Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Restaurant Experience: The French Laundry

There's no way I can call this post a review.  Because to review the French Laundry....well, I am just not able to.  Not because of any unsaid barrier.  Or any secret pact that we had to sign when we got to the restaurant.  It's just...that amazing.  It met every one of my expectations.  As a background, for those of you who aren't familiar with Thomas Keller or the French Laundry, here's a bit of history.  (note: all pictures are my own, as usual, unless otherwise noted)

The French Laundry has been around since the 1800s.  It was originally a saloon, a brothel, and then finally a French steam press.  And in the 1970s the building was purchased by the Mayor of Yountville.  In the mid 1990s, Thomas Keller, an American chef who is classically trained in French cuisine, decided to buy the French Laundry and turn it into a restaurant.  It is Michelin 3-star rated and is pretty consistently listed as one of the top restaurants in the country and even the world.

The menu is a 9 course extravaganza that changes constantly.  They grow many of their own vegetables and herbs and work with small farms and dairy providers for all of their menu.  And it shows.  Everything tastes fresh and amazing.

So Brett and I decided, at the beginning of planning our "Brett's turnin' 30 so let's go on a vacay" trip to Napa and San Francisco, that we had to go to the French Laundry.  But here's the thing.  In order to make a reservation you need to make it on the calendar day two months in advance.  And by the time we had started planning?  It was past the date.  Sob.  Sob all over.  BUT the food gods prevailed...it was closed for part of the winter, so that meant we could call when it opened back up and try to get the reservation.

Six hours of calls later (yes six, yes I am crazy, don't judge me....please...also did you know that the iPhone stops counting after 100 calls....) we got through (another note - Brett got through...not me...even though I called like five times more than he did).  And we did it.  We got reservations.  HOORAY!

So we dressed in our finest gear and headed out for the French Laundry when we were in Napa.

Look at us.  We're so fancy.  We were sat in a far corner and the feast commenced.  I should also note...there were two non-course courses that were also served before the actual first course.  Yeah, it's a mouthful.  And then we got the menu.  And every part of it looked....unbelievable.

Some of the courses came with "options" between two different dishes, but since Brett and I are awesome sharers with each other, we just ordered everything and split the courses that had options.  Yeah, cue the awwwwwwweeeee.

And now I will post all of the courses.  And the highlights?  The oysters and pearls, foie gras, and lamb brains.  BRAINS!  And delicious.

"Pearls & Oysters"
"Sabayon" of Pearl Tapioca with Island creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar  

Salad of French Laundry Garden Heirloom Beets
Rhubarb "Tsukemono," Salted Cucumber, Baby Leeks and Sweet Onion Pureé

Moulard Duck "Foie Gras au Torchon"
"Confit de Canard," Winter Chicories, Red Walnuts, Cipollini Onions and Guinness-Chocolate Emulsion

Bacon-Wrapped Shad Roe
Haas Avocado, Petite Radishes, Romaine Lettuce, Tarragon Crème Fraîche and Piquillo Pepper Marmalade

Sautéed Fillet of Atlantic Halibut
Bok Choy, Hearts of Palm, Red Chili, and Marinated Mushrooms

Georges Bank Sea Scallops "Poêlées"
English Pea Tortellini, Nantes Carrots, and Madras Curry Butter

Four Story Hill Farm "Poularde"
Cauliflower, Stinging Nettles, Bergamot Orange, and Long Pepper Reduction 

Elysian Fields Farm Lamb Saddle
"Beignet Michèle," Arrowleaf Spinach, Salsify, and Brown Butter Jus

"Pain d'Épices," Young Fennel, Poached Prune and 100 Year Balsamic Vinegar

Cream Yogurt Sherbert
Toasted Oats, Pomegranate, Oxalis and Osmanthus

Meyer Lemon "Parfait"
Oregon Huckleberries, Sicilian Pistachios, and Poppy Seed Ice Cream

Praline Mousse, "Dacquoise," Malt and Roasted Banana Sorbet

A capacciono-ish desert and Brett's birthday dish!

This was by far and away the most amazing meal of my life.  As you can see, every meal bit was executed in such an amazing fashion.  I haven't tasted food like this ever.  And the service?  Amazing.  Our waiter was engaging and curtious and was thrilled when I spoke with him in French, and even our "busboy" was a CIA-trained chef.  Like, what?

I know that this was an extravagant meal.  But it was worth every penny.  And every bite.  And it was the single most amazing culinary experience I've ever had.  And hopefully one day, I can aspire to cook like this.  For now, I'll dream of the French Laundry.

If you get a chance, go.  Yes, the bill may make you cry a bit inside.  But I can still remember the way that the foie melted on my tongue.  Or the way that the halibut was so slightly crisped, or even the bread with the (TWO DIFFERENT KINDS OF) butter was so delicious that I wanted to eat more.

And to the staff of the French Laundry....thank you for the best meal of my [our] life.

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