Monday, October 02, 2006

Manka's, Inverness

manka'sOkay, this is going to be a LOOOONG one!

When we planned our anniversary trip to Manka’s, we only reserved dinner at the lodge’s restaurant one night (Friday) because we thought it would be lame to eat there more than once -- despite the fact that we had only heard/read good things about the restaurant.

Well, it turned out that breakfast at Manka’s was complimentary both mornings we were there because they had a chef-in-training in the kitchen. And c’mon, who can pass up a free three-course breakfast!

But wait, dinner on Friday got such rave reviews, we also decided we needed to eat there again on Saturday.

Yes. We ended up eating FOUR meals at Manka’s during our weekend there. So call us lame. I don’t care because we were so frickin’ well fed. I got over the whole exploring other places thing after biting into their delicious biscuits at Friday’s dinner. So I’ll back up a bit and start there… making my way through all of the culinary delights at Manka’s.

Friday Night
The aforementioned biscuits. They tasted like biscuits I had had before. Bite after bite, I kept trying to place it. Finally, we realized that Manka’s biscuits were similar to the famous Meetinghouse biscuits! They served them with a scoop of spiced butter, but we barely spread any on. The biscuits are so good, you don’t need any butter! And coming from me, that’s really saying something.

Next up was the warm beet puree that was poured over a chilled garlic panna cotta. Yeah, that’s right -- garlic panna cotta. By itself, maybe it would have been weird; but combined with that puree, it was divine.

Then we had the salt cod cakes that featured a crispy exterior, flaky fish, and chunks of warm potato. Delicious. Even though I’m not a salad person, I even liked the arugula and tomatoes on the side. Yes, this restaurant could do no wrong.

The palate cleanser was basically a cucumber sorbet. It did its job.

Then we had the meat dish: a lamb shank that was shared. The server doled out a bit for each of us, then left the remainder on the table for us to fight over. The meat just fell off of that bone, and the beans on the side were quite tasty. There was also a yummy lamb meatball. Since I opted for the cheese course, I graciously allowed Jon to eat more of the lamb.

The cheese course consisted of two goat cheeses that I do not remember the names of. Sorry. One was a tad too salty for my taste, I do remember that. But I loved the figs poached in port and the candied/fried walnuts. Yeah, who wouldn’t love candied/fried anything!

Finally, we got to the dessert: upside-down plum cake with freshly whipped cream on top. One server presented the cake, the other followed him around with a gigantic bowl of whipped cream. He made sure that whatever dollop he gave you was sufficient before moving on to another table. That dessert was simply awesome.

Saturday Morning
manka'sJon and I started with a pot of black tea each. Then we were served small glasses of fresh Gravenstein apple juice. So naturally sweet and good.

The first food item we got was a wheatberry porridge with chopped apples, served beside a pool of dairy milk. It sounded very hippie-dippie, but tasted great. In fact, I need to learn how to make this at home.

Coming in second was a plate of goat cheese soufflé and scrambled eggs. Sure, anyone can make scrambled eggs, but that soufflé was a thing of beauty. The texture was perfect – crisp on the outside, warm and fluffy on the inside. That soufflé didn’t even stand a chance with Jon, who does not consider himself a fan of goat cheese.

We ended our breakfast with a wedge of waffle (about a quarter the size of a standard round waffle) that was topped with honey syrup and those same candied/fried walnuts from dinner. Apparently, they know they’re going to have satisfied customers if they let them walk out the restaurant with memories of those candied/fried walnuts on their minds/palates.

Saturday Night
So I should mention that Manka’s menu changes daily, depending on what the kitchen gathers from local farms and such. Which is why we were cool with coming here two nights in a row; we knew we’d get something completely different -- but hopefully just as delicious.

Jon decided to go vegetarian on Saturday, while I stuck to the regular menu. My meal started with a mussel soup, while his was butternut squash. While both were good, I preferred his.

Next, I enjoyed squab served atop escarole with chunks of toasted bread thrown in. Jon’s was pretty much the same dish, minus the bird. And I believe he had tomatoes on his plate. For the third course, I was served a chunk of pork belly with haricot vert and figs; no bacon for Jon.

The palate cleanser was billed as “an ice of Inverness apples” but it was more like apple-flavored whipped cream. Good spices (cinnamon, cardamom) in it as well.

The main course is where mine and Jon’s meals diverged the most: I had venison with fingerling potatoes, while he had special dish that consisted of lobster mushrooms, zucchini and house-made spaetzle. As good as mine was, I thought his was even better.

The rest of our dinners were the same: We shared a cheese platter with goat’s and cow’s milk cheese. I really liked that Humboldt Fog! It was rich and creamy, not too tangy, slightly sweet even. I have a feeling it would be great when paired with anything (Manka’s served it with quince).

Finally, we were treated to a slice each of the flourless chocolate torte, with poached pears and mascarpone. Delicious!

Sunday Morning
manka'sOur final meal at Manka’s started with fresh-pressed orange juice. Then a plate of dairy cheese came to the table. I loved the figs with huckleberry sauce that accompanied the cheese. I could have easily eaten an entire bowl of the fruits.

Next came a poached egg served over creamy polenta, with two strips of bacon on the side. I have to say, usually I prefer fried polenta; the creamy version doesn’t do much for me. But this was the best polenta I’ve ever had. It was great by itself, but add in that salty and crispy bacon, and the flavors and textures were superb.

Breakfast ended much the same way that dinner on Friday night did: with a plum cake and whipped cream. The nighttime version had a hint of almond to it; other than that, they seemed quite similar. I liked it the first time it was served to us, and still liked it the second time.

So our stomachs were very happy all weekend, thanks to the kitchen at Manka’s!

P.S. I mentioned that breakfast was free both mornings, but dinner was not. Friday night set us back $58 per person (excluding the optional cheese course); the fixed priced for Saturday was $88. I really don't know why there's such a huge increase. Except that the restaurant seems to be busier on Saturdays. Sure, there were more meat items on the menu the second night, but Jon went veggie anyway, and it wasn't $30 more in quantity or quality.

P.P.S. I tried to take photos at dinner, but the lighting was too poor. And of course, using a flash would have been a faux pas. The breakfast photos turned out a little better because I put my dishes directly underneath the small lamp on our table.

30 Callendar Way
Inverness, CA
(415) 669-1034