May 19, 2017
On Sunday morning, I woke up and took this picture from my bed…. Gulls swooped, and off to the right, where you can’t see it, an egret fished. Breakfast was oysters from Hog Island next door, with a splash of lemon. (And yes, I will tell you how to stay in this magical mystery place.)
That will give you a sense of what this mad odyssey of driving, talking and eating was like. In a word, wonderful.
Over the next few days I’m going to post the highlights of the food we ate as we meandered through California, from Los Gatos to the Napa Valley, Healdsburg, Point Reyes, San Francisco and finally Carmel. Along the way we had what I think was one of the best meals of my life… But that comes later.
Our first meal – it was meant to be just a snack – was at Bywater in Los Gatos. We didn’t want to eat much because we were having dinner at Manresa that night… But we started with that bam bam shrimp above, and after that, well, we were lost. Really fresh, sweet and tender, the shrimp was split, dipped in cornstarch and then fried to an astonishingly crisp crackle. Utterly irresistible.
After that we had one of the finest gumbos I’ve ever encountered. Deep, rich, clarion clear, and singing of the sea. I just couldn’t stop eating it.
And then, of course, a po’ boy. Fried oysters and the greatest pickled okra.
At that point, happily, we had the sense to stop. Dinner at Manresa was only an hour away.
There’s something wonderful about eating at a chef’s casual place and then moving on to see what he does when he gets really serious. David Kinch gets both experiences: Bywater is the kind of place you could happily eat in every day (if you were lucky). Manresa is a slow it down, think about it, special occasion place. And for a three-star Michelin restaurant, it is wonderfully lacking in pretension.
I’m not going to go through all of the twenty or so courses we had at Manresa, although there wasn’t one I didn’t love. It built slowly, from the pure simplicity of this…
Two clean, simple bites of perfection.
To this tricky little mouthful. What you can’t see from this photo is that the fried anchovy is in a “puttanesca” sauce made of strawberries. It turns your head around, and suddenly your mind is playing with you, jumping back and forth between tomatoes and strawberries. I loved it.
Panna cotta with clams and salmon roe. The trick here was the way the richness of the custard was edged with the saline tang of seawater vinegar. Again, you found your mouth vibrating between rich and astringent, a boomarang, an echo.
The loveliest little salad – a walk in the spring woods,
Asparagus. Salmon. Asparagus.
Abalone in a “gumbo” of its liver. I often find abalone disappointing; this was not.
We had duck. We had lamb. And then we had a slice of beef- the richest, most intense piece of steak I’ve ever experienced. The mineral tang of that meat still haunts my mouth. (And I’m sorry, but my photograph is just so ugly I won’t subject you to it….)
Afterwards there were strawberries, ice cream – and a whole bag of breads to take home and eat in the morning. Eating that toast the whole meal came back to me… a truly wonderful ending.
Then we packed up and headed north to two truly astonishing meals. Not to mention the most spectacular salad I’ve ever eaten.
Categorised in: restaurants