On our first day in San Jose, after getting situated at our hotel, we took a quick trip out to Ridge Vineyard. Ridge is at the top of a mountain Southwest of San Jose and the trip up that mountain is a harrowing trip, involving a very skinny road that winds all the way up the mountain. There are some beautiful sights on the way up the mountain, overlooking Silicon Valley. When you get to the top of the mountain and Ridge Vineyard, you feel a sense of relief that you made it to the top in one piece.
We tasted a few really great wines at Ridge. The '03 Santa Cruz Mountain Cabernet was my favorite which started smooth and finished spicy and dry. We also picked up bottles of the '03 Ponzo Vineyards Zinfandel, '03 Lytton West Syrah, and '02 Late Picked Zinfandel. I thought about picking up a bottle of the '79 Montebello, but $400 seemed a bit much...I'm going to attempt to let the Ridge wines we bought age a while, since the notes on the wines say that you can age them at least 10 years. I think it's going to be very hard though, since I don't have a safe to lock them in and throw away the key.
On our way back down the mountain we came across Picchetti Vineyard so we stopped to have a tasting there. While I didn't like the whites, which were all very sweet, I was actually pretty impressed with their Rose, so we picked up a couple bottles of it. Their reds were a good deal better than their whites, at least as far as my taste is concerned. We picked up bottles of their Pinot Noir and Pavone (mix of Merlot and Cab).
After that we went to dinner at Manresa which was about 20 minutes south of our hotel. We arrived early, but we were seated anyway. The dining room wasn't completely full and dim lighting and light music produced an atmosphere was serene and calm.
Over the entire meal, service was superb. The wait staff were all a little soft spoken which made it hard for me to hear them, but that's probably because I have horrible hearing from listening to loud music on headphones too much as a teenager.
The menu gave us three choices: three courses for $60 with pairing for $42, four courses for $80 with pairing for $52, or the Chef's tasting menu for $115 with pairing for $72. When the waiter described what was on the Chef's tasting menu for the evening, we decided to go with the four courses since most of the dishes he described seemed to be on the regular menu.
After we ordered, the staff began bringing out amuses. A strawberry gazpacho with Spanish almonds, served in an espresso mug was "dainty" looking, but a wonderful summery start to a meal. A whole egg with top of shell cut off and layered with cream and maple syrup and other "stuff." I can't even describe this dish, but it was incredible. We were instructed to eat from the bottom of the egg to get the full flavor of the dish and mix the layers of cream together.
Shortly thereafter our first course was delivered. I chose the sea bass served sashimi style, topped with olive oil and chives. The flavor of this raw fish dish was sublime: slightly acidic, smoky, yet sweet at the same time. Amy's exact words to describe the dungeonous crab she ordered were, "I've never tasted anything like this. This tastes incredible!" I seconded that. The crab was served in a creamy sauce with red pepper and what seemed to be a blend of spices based on garam masala. In the sauce were cucumbers and oranges that added a sweet flavor to each bite you took.
Our second course was paced well. The kitchen gives you time to reflect on the prior dishes and have some conversation between courses. By far, out favorite dish of the night was the Risotto "Biodynamic" with snails. What is Risotto "Byodynamic"? Imagine the most perfectly cooked risotto in the world, made with a slightly longer grain rice than arborio, and cooked in a pesto sauce. I failed to ask what made up the pesto, but I think it was spinach and basil. Add the flavor of snails to that (and this was my first time eating snails, by the way, and I think I'm addicted) and you've got yourself probably one of the best risottos in the country.
The other second course dish was local abalone cooked in brown butter, on top of a fried egg white, and braised pig's trotters. Yes, I said pig's trotters. No, there were no hooves on the plate, but there was shredded, perfectly braised pig's feet meat under the fried egg. The abalone had a very meaty texture for a shellfish. I don't think I had ever had abalone before and I'm still not quite sure what to make of it.
My third course was the only dish that I didn't moan over. The poularde (or young chicken), wrapped around foie gras and roasted, topped with mini chanterelles was saved by the foie gras but I wasn't blown away by this dish like everything else I had. The details are getting fuzzy as the wine pairings were excellent and I'd already had mine and some of Amy's at this point, but the roast suckling pig was served very different than I am accustomed to. The cut of meat had a layer of gelatinous fat on it that basically melted in your mouth. On the edge of the fat was a crispy, crunchy layer of skin. The meat itself was very tender.
For dessert, we had a three cheese plate with a blue, a Pierre Robert, and an aged provolone. I had a Ginger Souffle with plum sauce. At first, I wasn't crazy about the overwhelming ginger flavor of the souffle, but it grew on me as I combined the souffle with more of the plum sauce at the bottom. The fluffy, eggy texture of souffle was ideal.
The price of the meal? A little over $300. Ouch! But it was worth every penny in my opinion. The restaurant allows corkage for a fee of $25, so if you wanted to save some money, you could bring your own bottle of wine. Another way to save would be to only get three courses. While it would be hard to choose only three dishes, it is plenty of food. We ended up not being able to finish our desserts because we were so full at the end.