>> Friday, March 19, 2010
May I distract you for a moment to take you on a brief journey?
A journey to Napa Valley, into a little town called Yountville, inside a quaint, rustic, French house. I would love to share with you a particular meal I had on my last night in Napa Valley.
The French Laundry is surprisingly unassuming from the outside. It looks like any other quaint, rustic country home. As Bryan and I were walking down Washington Street, we almost missed it.
But if you look really hard at the bottom left corner of the "house," you'll see a sign surrounded by playfully bright flowers. It's almost like it's trying to hide . . . sort of.
Look across the street, and you'll see The French Laundry's own vegetable garden. The garden supplies many of the vegetables on the menu each day.
We walked around the corner and peered in. Look! A beautiful hidden garden. Could there be more?
A quick glance through the window revealed chefs hard at work.
We continued on to discover a beautiful secluded little area behind the rustic house. Oh, if only we could stay. But food was beckoning inside the house.
A Meal of A Lifetime . . .
Join me as I share with you, course by course, the transcendent meal we experienced at The French Laundry. Thomas Keller is nothing short of perfect when it comes to designing and executing these menus - the tasteful progression of unique, interesting, and surprising flavors that will delight the palate, awaken the senses, and tickle the mind. Truly the gastronomical pinnacle of my time at Napa Valley.
As I've said before, there's something about these three-star Michelin restaurants. Every single dish is executed flawlessly. The French Laundry aims to make this meal the experience of a lifetime. They understand that most of their customers are coming here for a really really special occasion. And they do a great job of making you feel really special.
As for the menu, you have your choice between two tasting menus - the Chef's Tasting Menu and the Tasting of Vegetables (which is vegetable focused, but is not vegetarian). Because this was our first time, we both opted for the Chef's Tasting Menu - a 9-course culinary journey that takes you through some classic Thomas Keller dishes as well as new seasonal concoctions.
Moments after being seated next to a window on the second floor of the house, the waiters set before us the first amuse bouche: Gruyere filled Mini-Brioches. These little bites were perfect for awakening the palate.
Soon after, Thomas Keller's signature amuse, the Salmon Cornets, arrived. I loved these. Delightful little "ice cream cones" filled with salmon tatare. The "cone" part is reminiscent of a thin, crispy butter cookie. A perfect way to start the meal.
And then the courses began arriving . . .
"Oysters and Pearls"
"Sabayon" of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar
This dish was decadent, with the briny saltiness of the caviar and the creamy richness of the oysters. Absolutely divine with a glass of champagne.
For our next course, we had a choice between the salad and the foie gras. I picked the salad while Bryan picked the foie gras.
Salad of French Laundry Garden Carrots
English Peas, Red Radish, Mint and Madras Curry Yogurt
This is not your typical peas and carrots. The vegetables, especially the carrots, were really flavorful and had just the right amount of "crunch." At this point I was almost wishing I had tried the "Tasting of Vegetables."
Moulard Duck Foie Gras En Terrine
White honey, Walnuts, Celery Relish and Dijon Mustard
Pimento-cured Hamachi Belly
Jidori Hen Egg, "Pain Frit," Petite Lettuce and "Dégustation d'Oignons"
Every single element of this artfully plated salad was perfect - the flavorful baby onions, the soft, succulent hamachi belly, the tiny fried bread pieces, the baby lettuce.
Maine Lobster Tail "Pochee Au Beurre Doux"
Black Truffle, Belgian Endive, Sicilian Pistachios, Watercress and Jurançon-Apricot Emulsion
I had thought I did not love black truffle, but it tasted so incredible in this dish that I began to reconsider. Of course the Maine lobster was fantastic, although being from the East Coast, that aspect of the dish was not as novel to me.
Isn't their pretzel bread so cute? I actually liked how they waited until after a few courses before bringing the bread. You're much less likely to fill up needlessly on bread.
For our first meat course, we were given a choice between quail and the pig's head. The pig's head sort of scared me, so I ordered the quail. Bryan, brave eater that he is, ordered the pig's head, much to the delight of the waiter, who said "excellent choice!"
Wolfe Ranch White Quail
Cauliflower, Swiss Chard, Marcona Almonds and Cherry-Guinness Jus
The quail was soft, juicy, and perfectly cooked. I loved the textural interplay between the juicy meat, the tender cauliflower florets, and the crunchy almonds.
"Rouelle de Tete de Cochon"
Sacramento Delta Asparagus, Frisée, and "Thousand Island Dressing"
Far from having a pig's head on your table, the pig's head is cooked whole, the cheeks are removed, prepared, and deep fried to form the rouelles that you see above. The meat was incredible soft, unlike most pork that you try.
Snake River Farms "Calotte de Boeuf Grillee"
Brown Butter "Pain Perdu," Black Trumplet Mushrooms, Turnips, Arrowleaf Spinach and "Sauce Bordelaise"
Beautiful and perfectly cooked piece of "boeuf." I remember really savoring the flavor of the nearly rare steak. I am also awed by the attention to detail of each little vegetable on the plate. Look how the turnips are perfectly charred on the ends!
"Panisse," Piperade, Arugula and Chickpea-Lucques Olive Vinaigrette
Steel-cut Oat Sherbet
Granola, Granny Smith Apple "Nuage" and Rum Raisin Coulis
I love all things oat flavored, and I had never had oat sherbet before. This was a perfect palate cleanser in preparation for dessert!
Peanut Butter "Bavarois"
Crunchy Feuilletine, Maralumi Milk Chocolate "Whip" and Gros Michel Banana Sorbet
Bryan ordered this one. Even though I'm not a banana lover, I had to admit this dessert was very good.
"Savarin Au Citron"
Citrus "Vierge," Moulin des Pétitents Olive Oil and Straus Daily "Crème Glacée"
I loved my light citrus-y tart topped with a simple olive oil ice cream
These chocolates were beautiful, decadent, and delicious. We cut each one in half so we could try all six.
These Dusted Chocolate Covered Nacadamia Nuts were addictive. We ended up taking about half of it home with us because we were so full.
And of course, before we headed out, a little take-away gift.
A Visit Into The Kitchen
Even though the meal probably took around 3 hours, the time seemed to pass by quickly. I'm not sure how they manage to do it, but they somehow are able to time each course perfectly in a way that makes the 3 hours fly by. At the end of the meal, the waiter asked if we would like a tour of the kitchen.
One of the first things we saw when we went inside was this big flat screen TV. It was a live feed to the kitchen at Per Se. Since it was around 8:45pm on the west coast, the Per Se kitchen was nearly empty, it being close to midnight over there.
This TV not only allows Thomas Keller to keep an eye on both his kitchens at all times, it also gives the staff a greater sense of togetherness.
The kitchen was definitely buzzing with at least a dozen people (if not more) plating, making coronets, washing dishes, etc. It's truly an operation in there! There's a ton of work that goes into each dish before it makes its way out into the dining hall.
Underneath the TV, there is a small sign that sums up The French Laundry's attitude about what they do.
I love it. Of course I thought the food was perfect. But even if it was not, by making me happy, they made me feel as if I had enjoyed the perfect meal.
Thank you, The French Laundry, for an absolutely fantastic end to such a dream-come-true trip.
Postlude / Other General Information
You might wonder how I managed to get a reservation there, as reservations at The French Laundry are notorious difficult to obtain. As expected, when I called The French Laundry about a month before my scheduled trip, the restaurant was already entirely booked. However, they do keep a waiting list, and if you're lucky, there just might be a cancellation, and you might get a call. I received my call about 6 days before the actual dinner reservation. They will ask you to give them a credit card number to hold the reservation. There is a $100 cancellation fee if you cancel less than 3 days before a reservation. You can also contact the restaurant the morning of to see if there are any cancellations. Apparently you can sometimes get a reservation this way as well.
Other posts from the Napa Valley Series
The French Laundry
6640 Washington St
Yountville, CA 94599