7-7-07. Lucky day for a birthday, right? Everything was going according to plan. We drove down to Monterrey to check out the otter exhibit at the aquarium. (Turns out, I am “Wild About Otters”.) Lovely. Walked along the waterfront. Fabulous. Drove to Los Gatos and checked in to our hotel. Okey dokey. Started feeling feverish, nauseous, and weak. Wait a tick…
This was the night of my big birthday dinner at Manresa! How could this be!??!? I’d called ahead and requested a vegetarian tasting menu and everything. Clearly, I was being punished for committing some unspeakable horror in a past life. Or perhaps for admitting that I still kinda like the Spice Girls and hope their tour comes to San Francisco. Could be either one.
I decided to cowboy up and head for the restaurant anyway. No burning hot fever was going to keep me away from my dinner, dammit. I figured I’d just pretend I felt okay, and see if my body would go along for the ride. And for a while, the ruse worked.
We got to the restaurant, and I actually started feeling hungry again. The staff was charming and very attentive to my “special status” as a vegetarian. I’m glad I called ahead.
The amuses bouche (and I’ve never had the good fortune to write it in the plural before this very moment) seemed like a harbinger of wonderful things to come. (Are you sensing some foreshadowing with that last statement?) My favorite was the savory pettifores. One was like a pate de fruit made of red bell pepper and the other a Madeleine with black olive. The red pepper was identifiable right off the bat—and delicious to boot. The flavor was surprising, but it made sense. The black olive was hidden waaaaaaay in the back of the Madeleine. Subtle, but inspiring. And a well-paired sparkling Cab Franc made the duo taste even better.
So I’m thinkin’, sweet! This is going to rock!
Next up, paper-thin crudite from their garden, with herbed crème fraiche and fleur de sel. Nice.
Then a third amuse bouche that I couldn’t identify. (Mind you, I didn’t have a menu. When we arrived, the host knew we wanted tasting menus, so we never got menus. I deeply regret it. Our waitress saw me scribbling madly and offered to bring one over for me to keep. Which was very sweet of her. But I never got it. More on that later.)
Then a fourth amuse bouche. A strawberry gazpacho with a Spanish almond on top. So far, they were batting a thousand. Every sip was summer.
Finally, a fifth amuse bouche. (My bouche was starting to wonder how much more it could take.) It was an egg in the shell with sherry cream, chives and a hint of maple syrup. Which, by the way, explained the pervasive, syrupy IHOP smell we noticed when we came in. When I brought the egg to my lips, I actually said “Dude, what the fuck!?” out loud. It was divine, in a way I’d never tasted before.
But then, things began to unravel.
First, the pacing. You could drive a truck through the gaps between courses. Now, I’m not one of those icky Americans who think that everything should come to your table, chop-chop, fast as Applebee’s or your money back. Still, it got to the point where the downtime became, well, a downer. Instead of expectantly looking forward to my next course, I was calculating how many more hours we were going to be stuck sitting there.
My next course was a garden green soup that was, I’m pretty sure, made entirely of butter. Mama loves her butter, let me tell you, but this was over the top. Almost inedible. And it certainly didn’t help my iffy stomach.
Then a green bean salad with parmesan and a bizarre apricot mush beneath it. I wasn’t into it.
Followed by morels with leeks and a garlic puree. Which tasted oddly like the green bean salad.
In fact, as the meal progressed, everything started tasting the same. The flavors, I thought, were redundant. Like a super high-end Taco Bell, it seemed like I was eating the same thing over and over in different combinations. My partner, the omnivore, was actually first to comment. “Do all your dishes kind of taste alike?” she asked. She was dead on—and she was skipping from seafood to veal sweetbreads.
Before we could test this theory further, however, birthday disaster struck. I started feeling really, really sick to my stomach. As in, “If I don’t leave the table right now, the rest of the patrons are going to have their meals ruined, too.” Talk about a dilemma. Here, my partner was springing for a meal that would run us $500+ with the wine pairings. What’s more, I was genuinely curious to see where it was headed—with such a fantastic start and disappointing middle. But I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t eat another bite without serious risk of up-chuckage.
So we left. I felt horrible. We missed over half the meal, including three dessert courses and all that wine. We asked for the final pettifores to be boxed for us, and left into the night. By that time, though, it was midnight. We started at 9:00. So I ask you—what time would we have gotten out of there had we finished? My partner was a sport about it, but I felt like hell as I watched her sign the check. All that money, flushed down the toilet. (And quite literally, as I did get sick when we returned to the hotel.) I suppose there was no reason that they ought to have knocked a few bucks off the check, but part of me thinks they should have anyway. We missed a ridiculous number of courses, and certainly didn’t drink the wine we paid for. I dunno. Maybe throw in a few extra cookies or something. Our take away box with four sad little pettifores felt like a pathetic souvenir of the evening.
Would I go back? Probably not. I mean, it’s a schlep down to Los Gatos and there are so many other restaurants in town I’ve yet to try. I’ve heard nothing but wonderful things about Chef David Kinch, but I don’t tend to blow half a grand on a multi-course meal every day, so a little disappointment goes a long, long way.
And now…let the rebuttals begin.