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Notes from the Manresa Sake Dinner

Last week, I was joined by an adventurous group of diners and drinkers for a completely unique meal at Manresa Restaurant in Los Gatos, California. The result of months of discussions and planning between myself, Chef David Kinch, and Wine Director Jeff Bareilles, The Sake Dinner was an extraordinary experience.

To my knowledge, no non-Japanese, U.S. restaurant of the caliber of Manresa has ever done a tasting menu exclusively to be paired with world-class sake as we did last Wednesday night. Chef Kinch created a special eight-course meal that drew on his deep love of Japanese cuisine and its influence in his cooking, while I provided some of the best sakes available in the United States.

The result was a tremendous meal, made all the better by what was a great group of folks who chose to join us.

The menu and sake pairings were as follows:

Pike mackerel with New Zealand Spinach

Tempura fried Kisu (Japanese needlefish) wrapped in house cured pancetta and dipped in shiso clorophyll
Masuda Shuzo Masuizumi Junmai Daiginjo, Toyama Prefecture

Sea bream with caviar, seaweed ice, and lemon verbena oil
Takasago Shuzo Ginga Shizuku "Divine Droplets" Junmai Daiginjo, Hokkaido Prefecture

Pacific lobster barely poached with vegetables and basil flowers
Asahi-Shuzo Kubota Manju (Junmai Daiginjo)

Fresh Oregon Matsutake mushroom with littleneck and geoduck clams
Minogawa Shuzo "Koshino Omachi" Daiginjo, Niigata Prefecture

Autumn "tidal pool" of abalone, uni, foie gras, seaweed, and mushrooms
Kamoizumi "Shusen" Junmai, Hiroshima Prefecture (served warm)

Country ham, delicate black cod,and a smoky red miso broth
Sato No Homare "Pride of The Village" Junmai Ginjo, Ibaraki Prefecture

Sweetbreads fried chestnuts, and soft cooked eggs over rice
Nishida Shuzoten "Denshu" Tokubetsu Junmai (served warm)

Sweet red bean cake with pluots and coconut ice milk
Kamoizumi "KomeKome" Sweet Sake, Hiroshima Prefecture

I've eaten quite a few meals at Manresa, but this was certainly one of my favorites, irrespective of what I was drinking.

The sea bream and caviar dish was simply tremendous -- one of the best things I've put in my mouth in months. The lobster dish had a remarkable little bit of young artichoke cooked in wood ash on it that was stunning. The autumn tidal pool (which sadly I forgot to take a photo of) was unbelievable, from the quality of the sea urchin to the rich smoky foie gras at the bottom of the dish.

Everyone who attended was interested in learning more about sake, so I started the evening with a brief explanation of how sake was made, and then answered questions throughout the evening after introducing each sake that was poured.

Large dinners like this are always different, and the nature of the experience rests quite squarely on the dynamic of the people who are attending. This was one of the best such dinners I have hosted at Manresa because of the conviviality and enthusiasm of those who attended.

I didn't capture every dish, unfortunately, but I did manage to get a shot of most of them.

Perhaps you'll join us for another of these dinners at some point in the future?

Comments (7)

rajiv wrote:
09.17.08 at 6:40 AM

Any notes on the sakes? Do you take notes during such dinners?

Jean wrote:
09.17.08 at 8:42 AM

These are really gorgeous photographs! I too would be interested in tasting notes and more details about why you chose each sake for each dish.

Lawrence wrote:
09.17.08 at 4:19 PM

My wife and I participated in this excellent event and strongly recommend it to adventurous eaters, foodies, and anyone interested in quality sake.

We love Manresa and had great expectations for the evening - Alder and David delivered. The intimate gathering (10 people) was perfect. Alder demonstrated an authentic, informed first-hand familiarity and enthusiasm for the sakes. Moreover, his ability to articulate this knowledge made the sakes very accessible for a more complete appreciation. (Naturally, David worked a whole new kind of wonderful magic from the kitchen!)

Alder wrote:
09.17.08 at 10:06 PM

I've linked up the sakes that I have previously reviewed here on Vinography, for those who were interested in tasting notes.

Dylan wrote:
09.19.08 at 1:06 PM


Thank you for the presentation of this meal, it helps me feel like I was there although I couldn't be.

I don't even know if I needed your pictures and descriptive writing (though I'm certainly appreciative), I can tell from Lawrence's enthusiasm that this was a complete success.

Well done.

Erik Talvola wrote:
09.19.08 at 8:52 PM

If I weren't in Vegas at the time - I would have been all over it. I had to settle for a pretty nice dinner at Koi with a couple bottles of sake (someone else more knowledgeable picked them out or I'd share).

Hopefully you'll keep this up.


09.21.08 at 3:01 PM

Sounds like a perfect night. I loved to be there but the distance to fly over was a little too much. The offer however to you to have these kind of food and sake tasting in Holland is still open for you. So when you may pass Europe someday you are invited for a world class dinner in one of our best Michelin star restaurants. The mainly French food served will off course be accompanied with some splendid sake. Best regards, Simon

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