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Allusion is not Illusion

You'll pry my books off my cold, dead body. By the time you shift them all I'll be flat and dessicated.

Currently reading

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Manresa is no Noma

Manresa: An Edible Reflection - David Kinch, Christine Muhlke, Eric Ripert

Although this restaurant is nearly in the Bay Area I hadn't heard of it until I was discussing Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine with someone who described it as the closest California equivalent.

I can see the comparison. Both chefs create unusual, extremely elaborate dishes with a focus on local ingredients, dishes that ultimately seem more like art experiences than comestibles. Both had descriptions that made me think, "That's insane!"

However, while in Noma's case I often thought, "That's insane! ...but kinda cool," in Manresa's case it was, "That's insane! And stupid."

I'm not against complexity in food preparation, far from it, but a complex dish needs to be better than the same food simple. Taking perfectly fine ingredients and foaming, pureeing, gelling, and emulsifying them into a weird mess seems like a big waste of effort to me.

Part of my problem is that I'm not a big fan of the aforementioned foams and emulsions. I don't want my tomato salad, my tuna, or my cioppino converted into jellies. I prefer my food generally, er, solid, something Kinch doesn't seem to consider innovative enough. If there are purees and reductions I want them to be ancillary to the main component of the dish. And I don't want foam ever because it just looks like somebody spat on my food.

The few dishes that looked at all appealing to me were usually the simplest, like salads.

Also a few of the flavoring components, like green walnut wine, sounded interesting.

I was disappointed by Kinch's interpretation of "local" as well. Being able to buy something on a farm nearby doesn't really make it a native ingredient, especially in California, where we grow a wide variety of plants commercially. I was especially disappointed to see that this most Redzepi-ish dish, the "Tidal Pool" was made with dried prepackaged seaweed rather than fresh.

Manresa is right on the coast, and our seaweed is edible. This is a far cry from Rene Redzepi's almost obsessive use of only ingredients which are native and immediately in season (or was and has been pickled or smoked -- c'mon, it's Danish food!).

[Safety note: the plants that look like seaweed in fresh water bodies are usually not safe to eat, dear reader.]

Also, too many dishes ended up looking like what my cat produces when he makes it into the garden unsupervised.

Whereas I would certainly try Noma once if I happened to be the in area and have a spare $300 (or really $500 because I'd want the wine pairings) I'm not inclined to drop that chunk of change at Manresa.

However, many notable chefs recommend Manresa, including Feran Adria, Thomas Keller, and Eric Ripert (not that I've ever eaten at any of their restaurants, either). Treat this is a review of a book rather than a restaurant. As a book it not have the object interest (visual, tactile) nor the intellectual intrigue of Noma, which is worth looking at in a non-culinary sense. This book just didn't live up to my (perhaps too high) expectations based on the hype.