Posted on | February 6, 2011 | 18 Comments |
The French Laundry – one name that constantly comes up in every best restaurant list out there. A consistent Michelin 3-star winner, the restaurant that Anthony Bordain once described as “The best restaurant in the world, Period’. I don’t remember when it became part of my bucket list, but its been there for a while, way before I started this blog. Anyway, after years of dropping subtle and not so subtle hints about French Laundry, Siv finally managed to score reservations there this year. It wasn’t an easy task, he had to beg and plead and use all his charm on the phone and he finally got us a 5:45 PM slot for the day after my birthday.
5:45 PM is too early even for an ordinary dinner, but for the meal of your lifetime it just felt wrong! I didn’t want to eat anything that whole day, I was so afraid that I won’t be hungry and I won’t be able to enjoy the meal. And then I was afraid that I might be too hungry and will get a headache and won’t be able to enjoy the meal. We went wine tasting that morning, and I kept spitting out all the wine, because, yes, you guessed it right, I was afraid that I will get too drunk and I won’t be able to enjoy the dinner. Nobody should stress out so much about a meal, but this was no ordinary meal, it sure was the meal of my dreams! So finally I ended up having a small salad for lunch and took a nice long afternoon nap to get ready for the most anticipated meal of my life. We got there 15 minutes early, that must be a first, we are normally 15 minutes late for all appointments. But not this time! That gave us time to walk around the beautiful building and snap some pictures while there was still some daylight left. The restaurant is in a historic building which used to be a French Steam laundry, that is how it got the name.
That building on the far right in the above picture is the kitchen, which we got a chance to visit at the end of the meal. The garden is impeccably kept and they also have some cute benches to sit and sip some wine on a warm summer day. I believe you could even take a few strolls through the garden in between courses, if you want to burn off a few calories. Trust me, you will need a break in the middle.
The entrance to the restaurant is through the beautiful blue door. If you have been following this blog for a while, you might remember that I got to dine at French Laundry’s sister restaurant – Per Se in New York city for my birthday last year. Per Se also has the same blue door modeled after this. This brought back memories of the Per Se dining.
And obviously we had to take a few pictures of us in front of the famous blue door.
Anyway, after a few minutes we were told that our table was ready and were taken inside, my heart was beating so fast with anticipation at this point. Since Siv had mentioned that it was my birthday dinner when he made the reservation, I was greeted with a Happy Birthday by every person I met, starting from the front desk. Makes you feel real special, I have to admit.
As soon as we settled ourselves down, our server greeted us with a friendly smile, wished me happy birthday and gave us the menus to look through. The menu had just two options for the night, two nine course Chef’s tasting menus, one vegetarian and one not, both offered at $270 per person. That was an easy choice for us. A few of the courses offered a choice between two items, but all in all, it was the easiest menu to choose from. French Laundry does not offer a set wine pairing, but instead the sommelier will work with you to customize the wines to go with each course, from the wine list that reads like a large novel. They really make an effort to figure out the type of wines that we like, and comes up with recommendations that suits your palate and the food being served. After a few minutes of discussion, we settled on a sparkling wine for the amuse bouche and the oysters, a sweet wine with the foie gras, a half bottle of white for the seafood courses and a half bottle of red for the meat courses.
Once all the selections were done, it was time to start the show. The dinner at French Laundry as you would expect is a large production. A big crew of staff members will keep serving you course after course of perfectly plated food, clean up the dirty dishes, refill your water and your drinks, replace the silverware all in such a perfectly executed synchronized production, you will never be in want of anything. There will never be a moment where you will be looking around to make eye contact with a staff member to ask for water or the way to the restroom or anything like that. They will know what you are thinking at any moment, without ever making you feel like you are being watched or being hovered over. You are really paying for the whole experience here, not just the food.
But obviously, no amount of good service can fix bad food. Fortunately, there is nothing called Bad food at French Laundry. Everything you have will blow you away, all you need is a great appetite. Just sit back and relax and enjoy the ride, let your taste buds take you on a journey of your lifetime. I loved everything we had, so I am just going to show you what we had without getting into elaborate details about every course. Frankly, my food adjective vocabulary won’t be sufficient if I started describing each of these courses in detail.
Our amuse bouche at French Laundry and at Per Se last year were the same – The signature Salmon cornets…
..and perfect little warm bites of French gougères.
Once our palates were beautifully teased with these tiny bites, the courses started arriving. First was the Oysters and Pearls , another classic Thomas Keller dish that you might be familiar with if you have his cookbook. “Sabayon” of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar.
For the next course, we had a choice between A Hawaiian hearts of Palm salad and a Foie Gras. The foie gras was at a $30 supplement. But when you pay so much for dinner, another $30 doesn’t sound like anything, and also how can you not have Foie Gras at the French laundry? So we both went for the Moulard Duck Foie Gras Au Torchon – with Pickled Asian Pear Relish, celery, Parsnip Puree and Vanilla Scented Sauternes reduction. This was served with a slice of warm brioche, the lightest, flakiest brioche I’ve ever had, which was promptly replaced with another hot off the oven piece as we got half way through this course. Foie gras must be enjoyed on a warm piece of bread, they won’t let you have it any other way! This course also came with three types of salts to sprinkle on the pâté, which really brought out the flavor of the foie gras.
By the end of this course I’ve had two glasses of wine and I was in my happy place as you can see.
The pictures so far were taken without a flash, so as to not disturb the other patrons. But at this point I was a little tipsy to care about others and out came the flash. Luckily nobody said a word, I was very discreet though, just one click per plate.
For the first seafood course, there were two options in the menu. We decided to get one of each so that we get to taste both. I went for the Dungeness Crab “Glacage” with Bacon, potato, Romaine Lettuce and black winter truffle.
Siv got the Florida coast Pompano Amandine with Green crapes, Belgian Endivesm Cilantro Shoots and Madras curry Gastrique.
The next Seafood course was Sweet Butter Poached Maine Lobster Mitts with Foie Gras Confit, Nantes Carrots, Tokyo Turnips and Consommé Bordelaise.
We had a choice between the rabbit and squab for the first meat course, and we both went for the Rabbit. The double fried their take on fried chicken. Jambonette De Lapin with Sunchockes, sweet peppers, olives and green garlic.
The next meat course was Snake River Farms “Calotte de Boeuf Grillee” aka grilled beef with Brisket Ravioli, black trumpet mushrooms, artichokes, San Marzano tomatoes and Spanish Caper Jus.
Next came the cheese course “Forsterkase” – Brussels Sprouts, Royal Belnheim Apricot, Pickled Pearl Onions and Dijon Mustard. The only course where I didn’t clean up my plate. Frankly I just didn’t like the Brussels sprouts – cheese pairing, I left two of the sprouts in my plate, my only leftovers from the whole night.
Next course was the palette cleanser – Marshall Farm’s Wildflower Honey Sorbet with chilled Hibiscus-Pink Peppercorn consommé and poached rhubarb and basil seeds.
And then came the desserts. Out of the two choices I went with the fruit option – Delice Aux Pistaches with Shiso gelee, Lemongrass Cremeux and Granny Smith Apple Sorbet.
Siv went for the Chocolate Mousse- Coeur De Guanja Mousse Aux Chocolate with Mascarpone cream, chocolate financier, Sour Michigan cherries and Almond Milk Sphere. And I also got my birthday cake, a tiny tiramisu adorned with a tiny lit candle.
After this was supposedly the Mignardises course, where they bring out a big tray of tiny petit fours. We were too full and they offered to box those up for us, just like they did in Per Se.
We were offered a tour of the kitchen as soon as we had sat down. And they hadn’t forgotten. Along with the check, we were given a big bag of goodies, pastries and the mignardises and also a copy of the menu. Then we were promptly taken into the kitchen, which looked kind of like the per se kitchen, a little smaller and busier. The flat screen TV with the live feed from the Per Se Kitchen was up on the wall, if you remember my Per Se review, we got to see its twin in their kitchen last year which had a feed of the French Laundry kitchen.
This is the current Chef de cuisine Timothy Hollingsworth who is as nice as he looks.
Our tour guide took our copy of the menu out of the bag and had the chef autograph it for us, without us even asking.
Then he offered to take our picture with the chef and asked us to get behind the counter with him. It was amazing to be there, I could feel the heat from the stove.
On the way out of the kitchen, we got to see Thomas Keller’s office, a tiny room from where Thomas (ha!) conducts all his restaurant business while he is in town, which is two weeks a month it seems. That is his wall, where some famous folks had left notes for the chef.
And that is the bag of goodies that we got to take home with us.
How do I sum up this experience? Culinary Nirvana, an orgasmic gastronomic experience? I can’t come up with the right words, but it certainly was the best day of my life, culinarily speaking of course! I don’t know how Siv is going to top this next year