Taking on the Bay Area with Jason Knibb

Taking on the Bay Area with Jason Knibb

I just got back from a very quick eating trip to Los Gatos and San Francisco with Jason Knibb (of Nine-Ten). We flew up Friday afternoon and drove straight to Los Gatos for dinner at Manresa. I have wanted to eat here for a couple years and finally made it. The day was gorgeous and HOT. We got there 30 minutes before our reservation at 5:30 p.m. so we walked around town for a while. I think I will be coming back to Los Gatos…it seems very cool with lots to explore.

Our experience lived up to all I have heard about Manresa and chef David Kinch. They just completed a remodel that makes the restaurant much more modern. I wish I had seen it before, because for me it was a bit too stark and cold, but the staff warmed it up and really made us feel at home. The meal started with five hors d’oeuvres, one of which ended up being one of the best courses of the night – a raw milk panna cotta topped with a dashi gelee and abalone…creamy, super tasty, with the abalone texture for contrast. It was truly a spectacular dish. The other dish that blew me away was the “early summer tidal pool”—a mixture of seaweeds, crab, clams and a small sliver of foie gras. All the other courses (around 11 savory and three dessert, plus petit fours) were very good, seasonal, well seasoned and without gimmickry. After a three-hour meal and a visit with the kitchen, we drove to San Francisco and checked into our hotel. We both were done for the night and turned in early; maybe we knew the next day was going to take a lot out of us!

We woke up on Saturday and walked to the Ferry Building Marketplace to check out the farmer’s market. We waited in line for 20 minutes to get our Blue Bottle coffees and then strolled around the market where there were cherries, blueberries, stone fruits, etc…everything looked great, but it made me appreciate what we have in our own backyard.

We decided to split a roast pork sandwich for breakfast from one of the vendors (I know! What were we thinking?). We gobbled it down, and then walked over to Cotogna, the more casual sibling of the highly regarded Quince;restaurant for an early lunch; we figured it would be best to eat early as we had a full evening planned. The meal was good, simple Italian fare. We had fried green tomatoes with mozzarella cream and anchovies, a fresh squid salad with summer squash and mint, then two pastas—a ricotta fagotelli with foraged blossoms and a “Chiche” with cauliflower, bottarga and breadcrumbs. The pastas could have been a bit warmer and the Chiche needed more bottarga, but they were well made and thankfully not very large. We also ordered a shrimp and watermelon panzanella that I won’t say anything more about and a very nice cherry tart. All in all, a nice restaurant serving simple seasonal food with nice cocktails and a wine list with many by-the-glass options and all the bottles are $40.

After lunch we walked back to the hotel for a siesta and I got on the treadmill for three miles, which helped me prepare for our rather ambitious dinner plans. We met some friends and started with pizza at Una Pizza Napolitana. What a cool place! It is a whitewashed garage with a beautiful pizza oven in the center and tables off to the side. We ordered a margherita and another with smoked mozzarella, cherry tomatoes and arugula; the pizza is excellent, done in the style of Naples with a blistered crust, judicious toppings and a slight wetness to the center of the pie. Since people were waiting for tables and we had a reservation, we left and walked up the street to Saison, our second meal of the night (and it was still only 6:30 p.m.).

What a fantastic place! This is my type of restaurant—unpretentious and really comfortable but with an attention to detail you just do not see often enough. From the service to the wines to the food and setting, it was one of the nicest experiences I have had in a long time.

We were seated at the bar in front of the hearth. Saison serves a five-course tasting menu with no choices, so the only decision for us to make was what to drink. After starting with champagne, we opted for a bottle of white and a glass of red with the final course and put ourselves in the sommelier’s hands. The food was really memorable, from the smoked caviar, to the chef’s signature dish of brassicas that he roasts/grills to varying stages on the wood fire and serves with grains and a bonito broth, to the rabbit course and dessert; everything was light, flavorful, interesting and showed a clear and singular vision. I will definitely be going back to this place.

Jason had reservations at Benu at 9:45 p.m. and up until the rabbit course at Saison I had been telling him he was going alone and that I could not handle another meal. But since the meal at Saison was so well balanced and not heavy, I was feeling guilty about leaving Jason to dine alone so I decided at the last minute to join him with the promise that we would be ordering a la carte and not having the long tasting menu. We arrived at Benu after eating a pork sandwich for breakfast, an Italian lunch, pizzas and a five-course meal (actually more like 10 with the little extras that were sent our way). Jason’s former sous chef, Chris, is working at Benu so they knew who we were which was making me a bit nervous. (I just cannot eat as much as I used to.) We ordered the foie gras and abalone appetizers, a pasta and the signature sea cucumber (really good), followed by the pork rib and the duck breast. Everything was very good, with Asian flavors throughout, but it was not light food at all. When the entrees arrived I was ready to tap out. After desserts we were escorted into their beautiful kitchen to meet Chef Corey Lee and visit with Chris. These exchanges usually make me feel uncomfortable and this was no different. I was glad to get out into the fresh air and walk back to our hotel.

I hate to think how many calories we consumed that day but all in all it was a great experience. I enjoy talking food with Jason and I got to expose myself to a new favorite restaurant (Saison), some fantastic pizza and sea cucumber! It is nice to see what is going on outside San Diego. San Francisco is truly a great food city, and with the new places that have opened in the last few years it is branching away from the predominantly Mediterranean/Italian vibe to a city with many different inspirations. I can’t wait to go back.