Drinking Small with Vinography at Manresa

I am woefully behind on posting, as today marks a week since the "Small is Beautiful" wine dinner with Alder of Vinography.com at Manresa, one of the world's Top 50 Restaurants and a newly appointed San Francisco 4 star. By waiting this long to write, much of the work has actually been done for me: Alder has already written a wonderful description of the evening that is very much in line with my own thoughts. Rather than retreading the details here, I will add a few notes and some more general reflections on my interaction with the meal.On the wines: Only one, the 2000 Miura Chardonnay from Carneros, was good. It was a stand-in for Alder's even smaller-production first choice and was a little over-oaked, though still exceeded my generally low expectations of California Chardonnay. The rest of the wines were excellent. I will even go so far as to say that two were exceptional: the 2004 CrauforD "Highlander" Sauvignon Blanc from Napa Valley and the 2001 Campion "Firepeak Vineyard Pinot Noir from Edna Valley. In fact, these two were good enough that I now have a problem. This problem is big enough that it's deserving of it's own post, so stay tuned. On the food: I had been to Manresa once before. We tried the tasting menu. To be honest, it was good, but overall the meal was more interesting than transcendent. I had been disappointed at Gary Danko too and thought that perhaps my tastes were just too simple for true haute cuisine. Perhaps it was just the particular dishes we tried. What I recognize now is that the real explanation is some part each of these and a big part something else altogether. While I am perhaps overly passionate about food, I only really know a small part of the edible universe. This stems from the decision that I made when I was six, together with my parents, to stop eating meat. The short story is that the things on the table too closely resembled our pet ducks and geese. Although we continued to eat some seafood, my mother's shrimp allergy, my father's moderate kosher sympathies, and the broader hippie environmentalist attitudes in Boulder around that time meant that our seafood intake was limited to salmon, tuna, and the occasional Dover sole. It's the "nothing with feet" diet. Subtract anything artificial or highly processed and any food that isn't actually "good" (by my definition) and what's left is rather limited. I have always been very good at staying inside the lines--in coloring, in school, in life. I never knew, nor cared to discover, these foreign tastes. Recently though, my passion for food has spawned some new curiosity--with associated ethical qualms. As I have been told so many times, there is some truly incredible meat to be had and I may well be missing out. With acceptance of this fact has come the realization that I am a "picky eater." In part this makes me fiercely proud of my choices and the food I eat, but I am also a little embarrassed.With this evolving perspective on my own boundaries, I return to the food at Manresa. It is possible that tasting menu I had in March was not Chef Kinch's best and that the wine pairing did not do it any great favors. It is certainly true that we had things I would not have chosen off a menu. It is also still fair to say that my tastes, shaped by my family's cooking and the time I spent exploring food and learning to cook for myself in Italy, still lean toward wonderful foods prepared simply. At this "Drink Small" dinner, the Chef's reverence for ingredients was obvious in preparations that were often far from simple, but remained simply elegant. This was my first real encounter with row and in this sophisticated presentation with a perfectly matched and wonderfully delicious wine, I actually experienced the flavors and textures. Though it's not my new love, it's no longer so scary. I might even like it with a little more practice. And so it goes as I get to know other unfamiliar foods: they become less threatening, more welcome, more enjoyable. In food and in life, there are rewards in challenging our own boundaries.