Orthogonal Thought | Random musings from the creator of Cooking For Engineers and Lead Architect of Fanpop




What I Ate: February 28, 2009 (Calafia Cafe, Manresa)

Posted 1 March, 2009 at 2:51am by Michael Chu
(Filed under: Food, What I Ate)

For brunch Tina and I headed over to Charlie Ayers's new restaurant Calafia Cafe (855 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, CA‎ - (650) 322-9200‎). We ordered the Five Spice Chicken Fideo for Tina and the Lamb Sausage and Eggs for me.
Calafia Cafe - Five Spice Chicken Fideo
Five Spice Chicken Fideo

Calafia Cafe - Lamb Sausage & Eggs
Lamb Sausage & Eggs

Tina and I didn't like the fideo dish. The flavor of the chicken and sauce had a heavy flavor that we couldn't place. The lamb sausage was great though. It was flavorful and had wonderful texture (unlike many lamb sausages I've had that can be grainy and a little chewy). The eggs were cooked exactly to how I asked for it and the hash browns were perfectly cooked and seasoned.

We chatted a bit with Charlie (who is incredibly nice) and then added a pancake and French toast to our order. Both were delicious and we would highly recommend them. The pancake came burnt however and it was sent back (by Charlie before we had a chance to say anything) and came back perfect. With the organic maple syrup that they had, it was simply delicious. (I did see another plate of burnt pancakes get sent back to the kitchen and I've read that people get burnt pancakes, so if you do get one make sure you send it back. When properly prepared, they are awesome.)
Calafia Cafe - Pancake

The French toast was just as good. The outside lightly crisped, the interior custardy, all with a slight hint of citrus. If you go to Calafia for brunch, make sure you get the lamb sausage and the toast or pancakes. They are incredible.
Calafia Cafe - French Toast

(We also had a root beer soda and ginger ale - both sweetened with agave nectar - and I had an order of their applewood bacon as well.)

Dinner was at Manresa (320 Village Ln, Los Gatos, CA‎ - (408) 354-4330‎) where we had their tasting menu. Overall, I thought the meal was fine while Tina thought it wasn't so good (in addition to a few dishes we had that weren't well executed, she had a dish that was too salty and a piece of fish that was either not fresh or too fishy). For over $400 (no wine and including tax and tip), I would agree that I had hoped the execution would be closer to perfect. Service was excellent, staff was friendly and informative, and the dishes were inventive, but there were too many execution errors for me to be recommend this Michelin two-star restaurant based on our dining experience. I'll list everything we ate and consider breaking my rule on Cooking For Engineers and write a review of Manresa. (For the last several years, I've chosen not to publish any negative reviews of restaurants, books, or equipment on Cooking For Engineers so everything on that site is recommended. Cliff's mentioned that unless that's clear, it might seem like I'm selling out or shilling for companies since I only publish positive content. There's that aspect to consider, but I also don't want to "waste time" writing up bad reviews. Perhaps, I'll start in the future.)

We started with an amuse bouche of "Fried Oyster" which was actually an oyster that was formed into a cube, breaded, and fried. We were told to put the whole thing in our mouths before biting down on it. When we did bite, the cube basically exploded with a gush of warm liquid that tasted of sweet, mild oyster. It was amazing!
Manresa - Fried Oyster

Turnip and foie gras royale - Tina's was significantly more salty than mine. This was where her experience started to slip downhill.

Garden beignets

Horchata with lightly toasted parsnip

Arpege farm egg - a layered construction of sherry vinegar, Tahitian vanilla maple syrup, and egg served inside an egg shell. I don't really know what part was what since all I could see was a lot of foam in the egg. It was a bit too acidic.

Marinated bay scallops with avocado mousse and vegetable chips
Manresa -  Marinated bay scallops with avocado mousse and vegetable chips

Japanese mackerel with lightly pickled konbu - Tina had one piece that was bad or too fishy that actually made her a little nauseated. All of mine were fine.
Manresa - Mackerel

"Into the vegetable garden…" - a warm salad. Tina's favorite dish of the evening.
Manresa - Into the Vegetable Garden

Winter tidal pool - an assortment of seafood including abalone, sea urchin, and foie gras (when was that seafood?!?) served in dashi. This would have been our favorite dish if the dashi was not so salty (think seawater) that it was inedible. We tried a couple times to sip it because it seemed so inviting. The sea urchin was absolutely amazing. The foie gras, however, just didn't work for either of us (and I love foie) in this dish. Tina felt cheated because she wasn't able to drink the soup. I even asked to make sure it was supposed to be edible and the wait staff confirmed that it was supposed to be. Unfortunately, it just wasn't possible. If it wasn't so salty, the flavors much have been amazing.

John dory and a lettuce veloute - a rather bland and low-flavor dish

Pig's trotters and cider tapioca with apple and potato croquette - the trotters were seasoned with a sour vinegar and it was just too acidic to enjoy. The potato and the apple were good.

Beef bavette - this Wagyu flank steak cooked rare was chewy (requiring a good 30-40 sec of chewing before we gave up and swallowed)
Manresa - Beef Bavette

Fried polenta and currants with white coffee ice cream and cara cara orange foam - by this time we were pretty tired of the foams

Gene's citrus terrine, sparkling wine granita
Manresa - Gene’s Citrus

Dark chocolate veloute with hazelnut rochers

Strawberry gems and madelines
Manresa - Strawberry gems and madelines

3 comments to What I Ate: February 28, 2009 (Calafia Cafe, Manresa)

Nate, March 3rd, 2009 at 12:50 pm:

  • Beautiful photography.

    It took me a while to get used to the egg. I didn't like it at first but was enjoying it by the time I got to the bottom.

    I think one or two foamy dishes are enough. Why would they put foam on the garden dish? Makes me think a snail went through it.

    They should have used ankimo (monk fish liver) instead of foie gras in the tidal pool dish.

    Would you say then that Parcel 104 is better than Manresa?

Michael Chu, March 3rd, 2009 at 1:08 pm:

  • It's hard to say. I didn't have the tasting menu at Parcel 104 and the dishes we did have were well executed but not as unconventional as those at Manresa. If you're looking for good food that's well-executed then I think Parcel 104 was definitely a better experience for us, but Manresa's dining experience is more adventurous and they served up fifteen sources (which obviously changes the type of dining you're participating in).

What I Ate: March 27, 2009 (Google, Chez Panisse) | Orthogonal Thought, March 27th, 2009 at 10:52 pm:

  • […] in the Bay Area. For lunch, I ended up eating at Charlie's (named after Charlie Ayers - see Calafia from a couple weeks back), the main cafeteria on Google's Mountain View campus. I grabbed […]