Last weekend, my husband and I attended a business dinner at Manresa Restaurant, in Los Gatos. Here are some things David Kinch, Manresa’s adorable chef (see right), would like you to know about his place:
1. It has two Michelin stars. There are only 17 restaurants in all of America with two Michelin stars (and 11 with 3 stars, but I haven’t been to any of them). So… wow!
2. This May, Bon Appetit Magazine voted it the fifth most important restaurant in America. Which conflicts with the folks over at Michelin, but who’s arguing?
3. The menu offers two prix fixe options — that’s it. As I am sure you can appreciate, that means there is no classic celiac “would it be possible for me to have the starter salad, no dressing, with grilled chicken, no sauce, on the side?” negotiation table-side. In fact, when you get the menu all it does it offer you an imaginative vision of what six or eight courses you may be getting — your server doesn’t actually tell what each dish contains until it arrives, in all its beautiful glory, at the table.
We had an amazing meal. It was delicious, and creative, and inspirational, and long (unless six hours doesn’t seem long to you). So I want to be clear — I’m not complaining. I’m just observing. And here is what I’m seeing, from my little gluten-free seat at the fifth best restaurant in America:
1. When I call ahead to say I’m gluten-free, and to ask if that’s a problem, and the lovely lady at the desk tells me “absolutely not”, I would rather not have my (otherwise charming) server ask me, in front of my husband’s four colleagues, whether I really mean I’m gluten-free. “A bit of soy would be okay, right?” he inquired with a hopeful smile.
I ask you, what would you have done, at a celebratory meal that was not about you, not at all? Wouldn’t you have asked yourself,
“How likely is it that David Kinch is splashing Kikkoman Soy Sauce into his squab marinade?”
I thought about how each course is about the size of a marshmallow, displayed artfully on a brilliant white plate the size of a hub cap. I thought about how, just for tonight, I didn’t want to be high maintenance. Then I smiled, agreed, and ordered a cocktail. This one, to be specific. It’s made with Lillet (which our loyal readers will recall was one of my early celiac management strategies). And lemon. It was definitely gluten-free and it tasted terrific. But even a lemon drink in a beautiful glass could not alleviate the pathos of what happened next.
2. They brought a basket of gorgeous, artisanal oven-hot breads to the table, for everyone who was not me. And they brought me a basket of gluten-free rolls, which were cold. Okay, room temperature. But you and I know that once a gf baked good has left the Land of Warm, quibbling over its exact temperature is beside the point.
If there is one thing — and only one thing — I have learned about gluten-free baking, it is this: serve it hot. Anything you bake without wheat will already be challenged. It will not be fluffy, or stretchy, or crunchy (although it may be crumbly, but that is different). If you pop it in your mouth the minute it comes out of the oven, though, maybe that gf muffin, cookie, or cupcake (well, okay, not the cupcake) will vaguely remind you of the glorious baked goods of your pre-celiac life. But let it get cold, and you are screwed. Screwed.
Why, oh why, has the undoubtedly clever and inspired bread chef at Manresa not learned that lesson? Or, if s/he has, why was my gf roll served cold?
Don’t get me wrong. That room temp bread did not ruin my meal. I had a great dinner, we had a wonderful time, all was good. But for $180 per person, and after I called ahead and gave them loads of notice, I would have loved a hot bun.