Once in awhile everything comes together for a memorable culinary moment that deserves to be immortalized. In this case, great friends, good wines and awesome food came together for this pre-Thanksgiving dinner, turning it into my most memorable meal of the year.
Manresa’s David Kinch is the best chef in the Bay Area, and Manresa Wine Director Jeff Bareilles is the most talented wine director in the Bay Area. It’s fair to say, then, that Manresa is the Bay Area’s best restaurant, and I’ve had numerous fabulous dinners there that would bear that out. This dinner, with a couple of dear friends up from Los Angeles, was the most fabulous yet. Instead of ordering off the menu, we turned the menu over to David, who prepared a series of amuses and dishes for us, while Jeff found wines to match from among the wines we brought, as well as including a couple from Manresa’s list.
The meal was like a dream, with so many wonderful tastes and ideas flowing toward our table it was almost impossible to keep up. Fortunately our wines showed almost as well as the dishes, and the whole was a harmonious delight. I can’t recommend Manresa highly enough, and hope everyone who loves great and thoughtful food gets a chance to eat there eventually.
Here’s the play by play on the dishes and wine. You have to imagine the camaraderie over the course of nearly six hours that passed all too quickly, amongst much beloved friends, who also happen to be foodie wine geeks:
Dom Pérignon starters with amuses
Petit fours “red pepper-black olive”
My dear friend Traci loves her Champagne, as does our friend Matt. Champagne is usually the safest way to go with Manresa’s light touch and seafood and/or vegetable oriented appetizers, so we came armed with a couple vintages worth of Dom Pérignon. Both were singing, but the ’90 is definitely in its wheelhouse at the moment, and much more youthful on the palate than it was on the nose. The nose on the ’98 was intriguing–taking on a distinctive coffee grounds note after 90 minutes or so in the glass. These powerful Champagnes saw us through an onslaught of five amuse bouches, including petit fours “red pepper-black olive,” garden beignets with vinegar powder, milk panna cotta with abalone, “an elemental oyster,” and Manresa’s famous homage to the L’Arpège farm egg. These were all wonderful, and I always adore the soft Arpège egg with maple syrup, sherry vinegar, cream, fleur de sel and chive. The kale and Swiss chard vegetable beignets were fascinating and the vinegar powder they were dusted with was just enough to add interest and bring out the earthiness in the vegetables. My friends were pretty amazed that, nearly two hours into the dinner, we were still being regaled with amuses, but we were on magical Manresa time.
- 1998 Moët & Chandon Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon – France, Champagne
Light yellow color; nice minerally, tart lemon, subtly yeasty, tart white peach nose, that takes on a coffee ground nose after 90 minutes in the glass; tasty, youthful, tart white peach, mineral, lemon palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish 93+ pts. (93 pts.)
- 1990 Moët & Chandon Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon – France, Champagne
Light golden yellow color; mature, mushroom, hazelnut, toffee, marzipan, apple nose; tasty, tart pear, tart apple, mineral palate, more youthful than on the nose; medium-plus finish (94 pts.)
Bay scallops in pumpkin seed oil, persimmon with jasmine tea
For our first course, we moved to a special auction Dönnhoff Spätlese I’d brought. It was a lovely, minerally, stone fruity young Riesling with a hint of petrol on the nose, that went very well with our Nantucket Bay scallops with celery root puree and persimmon, infused with jasmine tea.
- 2007 Dönnhoff Norheimer Dellchen Riesling Spätlese Auction – Germany, Nahe
Light lemon yellow color; nectarine, ripe peach, mineral nose, with a hint of petrol; tart peach, nectarine, mineral, juicy palate; medium-plus finish (93 pts.)
Chilled dungeness crab soup with pomegranate and fennel
We moved to the Bollinger Rosé Brut for a chilled dungeness crab soup with pomegranate and fennel. I have to say this was the only dish of the entire night that didn’t excite. The Champagne worked fine with it, but the fact that it was cold and very subtle in flavor made it the least successful of the many wonderful dishes and pairings that night. I didn’t get a good picture of our next dish, which was spot prawns on the plancha, with spiced pumpkin, but it was another great dish, and went very well with our Rosé Champagne.
- N.V. Bollinger Champagne Rosé Brut – France, Champagne
Light pink orange color; creamy, light cherry, framboise nose; tasty, angular, tart cherry, tart framboise palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)
Into the vegetable garden . . .
This is another signature dish at Manresa, which varies depending on the season and the market. This went very well with the lovely, delicate and dry Ott Rosé that Jeff keeps on the Manresa wine list. Chickory and potato form the “dirt” of this light and tasty garden of vegetables and flowers.
Traci, Matt and Karen
- 2008 Domaines Ott Côtes de Provence Rosé – France, Provence, Côtes de Provence
Eye of partridge, very light orange pink color; soap, light floral nose; very light, tangy, chalk, mineral palate with medium acidity; medium finish (89 pts.)
An autumn tidal pool
This was one of the most spectacular and thought provoking dishes of the evening. Included in David’s seafood broth dish, which has seen many permutations at Manresa, was poached foie gras. It was completely delicious, and played off the texture and taste of the sea urchin. An unexpected combination, and one that totally worked. The Pepinieres had the creamy texture and acidity to go with the dish quite well, and the Savennières, while not a great wine on its own, had this seafood broth nose and sherried quality on the palate that somehow brought out the subtle lemon flavor in the dish. A very thoughtful course.
- 2005 Domaine Jo Pithon Anjou Les Pepinieres – France, Loire Valley, Anjou-Saumur, Anjou
Light yellow color; apple cider vinegar, floral nose; lightly oily textured, very tart apple, mineral, tart lemon palate with medium-plus acidity; medium finish (89 pts.)
- 2005 Domaine du Closel-Château des Vaults Savennières Clos du Papillon – France, Loire Valley, Anjou-Saumur, Savennières
Light golden yellow color; tart apple, mineral, seafood broth nose; sherried, oxidative, mineral palate; medium finish (87 pts.)
Dishes with mature Burgs
Jeff moved us on to our Burgundies for the next few dishes. They included a roasted black cod with watercress, walnut oil and Burgundian summer truffle, that had a fabulous aroma. The Grivot had the maturity and structure to stand up to this dish quite nicely. Then there was farm chicken roasted with sunchokes, porcini mushrooms, a kohlrabi choucroute and Riesling emulsion. Finally we had a Napa Valley spring lamb tongue and rib with celtuce and onion sous vide in a Moroccan influenced preparation that was the most fabulous dish of the evening, and a gorgeous pairing with our flavorful Magnien Chambertin-Clos de Bèze.
Black cod with walnut oil, watercress
Farm chicken roasted with sunchokes, kohlrabi choucroute
Napa Valley spring lamb tongue and rib
- 1986 Domaine Jean Grivot Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru Les Boudots – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru
Bricked medium red color with pale meniscus; roses, rosehips, mature, mineral, dried cherry nose; tasty, tart dried cherry, rosehips, mineral, mushroom, cranberry palate; medium-plus finish 93+ pts. (93 pts.)
- 1997 Frédéric Magnien Chambertin-Clos de Bèze Cuvée Unique – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Chambertin-Clos de Bèze Grand Cru
Cloudy, bricking, medium red color with clear meniscus; mature, chicken broth, brine, tart red fruit, cranberry nose; tasty, tart cranberry, mineral, tart cherry, dried red berry, rosehips palate; medium-plus finish 94+ pts. (94 pts.)
- 2003 Mongeard-Mugneret Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Les Orveaux – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru
Dark garnet red color; tart red fruit, cranberry, brine nose; silky textured, tart red fruit, cranberry, brine, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
The pleasure continued with an overflow of wonderful desserts, and my favorite sweet wine of 2010: a 6 puttonyos 2000 Tokaji from Árvay János. This was my third and last bottle of this sweet nectar, and I only wish I could come by some more, but no one has it. The perfect end to a long evening that had to end, I suppose, though none of us really wanted it to.
My thanks to Traci for sparking this dinner. She’s one of the few people I know who has been to El Bulli, and she preferred our dinner the previous year at Alinea (my most memorable meal of 2009). She and I have been to French Laundry a few times together, as it has declined over the years. She’s heard me bragging about Manresa for some time, and decided to make a point of going there on the way to Hawaii for Thanksgiving. I was delighted that another L.A. friend of ours, Gregory, who is now cooking for Hollywood director Bryan Singer, was able to come up for it as well. Our friends Matt and Karen, whom we got to know in L.A. but who now live here, filled out our party. My thanks also to Jeff for his inspired wine guidance and service, and to David, for his delicious creations, as usual.
- 2000 Árvay János Tokaji Tokaji Aszu 6 puttonyos – Hungary, Hegyalja, Tokaji
Medium orange color; honeyed, baked apricot, clementine, tart orange nose; rich, honeyed, apricot, orange sorbet, lime cream, tangerine palate, with great acidity; long finish (96 pts.)