Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dinner at The French Laundry

As part of a reunion vacation with Steph, Jenn, and Mel, we headed over to The French Laundry on Monday night for the meal of a lifetime...
We arrived a little early and enjoyed the lovely weather in the courtyard before heading inside.
The Awesome Lady in Charge of Making Us Happy (I'll just call her Shannon, since the whole title takes too long to type) came by and immediately made us feel comfortable and welcome. She had a fantastic dry sense of humor and kept us laughing and enjoying ourselves all night. We put ourselves in her hands for wine selections and enjoyed a fantastic sparkling wine with our amuse-bouche. These were the French Laundry standards of gougères and The Cornets...
I've made the cornets at home, but my cones never turn out quite as perfectly shaped as the ones at The French Laundry. The cone is essentially just a copious amount of butter held together with a couple tablespoons of flour and is filled with a red onion crème fraîche. The salmon tartare is, of course, perfect. I love that this is how the meal always starts here.
One additional item before our official meal started was the flaky, butter, amazing rolls from the Bouchon bakery, served with two beautiful butters. The one on the right is a locally-made small-production unsalted butter, and the one on the left is a Vermont butter whipped with fleur de sel. Both were great, but we all preferred the salted butter.
Alrighty. On to the menu... The first course (which was also the first course when Steph and I dined here 4 years ago with Stanley and Alicia) was the famous "Oysters and Pearls." This is a Sabayon of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar, and is unbelievable.
Mel's mind was definitely blown. Throughout the meal whenever another table was receiving their Oysters and Pearls, Mel would stare longingly at them and we would have to keep an eye on her to make sure she didn't run over and steal a serving from another table. Clearly, the picture below was one of the sadder sights of the evening...
There were two options on the second course. Steph and Mel went with the French Laundry Garden Strawberry Soup with Lemon Verbena Yogurt, Compressed English Cucumber, and Cilantro Shoots. This was gorgeous, and the bright lemon verbena accents took the soup to another level. (There was no sharing on this course because we were all too enamored with what we had ordered, so I'm taking Steph's word for it.) The presentation was also pretty sweet, with the soup poured over the accompanying items tableside. We all went with wines by the glass on this course, and the soup was paired with a beautiful Riesling that picked up the Riesling used in preparing the soup.
Jenn and I went with the Moulard Duck Foie Gras au Torchon with Duck "Streusel," Oregon Huckleberries, Compressed Endive, and Watercress. Mmmm... The huckleberries were perfect with the foie, which was perfect on the crunchy slabs of toasted brioche. This was paired with some late-harvest gewürztraminer that was the perfect contrast to the rich, meaty foie.
The other cool part of ordering the foie is that you are brought a selection of salts. The rectangular dish holds Jurassic salt, estimated to be over 40 million years old, which was our favorite salt on its own, but the clear winner with the foie was the Pangasinan sea salt from the Philippines. Somehow it just made the foie sing...
There were two options on the third course as well. Mel and I ordered the Truffle-Cured Kanpachi Belly with Navel Orange, Violet Artichokes, and Hazelnut Crème Fraîche. This was one of my very favorite items of the night. The kanpachi was unreal, and the toasted hazelnut and orange accents were the perfect contrast. Love.
Steph and Jenn ordered the Sautéed Fillet of Japanese Medai with Hakurei Turnips, Matsutake Mushrooms, Ginkgo Nut, and a Mizuna and Yuzu Nage. This was absolutely gorgeous, the fish was buttery and rich, the turnips were amazing, and the sauce was perfect. We did share bites on this course, and we all felt that we had chosen wisely for ourselves, which is just how you hope such things turn out.
Shannon had hooked us up with a a white that paired perfectly with both the fish course and the upcoming lobster course, and we had fun times teasing the very-cool sommelier about the fact that he broke the cork while opening the wine tableside. (He came back later to explain that he had been using another sommelier's corkscrew, which must have been the problem. Whatever you have to tell your self to sleep at night, buddy...) We had fun with him every time he came by the table for the rest of the night, particularly when we noticed that he had opened our bottle of red in the other room rather than tableside. Haha. The fourth course was Maine Lobster Tail "Pochée au Beurre Doux" with Prawn and Fennel Salpicon, Marinated 100 Tomatoes, Nicoise Olive Powder, Pommes Rouille, and a Vermouth Butter Sauce. The lobster was perfect. Really, everything was perfect. I guess that was kind of a theme for the night. As I saw the team of servers coming up the stairs (I was facing that direction), I excitedly whispered to the table "Our lobster is coming..." Shannon came over and said she thought that was hilarious, and that they hear everything. Heh. We immediately decided that there must be a bug in the centerpiece that allowed the kitchen to surveil us at all times... (Insert mental image of us tapping flower heads and whispering "Hello?" here.)
This is where things started getting crazy. There were two options on the fifth course, but we all chose the Devils' Gulch Ranch Rabbit Pressée with Hobbs' Bacon, Sweet Peppers, Golden Corn, Flageolet Beans, and Tempura-Fried Sage. Holy hell, you guys. This was amazing. So tender, delicious, well-balanced... So perfect. We were all pretty sad when it came time to take the final bites from our plates, but were cheered slightly by the absurdly awesome Cab Franc that was paired with out meat courses.
At this point we thought it would be a good idea to take a picture of our table and the large amount of glassware that was currently in place:
The sixth course of Snake River Farms "Calotte de Boeuf Grillée" with Hosui Pear, Sunchoke-Bone Marrow Purée, Spinach, and Schezuan Peppercorn Jus was un-freaking-believable. This was by far the favorite dish of the night for me, Steph, and Jenn. (Mel was still dreaming of her Oysters and Pearls, but was in love with this, as well.) You know how sometimes you'll be served an amazing dish and be blown away by the first couple bites, but then stop noticing how great it is? This was not one of those dishes. Every single bite made me stop and turn to one of my dining companions to ask "Oh. My. God. Have you tasted this???" Steph turned to us after each bite to ask "Have you tried the jus?!?! Seriously. Have you tried the jus?!?!?" The crust was a broiled-down version of the same sunchoke-bone marrow sauce that was on our plate, and the roasted pear brightened things. This was just crazy-good. I don't know how to properly express the amazingness with words...
Here's another view, in case you wanted one:
Mmmm... Anyway, on to the seventh course: Beecher's Flagship Reserve Cheddar with Apple Mille Feuille, Pecan Nougatine, and Celery. This rocked. We all love cheddar, and this was a beautiful one. The apple and cheddar were perfect together, but the bright crunch of the celery was surprisingly perfect here, as well.
The eighth course was Honeydew Melon Sorbet with Compressed Melons, "Divine Droplets" Sake Gelée, and Garden Mint. It may sound simple, but it was spectacular (and actually made Jenn's list of Top 5 Favorite Dishes of the Night). I don't know what kind of magic they're working in the garden across the street, but the mint was insane. It exploded with flavor in your mouth and had a really long, refreshing finish. I would kill to be able to grow mint like that. Literally.
There were again two options on our ninth and final course. Steph ordered the "Peanut Butter and Chocolate" with Toffee, Chocolate Ganache, and Gros Michel Banana Sorbet, which everyone (including me) was shocked that I didn't order. I'll admit to a bit of jealousy when I tasted it, even though my own dessert was extremely delicious. This was decadent and mind-blowing, in a way that no words can fully express. It was paired with a totally awesome sherry, and Steph was in heaven.
The rest of us ordered the "Peaches and Cream" with Santa Rosa Plums, Pine Nut Nougatine, and Tahitian Vanilla Bean-Basil Ice Cream, which was paired with a Muscat Frizzante. Mmmm... This was fantastic and fresh, and paired perfectly with the wine. I loved the basil in the ice cream and will be stealing that idea for my own kitchen.
That was the end of the official meal, but (as Steph and I knew from previous experience) was not the end of amazing food being placed on the table in front of us. There was a tray of truffles (the most kick-ass of which was, surprisingly, the passionfruit)...
... blueberry tarts that were so fresh and perfect...
... and, last but not least, a "genie bowl" filled with caramel-crusted perfectly-toasted macadamia nuts...
They sent us home with packets of freshly baked shortbread cookies, which we enjoyed with peaches at the Motel 6 on Wednesday night and, of course, they presented us with a tastefully designed bill (prices redacted for the faint of heart)... Totally worth it. No question.
This experience was amazing. Our one complaint the first time we dined at the French Laundry was that the atmosphere was almost a little too reverent, making us feel like we had to whisper the whole time. Between the totally-awesome Shannon and the awesome sommelier, though, we were completely at ease this time and had an amazing and fun evening. I'm not sure if we were the problem the first time (being much more intimidated by the experience at that time than Steph and I were this time), but I'm pretty sure our server was no Shannon. I'm sure she can be stuffy with the best of them when the table seems to want it, but we loved that she picked up on our vibe and had fun joking with us throughout the night. There was definitely much more laughter at the table this time around than their was the first time, and I loved that. I can tell you now that I will definitely be back someday.

1 comment:

Margaret S. said...

I can't speak. My eyes told my stomach what it saw and they have both decided to leave my body and go to the French Laundry IMMEDIATELY!!
Thanks for sharing, Emily!