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02.22.2005

The 2005 Independent Food Award from Vinography Goes To....

David Kinch and Manresa Restaurant For: The Best Reinvention of A Culinary Cliché

By now, everyone knows what Surf and Turf is. It has been spun, calqued, and re-imagined a thousand times. If someone tries to serve me lobster and a steak on the same plate ever again I swear I will get up and leave the restaurant. That stuff just doesn't belong together, thank-you-very-much.

Yet just when I thought beef and seafood could never find a happy marriage, along comes Chef David Kinch, of Manresa Restaurant in Los Gatos, California with something so simple, so unexpected, it took my breath away.

steak.oyster.tartare.jpg
Sirloin and Oyster Tartare with Bouquet of Greens and Horseradish Cream

I never would have ordered it off of a menu, but when I received it as an amuse-bouche before a dinner a couple of months ago, of course I ate it. Trust me when I tell you that this concoction is one of the most innovative and remarkable things I have put in my mouth in years.

manresasign.jpgThe dish tastes nothing like you would imagine, but just like it should. Remarkably, both the beef flavor (with a hint of olive oil and herbs) and the briny ocean freshness of the oyster come through as distinct yet intertwined. The whole spoonful melted in the mouth and I was left in the realm of fantasy.....so if mermaids had herds of cows that they raised on the ocean bottom, this is what they would taste like...the organic, free-range bovine Sirens of my dreams are calling.

The kitchen at Manresa has now added this dish recently as a menu item and has been experimenting with adding small hints of other flavors which they believe help support the dish in when consumed in a larger quantity than the spoonful I received as an amuse. The version pictured above has tiny bits of caper berries and a few herbs mixed in, which gave it a slight sour flavor to play off of the briny and buttery elements. My preference is actually for just the unadulterated beef and oyster version of my first experience, but Kinch maintains that serving it as a full dish rather than an amuse bouche is a different game. "When served as part of a tasting menu it has to hold up on its own -- it has to be something that can be looked back on as an integral part of a complete meal, rather than just a palate cleanser or playful amuse. Hence the need for more complexity."

It is truly the mark of culinary genius to be able to transcend all dkinch.jpg of the past history of a dish, and still remain true to its essential concept. Bravo Chef Kinch.

To experience Chef Kinch's innovative Japanese and Spanish influenced French cuisine, please visit them in Los Gatos, California:

Manresa Restaurant
320 Village Lane (just off North Santa Cruz Avenue)
Los Gatos, CA 95030
408-354-4330

This award was given as part of the 2005 Independent Food Awards. For more information, and to see the other award winners, please visit the official site.

Comments (41)

Geoff Smith wrote:
02.22.05 at 10:30 AM

Is eating beef during the age of bovine spongiform encephalopathy a good idea?

Alder wrote:
02.22.05 at 10:46 AM

For those of us already infected, I think it's a great idea!

Seriously though, I apply the same decision criteria to eating beef, especially raw beef, that I use for oysters and mussels. I try to only eat these things from VERY reputable restaurants who use products that are responsibly farmed (e.g. healthy animals, no hormones, sustainable practices, etc.) and whose level of health standards and cleanliness I trust. Manresa is definitely one of those restaurants.

Also, keep in mind, this is not ground beef, which often comes from many different animals and less than desireable meat. This is diced sirloin steak of the highest quality.

Sam wrote:
02.22.05 at 10:17 PM

Now I am doubly bummed I can't make it to Thursday's dinner.
Have fun.
Great picture by the way, and eloquent write up as always.

Jennifer wrote:
02.23.05 at 6:38 AM

"...the organic, free-range bovine Sirens of my dreams are calling"...I LOVE IT! Such imagery!

And the idea that someone could reinvent something as old, drudging and mediocre as Surf n' Turf in this fashion is nothing short of miraculous. I think yours is my favourite award.

Sal wrote:
02.24.05 at 12:52 PM

Ymmm.

Looking forward to dinner tonight.

enoch choi wrote:
02.24.05 at 6:04 PM

aargh! why do i have to work tonight....

Max wrote:
02.26.05 at 9:40 AM

That raw dish captures it well, and is nicely photographed.

DK has been doing other such combos since Manresa opened. One favorite of mine is the rolls of rare Ahi tuna wrapped in paper-thin slices of free-range veal. (Roasted and sliced on the bias they look like the crunchy "egg rolls" of Chinese restaurants.) I used to kid him that this was the Surf 'n' Turf special.

Max wrote:
02.26.05 at 9:47 AM

By the way! A priceless magazine article on food around 1979 -- before today's Internet food forums, but very relevant to them -- laid out, for traveling diners, the Seven Warning Signs of Mediocre Restaurants. (With lurid illustrations of Maitre d's gone amok with tableside flaming dishes, etc.)

One of the warning signs was seeing phrases with " 'n' " in them: Steaks 'n' Grog. Surf 'n' Turf.

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