Yes, it’s a cliche to say that every cloud has a silver lining but it’s still true in the case of Manresa. David Kinch’s two-Michelin starred restaurant in Los Gatos was devastated by a fire in July and closed for five months. Haute Living was on the scene Feb. 3 to celebrate Manresa’s reopening with for canapés, wine and cocktails. We caught up with Kinch, who had interesting things to say about the effects of the fire on the South Bay’s premier dining spot.
“Part of the good side of the fire is that we had a chance to be a little introspective, revisit all of the little details on a regular basis—both in the front and the back of the house—ask ourselves questions (such as) how we can improve? Right now our goal is to implement these and become the best restaurant that we can possibly be.”
The two-alarm fire, whose cause is still unknown, broke out in the early morning of July 7, 2014 when the restaurant was closed for vacation. The blaze ripped through the roof and attic. The 12-year-old restaurant reopened on Jan. 2 with a new kitchen but the same beauty such as the whimsical chandeliers with hundreds of hand-blown glass crystals in the shape of spoons hanging from a metal fixture and a backlit alabaster mother of pearl bar that is the focal point of the charming and intimate 15-seat bar and lounge.
What changes will returning customers who have experienced Manresa’s sublime, marathon tasting menu notice?
“There are fabric changes,” Kinch says. “There are material changes. They’re subtle but they are different. What they’re going to notice more is the ambiance of the restaurant and the food and the service. We’re trying to take ourselves less seriously. A fire will do that to you. We’re just excited to be engaging with everybody again. We’re back to our own skill set.”
Asked to elaborate on taking themselves less seriously, Kinch says, “I don’t want to be as regimented with our systems as we have been in the past. I want the staff to be able to relax a little bit and engage a little bit more.”
The menu format remains the same. Kinch offers a tasting menu, which changes daily and highlights the best of the biodynamically grown products from Cynthia Sandberg’s Love Apple Farms in nearby Santa Cruz. When produce is harvested at the farm, it appears at Manresa the same day. While all vegetables, several fruits and many other provisions come directly from the 20 acres of Love Apple Farms, Kinch sources his meats from the best California purveyors so that the kitchen can utilize a variety of cuts in the dishes on the daily menu.
“The reason why it’s the same is because I was happy with it,” Kinch says of the menu format. “The big change with the menu has been that we missed two full seasons. We missed all of summer and all of fall. We went from late spring/early summer directly into a winter time menu. That was different. From that viewpoint, it’s like opening a brand new restaurant, building a menu up from scratch, as opposed to morphing through the seasons like we usually do.”
It didn’t seem like Kinch or his team missed a beat. Guests, many of whom hung out in Kinch’s new kitchen like they would at the home of a friend, noshed on garden green panisse with sesame and lemon, savory granola crisps, arpege egg, scallop chicharrones with green tea and seaweed, Shigoku oysters with nasturtium pesto and citrus ice, milk chocolate crunch bar, Meyer lemon macarons and salted caramel chocolates—all incredibly delicious. Yes, we tried everything, over and over again.
Service was also superb. The second a guest finished slurping an oyster off a shell, a staffer appeared with a tray for the empty shell. The staff is pretty much the same as before, a credit to the kind of people Kinch has put together.
“We work very, very hard with the service staff,” he says. “We’ve got a lot of people that have been with us for a very, very long time. It takes a long time. It’s like putting together a team where people gel and they know how they work together. I can’t tell you what a relief it is to have so many people coming back. We weren’t starting green.”
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that since re-opening on January 2, Manresa has been busy. Still…
“I don’t take anything for granted anymore,” Kinch says, “that’s for sure.”
Before they left, guests were invited to take a loaf of bread from a long table with them. Kinch and his head baker, Avery Ruzicka, have teamed up and will soon open Manresa Bread Project, a bakery in Los Gatos.
Photos by Kelly E. Carter