Manresa and Chef David Kinch

How Chef David Kinch and his team approach wine and food

Shoba Narayan with Manresa Chef David Kinch


A few months ago, my daughter fractured her ankle and required surgery. She works in the Bay Area. When I asked her where we should go for a dinner to celebrate her recovery, she didn’t hesitate. Manresa of course, a jewel of a restaurant in Los Gatos that won three Michelin stars in 2015.

Chef-Owner David Kinch mixes Japanese, French and Catalan influences on his cuisine with balance, aplomb and restraint. The late great TV show host, Anthony Bourdain has called Kinch’s cooking “wildly creative … beautifully presented and surprisingly minimalist—very, very tasty.”

Manresa routinely gets named among the top 100 wine-restaurants in the US. Last year, it was only one of two restaurants in Northern California named in Wine Spectator’s “9 wine restaurants worth the hype.” The other was Quince in San Francisco.

Its fifty-page wine-list covers all tastes (and pockets) including several vintages of Domaine de la Romanee Conti which retail upwards of $3000. Big bang wines apart, there are smaller thoughtfully produced California wines by the glass, half-bottle or the bottle. I particularly enjoyed learning about Santa Cruz area vineyards including Ridge (which has been written about the New Yorker) but also smaller producers like Thomas Fogarty, and Varner, which I later visited for well-priced pinot noirs. Like Blue Hill restaurant in upstate New York, Manresa too espouses a sustainable farm-to-table approach and has partnerships with several local producers. This is because Chef Kinch, more than anything likes ingredients with provenance. This applies to wines. “I like and appreciate all wines that exhibit a sense of where they are from and are made by someone with passion and a respect for details,” he says.

As for pairing his food with wines, Kinch prefers an unfussy approach. “Wine pairing should work (as both wine and food do separately) with a sense of harmony and balance. I tend to lean towards the classics and then search for nuance but in general, especially in a long tasting menu, I try not to have too much going on. It is confusing and gets in the way of enjoyment.”

Ranjini and I arrived for dinner and were ushered in by wine director and Master Sommelier, Jim Rollston. Sharing wine information with diners without making them feel like students is an art and Rollston has perfected this. “When pairing food with wine, vegetarian or otherwise, I like to consider the weight of the dish as well as the cooking techniques, and generally look to pair lighter wines with more delicate foods whose preparation emphasizes that delicacy, and stronger wines for weightier foods with more intensely flavored cooking methods,” he says.

Creative Cocktails at Manresa
At Manresa


Both of us had opted for a vegetarian tasting with paired wines ($295 for the food and $235 for the wine– per person, which is expensive but on par with other fine dining restaurants in the US).

I might as well start with the highlight of the dinner. It happened three courses in, when Chef Kinch appeared like a genie beside our table with a closed dish in his hand. He opened it with a flourish and said, “Smell this.” Inside was a white-on-white combination of grilled cabbage, koshihikari rice and matsutake mushrooms. Simple, sublime with haunting flavours reminiscent of an Onsen in Mount Fuji, the dish paired spectacularly well with a 2014 Clos de la Chapelle Volnay with its woody earthy tones matching the mushroom.

Another terrific wine-pairing was a 2017 Gruner Veltliner (a favourite of mine for its slightly bitter taste) with an artichoke and piccolo farro, cooked and presented perfectly so that the vegetal taste complimented the herbal character of the wine.

Every Michelin-starred restaurant worth its salt has mastered the art of presentation. For me, some standouts include Carme Ruscalleda’s tasting menu in Barcelona, Grant Achatz’s Alinea in Chicago and Gagan Anand’s Bangkok menu.



However, the most beautiful dish I have ever seen presented has got to be “Into the Vegetable Garden,” where a perfect combination of berries, greens, edible flowers and a transclucent dressing all offer an “unbearable lightness of being,” that is ineffable. The pairing though was brave: a locally brewed rustic ale that was as refreshing as champagne. Says Kinch, “A good rule of thumb for me is complex wines match well with simpler, straight forward foods. Complex dishes deserve simpler wines. The reason? You want the intangibles of profound to shine through and stand on its own. In a sense, to enhance.”

Most mediocre American restaurants resort to two things when doing a wine pairing for a vegetarian: they add cheese with a heavy hand and use portabello mushroom to provide the chargrilled flavour of a steak. At Manresa there was neither. Instead, flavours were layered and orchestrated with wine. Melons and preserved figs with a crisp 2016 Billaud-Simon Chablis had me asking for more. The two reds included a 2002 Chateau Montelena, which I had tasted before at home, but oh, how great it tasted in that Zalto stemware that they have. Rollston, whose personal taste runs to German Reislings, Northern Rhône Syrah, and all types of red wine from Piemonte, gave us a 2016 Cote Rotie with a sculpturally presented dish of maitake, carrots, peach and pistachio– a seemingly incongruous combination that blends seamlessly.

The service staff at Manresa has perfected the art of materialization. They manifest when needed and disappear like a sigh. No one is better than this than the restaurant’s general manager, Jenny Yun, who appeared when we were fumbling to soothe and answer. Running a restaurant enterprise like this is a formidable task, and Yun does this with quiet elegance.

Mostly though, my daughter and I were delighted to share a fantastic meal in each other’s company. That we did it in Manresa was a gift.


The 50 page wine menu at Manresa
Manresa Sommelier India
Manresa Sommelier India
Manresa Sommelier India

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