp. There was another dessert called "Summer flowerpot: lemon verbena cheesecake with blackberries; Almond and teccino crumble, our creme fraiche." I did not get to taste this but I saw it served several times and it looked very clever. It really was a little flower pot.

At this point we had been there a million hours, or so it seemed. I suppose I can't be sure that the gap between each course kept getting longer but it sure seemed like it. I wish I had clocked the gap between course three and dessert. It felt like 30 minutes. We were ready to go when they offered a final treat, which turned out to be a chocolate terrine. More time. Very nice "finisher" but arguably not worth the wait. Then more time until the bill finally came. All in all, we were there for over three hours. Now, this may not sound like long time for a super fancy meal but we didn't have a tasting menu. Nominally we had just four courses each, but then there were four additional little courses, plus my crab mistake. Maybe I am just a crank but I thought it was too slow. Perhaps if the staff had not been quite so ... unfriendly, it would not have seemed so out of line.

I wanted a menu but no one was there to say goodbye as we left. Seemed like a little detail but one they should get right. I flagged a guy and he gave me one. They also gave us some little candies as parting gifts.

So this probably reads like a very negative review. Which I don't mean it to be. Like I said, of the official four courses I had, two were among the best things ever. A third that I tasted but did not order for myself would also be in this category. Dessert was maybe not best thing ever but damned good. But the meat course underwhelmed. It just sort of dragged everything else down, as did the service glitches.

I would say that I ate two dishes that were, IMO, worthy of three stars and tasted another at that level. My dessert was worthy of two stars and the other one was maybe worthy of three. My entree gets no stars (again, it was not terrible but it just was nothing special) whereas the other one gets at least one star. The service ... well. They at least fixed their mistake without outwardly complaining but I think the waitress blamed me and held it against me.

So one mediocre dish and spotty service brings it all down. Funny how that works. Too bad because, again, some of the food was among the very best I have ever had anywhere.
 

itsstillmatt

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Sounds about ten times better than my meal at TFL last week.
 

gomestar

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thanks for the write up. I could go for some shrimp right now...
 

itsstillmatt

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We did the long form menu last night. Started with several amuses bouche, most of which were great. The controversial one at the table was a panna cotta with eel and dashi aspic. I felt it was too dashi, something I am sensitive to, others loved it. Moved on to several vegetable courses, the most memorable of which was a radish and granola offering. Really spectacular. The worst was the last which transitioned us into meats. It was a slow cooked egg with truffle and onion soup sauce. The sauce was simply too sweet, tasting almost like a concentrated Lipton's kind of thing. Next was a spot prawn with asparagus, which was truly great, then an oyster, which I don't remember well, but was fine. A sea bream was not particularly well cooked, two people didn't finish theirs. Finally, there were two meat courses. The first was a very good piece of blood sausage ruined by being paired with a piece of pork belly that tasted a bit like canned meat and a few dabs of barbecue type sauce, and the second was a couple pieces of lamb, the loin flabby and soft, the shoulder beautifully braised. Neither meat dish was particularly good. The desserts were superb, especially a sorbet, gelee, foam deal, but we were given some tea infusion that tasted like medicine.

Overall, the food was really very good, though the weak meat courses were disappointing. I seem to have spent more time describing the bad stuff than good, but the meal was memorably excellent if inconsistent, which Mike noted. I probably forgot a few things. Will update if I remember.
 

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