Two of the Bay Area's finest fine-dining restaurants, Quince and Manresa, were the subject of Michael Bauer's heavy admiration this week, handily upholding their "perfect Chronicle four-star ratings" in the wake of recent renovations.
First up is Quince, the Jackson Square stunner from chef Michael Tusk and wife Lindsay Tusk, which closed for a two-month renovation last year. The remodel, led by Lindsay, "spruced up" the dining room, moved the entrance, reconfigured the bar area and added a chef's counter, "transforming the space into the most elegant restaurant in the Bay Area," or even "in the nation," according to Bauer. He also declares that Tusk's talent "has never been more evident than now," following the remodel and an inspiring trip to Japan. The updated dining room is "the antithesis of the minimalist," showcasing a 250-pound Venetian glass chandelier hanging over massive floral arrangements, mixing exposed brick walls and luxurious touches that stand out in stark contrast to more austere fine-dining restaurants like Benu and Saison. These touches include items like 200-year-old plates from Japan, upon which Bauer enjoyed a single oyster flavored with passion fruit, celery, and puffed rice on a mound of salt.
The $195 tasting menu changes daily (with the option of wine pairings for an additional $150); officially, it's eight courses, but there are many small bites and treats scattered throughout the courses, showcasing the range of Tusk's technique and presentation. Bauer is entranced by the "juxtaposition of refined and rustic" that continued throughout his meal, especially apparent in the honey-roasted duck breast. Presented to the table and carved in the kitchen, the slices of perfectly cooked duck were served "standing at attention," with a "restrained pool of sauce," chanterelle mushrooms, braised radishes, potatoes, quince and giblets scattered with purple petals. Bauer deems the dinner "a masterpiece," and though he's not sure "how the Tusks can get any better," he's "equally sure they will show us."
Next comes Manresa, the Los Gatos restaurant from chef-owner David Kinch. Following a two-alarm fire last July, the restaurant was forced to take a six-month hiatus to rebuild. However, Kinch and his team took the break as an opportunity to rethink and improve their already four-star concept even more. While Bauer notes that the restaurant's interior looks "much the same as it did" before the fire, "reinvention and refinement were evident in the kitchen."
The $198 tasting menu offers eight to 10 courses (with the option of beverage pairings for $118 or $198). The menu still begins with black olive madeleines with red pepper gelee and ends with chocolate madeleines and strawberry gelee, yet Bauer found that Kinch has "attacked what's in between with new vigor." He admires the way Kinch "plays off the outdoorsy lifestyle" of the restaurant's location by starting the meal with a collection of small bites that included nasturtium beignet and crisp disk of granola, seeds and grains. Land and sea are married artfully throughout the menu, including a dish of monkfish liver topped with caviar on a bed of spring peas and a rice porridge with abalone and puffed rice. Even in winter, Bauer found that "Kinch makes everything taste as fresh as spring, perfectly capturing technique and seasonality. The new menu is "distinctively Kinch and his chef de cuisine Jessica Largey," though the flavors "have a new intensity and delicacy," which Bauer attributes to Manresa's chefs "working at top form." After six months of hard work for Kinch and his team, Bauer declares the fire and subsequent closure to be the "diner's gain," as "the food is even better than before."