To quote Vanessa Williams, I “saved the best for last.”
For the last meal of my trip, I packed my suitcase–left thank you notes for my hosts, Tohva and Raife–and drove one and a half hours to Los Gatos, where I met Pim for dinner at her boyfriend’s highly renowned restaurant, Manresa. I got a little lost on the way–missed a turn here and there–but I arrived there just in time. Pim was waiting for me and I think she could immediately sense how giddy I was. How often do you eat dinner with the chef’s girlfriend and then go, afterwards, to stay at the chef’s house? This night would certainly be unique.
And as if to underscore this point, after sitting down with Pim–looking lovely here…
…and toasting me with a glass of N.V. Bouvet Excelence Sparkling Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley (I had these written down), I thought the waiter made a terrible mistake when he set down, as our first course, these petit fours:
But before I could say, “Oh, we’re actually just starting our meal, we’re not on dessert,” he said, “We begin the meal with red pepper gelée and black olive madeleines.”
And that my friends is Manresa. Surprising, funny, whimsical, and–most importantly–delicious. Biting into that red gelée, even though you know it’s made from a red pepper, your body still thinks “sweet! strawberry! candy!” and then it’s instantly surprised. Same with the black olive madeleine. Playful, smart: this is what Manresa’s about.
But it’s also about the freshest ingredients possible. Like the next course, radishes from the garden:
Yes, Manresa maintains a garden where it grows a great deal (if not all of) its produce. Isn’t that extraordinary? How often do you eat food that the chef grows him or herself? Alice Waters, eat your heart out!
And speaking of eating your heart out, I wish you could see how beautiful all of this food was (my pictures grow worse as the night goes on). The beginning of the meal was all small bites, and these may have been my favorites. Like this borage pacquet with borage picked from Pim and David’s front lawn!
Or this Kohlrabi and foie gras royale:
But the very best bites came next. I still dream about them. Namely, this spring croquette, modeled by Pim:
The waitress advised, “Put it in your mouth all at once.” I did and when I did it was like Spring–lovely Spring, the season that had barely arrived when I left New York–burst, exploded and gushed inside my mouth. Like a meteorological event right there on my tongue. It was extraordinary. Like a soup dumpling in a square and with the most vibrant flavors imaginable.
And yet even that didn’t stand up to the Arpege farm egg:
My God, if I woke up every morning and somebody made me THIS I would do the dishes, wash the floors, paint the walls just to ensure I could have it again. And yet it’s so simple: just an egg poached in its shell with sherry vinegar and cream. That’s it. And yet how it all works is baffling: the process, the balance. This is the dish that made me swoon and spill out of my seat in ecstasy. Pim had to lift me back up so I could enjoy the rest of the meal.
The waiter brought out N.V. Pineu des Charentes, Brillet, Cognac and Pim asked me if I could guess the next course based on the wine, which was very sweet–almost desserty.
“Ummm,” I said.
“Come on,” she said. “Think about it.”
I racked my brain but couldn’t figure it out. And then came Foie gras, strawberries on the plancha, pedro ximenez. (This picture is so bad I can’t even tell if it’s the right course):
But of course: foie gras and a sweet dessert wine. Superb!
And then Spring peas in bonito broth with marinated amberjack.
Fatty bluefin belly salad, seaweed pistou.
Spot prawns with fava bean pesto, fried artichoke.
Vegetables from the garden, potato dumplings.
Black cod confit in jasmine tea.
Farm poularde with speck ham.
Milk-fed spring lamb with carrots and cress.
The corresponding wines, for you winos:
– 2005 Domaine de Salvard, Sauvignon Blanc, Cheverny
– 2005 Domaine Clape Saint Peray Rhone Valley
– 2004 Domaine La Tour Vielle, “Puig Ambeille,” Collioure
For dessert, there was 2003 Chateau La Tour Blanche Sauternes which I really loved because I love sweet things, and this sweet wine was wonderfully complex. It matched wonderfully the strawberry panna cotta with rosewater gelee:
Caramel souffle, butterscotch and espresso:
Chocolate marquis, tonka bean ice cream:
God, this is a nightmare–writing about this, looking at all this food, makes me realize how much I ate. How counter-intuitive: feasting like this is like masturbation or group sex, you don’t talk about it! It’s decadent, hedonistic. The best part of living, frankly.
And to round out the dinner poetically, look what comes at the end:
Echoing what came at the start, now we have strawberry gelée and chocolate madeleines. Isn’t that clever? And perfect?
My dinner at Manresa was just one of those meals I’ll never forget. Pim drove my rental car back to her place with me in the passenger seat. I think I may have been singing show tunes. There, I crashed upstairs on the guest bed (super comfy!) and realized I may have been the very first reader of Chez Pim to actually stay at Chez Pim.
The next day, I flew home and relived the meal in my brain over and over. Each bite–that egg! That croquette!–until I fell fast asleep and dreamt the dreams of angels: fat angels. Tony Bennett may have left his heart in San Francisco, but I left my stomach in Los Gatos.
Thank you, Pim and David, for a magical, unforgettable night.