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Manresa or FL? Please help!


julot-les-pinceaux
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I am an experienced French foodie and I am heading to Berkeley for Thanksgiving. Love it there. I would like to do one exceptional meal with my Californian friends and am hesitating between the French Laundry and Manresa. Could you tell me which one you would recommend and why?

Some background: I know many French 2&3*. My favourites are Roellinger for the subtlety and the way a meal there tells one or many stories; l'Ambroisie and Bernard Loiseau for the most intense food ever; Rostang (2* only) for the generosity. (more on my blog julotlespinceaux.blogspot.com)

Re Manresa and TFL, I've been doing quite a lot of research -- I'm aware of Keller's legendary status and of Kinch's garden. I found that I am not particularly attracted, in both cases, by the endless succession of small plates (I am very traditional in that way, like three courses meals). I also find that, on pictures, Manresa is considerably more exciting, but I know that there are things pictures can't convey, such as taste and smells, and sometimes atmosphere.

All in all, I am more interested in delicious food and having a wonderful moment with people I love than being amazed or surprised. But I don't mind being surprised AND delighted.

I intend to go chez Panisse anyway, as a neighbour.

And I promise to report.

Edited by julot-les-pinceaux (log)
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I'm not going to make a recommendation...I only want to point out that Manresa, unlike the Laundry, does offer a 4 course menu in addition to the tasting menu. This will also include 3-5 amuse bouche prior to the 4 course meal.

"A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti."

- Dr. Hannibal Lecter

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I have to admit to still needing to eat at FL (but will rectify that soon). I love Kinch's sensibility and what he does with vegetables. Price wise, I think you can do better with Manresa. From close friends I know, they prefer the wine-pairings at FL but the vegetables at Manresa.

I don't think you will be disappointed at either, honestly.

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julot-les-pinceaux,

Welcome to eGullet, California forum!

If you haven't already, click on this link and read my reports on Manresa and French Laundry back in May.

Personally, I would side more towards the French Laundry. I tend to be more traditional, conservative and retro, culinarily speaking ... Mind you, I do enjoy a good adventure.

After reading my reports, if you have more specific questions, please PM me.

Russell J. Wong aka "rjwong"

Food and I, we go way back ...

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Dave, you noticed?

RJ, I had read your reviews, they're great (though pictures of TFL show you were clearly drunk :wink: ). Thing is, no one told me yet what is unique with TFL. With Manresa, it seems clear that it is the proximity of the garden and the reactivity of the Chef to what's going on in the garden.

On the other hand, all FL meals look the same to me, which suggest that maybe the restaurant is not alive anymore. Nothing wrong with that (I love Bocuse), but I can get a very good meal in many European places for cheaper, even considering the level of the Euro. If the singularity of Keller only lies in doing French precision in the kitchen, and having world class service, that's not enough for me.

Also, events may well decide for me, as getting a table at Keller's is so hard.

That would lead me to an other question: is Per Se less good than TFL? I'll be in NY later this year so that may be an other way of tasting the Keller's way.

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You'd have an exquisite meal at either. I go to Manresa more often because it's much closer to my home and I almost always choose the 4-course menu over the tasting one. To give you an idea of how David is using the garden produce right now, you can check out a post I just made on my blog about a special "Tomato Modernista" dinner I went to on Tuesday. Two amuse-bouches, then 8 courses and nearly all ranged from splendid to sublime. http://caseyellis.blogspot.com

Looking forward to your report. If you have the time, you really ought to go to both. Life is short.

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RJ, I had read your reviews, they're great (though pictures of TFL show you were clearly drunk  :wink: ). Thing is, no one told me yet what is unique with TFL. With Manresa, it seems clear that it is the proximity of the garden and the reactivity of the Chef to what's going on in the garden.

On the other hand, all FL meals look the same to me, which suggest that maybe the restaurant is not alive anymore. Nothing wrong with that (I love Bocuse), but I can get a very good meal in many European places for cheaper, even considering the level of the Euro. If the singularity of Keller only lies in doing French precision in the kitchen, and having world class service, that's not enough for me.

I resemble that remark about me being drunk ... [hiccup] :wink::wink: It's not easy trying to take photos without using a flash so as to not disturb others ...

French Laundry is located in Yountville, in the Napa Valley. I suppose the Napa Valley may remind one of European countrysides, I don't know, I've never been. The restaurant used to be a house so it doesn't feel like a restaurant. After reading so many reviews and reports and posts about TFL, my expectations were very high and yes, my high expectations were met. I'm a type of person who would go to a restaurant to find out what it's like for myself, namely a "I've been there" person. Perhaps, you're that type of person as well.

I'm joining the bandwagon of those who say that you should go to both places, with the Euro doing so well. I went to both places, among others, and I did manage to finish paying off that spring vacation ... :biggrin::biggrin:

Russell J. Wong aka "rjwong"

Food and I, we go way back ...

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Well, I have a saturday night reservation at Manresa, and I will keep trying for TFL: I might indeed do both, as crazy as it sounds. You're right, in the end, it's just money.

I know, night pictures are not easy (I failed at it miserably myself, as you can see). That's one of the reasons I ususally prefer lunch, in addition with more relaxed staff, easier digestion, better prices.

And there's nothing wrong with being drunk in those places, after all. That ususally happens after just a few courses.

Edited by julot-les-pinceaux (log)
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Well, I have a saturday night reservation at Manresa, and I will keep trying for TFL: I might indeed do both, as crazy as it sounds. You're right, in the end, it's just money.

I know, night pictures are not easy (I failed at it miserably myself, as you can see). That's one of the reasons I ususally prefer lunch, in addition with more relaxed staff, easier digestion, better prices.

And there's nothing wrong with being drunk in those places, after all. That ususally happens after just a few courses.

Enjoy Manresa! I had dinner there last Saturday and while I didn't enjoy everything the abalone with slow-cooked egg and the suckling pig with housemade boudin noir were the work of a chef of enormous talent and creativity.

It is still not on the level of TFL in terms of food, service or ambience.

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Agreeing here about the difficulty of night photos -- particularly if one is basing a blog on the text rather than the photos. (and consuming wine and lauging with friends) I found most of the pictures I took at manresa's tomato dinner unusable--even by my low standards, but in a post I'm putting up later today I'm going to include the least embarrasing shot, just as proof I really was there.

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I think given you will have an opportunity to experience Keller at Per Se later on that Manresa would be the obvious choice. This is of course understanding though there are obvious differences between Keller's two temples.

"A man's got to believe in something...I believe I'll have another drink." -W.C. Fields

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actually, as big a fan as i am of the two restaurants, i wouldn't say there were obvious differences between the two, except in terms of room and style of service. the menus reflect the same sensibility.

Totally agree, I was more referring to exactly what you referenced, the room/setting etc, rustic farmhouse vs modern city, etc.

Having not dined at either, is there a real difference in service? How so? My only guess would be that the service at Per Se would be more formal to reflect the atmosphere, and vice versa with TFL?

"A man's got to believe in something...I believe I'll have another drink." -W.C. Fields

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  • 2 weeks later...
Hey, when all is said and done, will you post a report on where you ended up and your thoughts? We here who live in the state get pretty jaded so having some fresh eyes (and mouths) would be great!

I promise. I will be back in Europe in the first days of december.

Edited by julot-les-pinceaux (log)
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in short: Manresa wins

Now, how's about the long version?

Details, man, details .... :smile::smile:

Second that.

Definitely. I'll try to provide a few pictures as well. I'm still waiting on the menu from TFL. And with two meals encompassing 20+ courses and 6+ hours each, there's a lot to process! But I'll try to post some thoughts sooner rather than later.

Edited by tupac17616 (log)
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Manresa or FL ... if only all of life's decisions were like this! I just got back from the bay area, where I visited both FL and Manresa this past weekend. I'm going to be typing up a longer review with my experiences at restaurant each in the near future. But for now, frankly, Manresa gave me what I believe to be the best meal I've ever had in the US.

French Laundry was everything a Michelin 3-star restaurant should be: memorable food, impeccable service, luxurious decor, etc ... But I couldn't help but feel like the restaurant was trying too hard to fulfill 3-star mentality through the use of expensive ingredients (like osetra caviar and black truffles, almost superfluously) rather than doing anything too inspirational. In essence, FL played it safe. For most diners, this is a "once-in-a-lifetime meal" due to the prohibitive cost, extreme difficulty of achieving a reservation, and geographical isolation. Because of this, FL seems to be much more concerned with providing a consistently positive FL experience, rather than with taking risks.

Manresa, on the other hand, was not afraid to take risks. And, Chef Kinch's risks were very successful -- course, after course, after course, I was presented with some of the most beautiful, well-balanced, delicious dishes I have ever seen and tasted. Chef Kinch's flavors were so extraordinary that after several courses (pumpkin velouté and nasturtium ice cream, pears with salted butter to name one) i started laughing in awe, and happiness. My friend tupac at one point noted, "I wish I could give you a high five across the table" -- I knew exactly what he meant! This was sheer joy.

Chef Kinch's humility as a chef also comes across when he lets nature speak for itself. During the last week of tomato season, he served a simple plate of perfectly ripe, sweet, and juicy ox heart tomatoes -- the very thought of such a "crude" course at FL would probably make some diners shudder. Ironically, the freshness and flavor of this simple plate of tomatoes was another highlight of the evening: sometimes, nature is delicious by itself.

In summary, these two meals were not even close. I have been to both restaurants twice and can comfortably say that while French Laundry is an excellent restaurant, Manresa simply glows originality, creativity, passion, and flavor.

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......

Chef Kinch's humility as a chef also comes across when he lets nature speak for itself.  During the last week of tomato season, he served a simple plate of perfectly ripe, sweet, and juicy ox heart tomatoes -- the very thought of such a "crude" course at FL would probably make some diners shudder.  Ironically, the freshness and flavor of this simple plate of tomatoes was another highlight of the evening: sometimes, nature is delicious by itself.

In summary, these two meals were not even close.  I have been to both restaurants twice and can comfortably say that while French Laundry is an excellent restaurant, Manresa simply glows originality, creativity, passion, and flavor.

Once of my most memorable dishes was the simple chilled tomato soup I had at Manresa, so simple but what a revelation of flavours....

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Manresa is fantastic, but French Laundry is a life changing experience. Despite Michelin's opinion, it's like matching a two star against a three star.

But you know what? Life is short, do both. Really, your credit card can take it. How many Starbucks lattes do you need? Try coffee once in a while. ;-)

If you're really going to pick, do FL. and stay at Burgundy house. It's very authentic, and you can stagger home... plus it's in a sexier area than Manresa .. the wine country in fall is gorgeous. And if you stay a second day, you can swing by ad hoc. Which is merely terrific.

http://www.eleganthack.com/archives/burgandy_house.php

"Gourmandise is not unbecoming to women: it suits the delicacy of their organs and recompenses them for some pleasures they cannot enjoy, and for some evils to which they are doomed." Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

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