Sunday, May 18, 2008

My Dream Come True- French Laundry

For a number of years I have had dining at the French Laundry as #1 on my list of restaurants I have to got dine at before I can never eat again. This is no simple feat in that first I had designate a specific date to get to the Napa Valley (Yountville),convince my husband that this would make me so very happy, get a reservation, convince my husband that this would be an ultimate dining experience, get time off from work, convince my husband that it would be worth every dime, and finally get a reasonable hotel reservation for the designated date.

On March 17th, 2008 at 10:00am, I set up two cell phones and a land line to start dialing the French Laundry reservation desk. Yes, reservations can only be made as early as 60 days to the date you wish to dine and this line is very hard to get through on. Luckily I was giving blood that morning which allowed me time while pumping blood and recovering to dial and redial and redial until 2 hours later I got through to be placed on hold listening to a pre-recorded message giving the rules for making a French Laundry reservation. I was on hold for about 10 minutes when finally I got through to a human. I needed a table for three(my husband,son and me). This presented a slight problem because there are limited four person tables which meant we would only have three dining thus wasting one seat. I was allowed to make the reservation but cautioned that it would be ok to add one person, but if I need to decrease to two, I would lose the reservation. You must hold the reservation using a credit card. If you do not cancel prior to a specifed date, your card would be charged $100 per person.

The only time available was an 1115 am lunch but I could request to be wait listed for a dinner reservation (which I didn't get but that's ok- I got a reservation).

Not sure what was going on in Napa, Yountville or St. Helene that weekend, but reasonable hotel reservations presented another problem. I finally found accomodations which was challenging considering that I started looking more than 7 weeks before the dinner reservation.

I present all the above just to re-enforce how important to me it was to dine at the French Laundry. I hope it is ok to quote the 2008 Zagat Guide on the America's top restaurants.

"Thomas Kellers magnum opus" in Yountville may be "famous for being famous but consider yourself royalty if you land a table" at this "haute" French-New American "gastronomic experience" that's "expensive" enough "for three lifetimes" and "fantastic" enough to "halt all conversation"; foodies with four hours on their hand....."prepare for orbit" as each course on the menu arrives...

There is a strict dress code which includes a jacket requirement for gentlemen. Because temps in the area were 90 degrees plus, this was waived this particular weekend. My guys brought one anyway.

The menu at the French Laundry changes daily and the lunch menu is different from that day's dinner menu. The lunch menu has a focus on the classics and per our table captain, many of the dishes may be found in the French Laundry cookbook along with some new very creative items. There are only two choices in the prixe fixe menu- chef's choice and vegetarian. There are upgrades available at an additional supplement to the prixe fixe price. Of course the upgrades add another level of genious to the regular choices.

There are some perks which can be requested/added such as Thomas Keller's famous doughnuts cappuchino semifreddo with cinnamon sugar. After verification from the kitchen, our table captain informed us we would be able to get these doughnuts. From my photos, you may note, this is the only item I missed getting a photo of.

I was also told by some fellow bloggers that you can also request a tour of the kitchen at the completion of the meal. Because my son's roomate is doing an externship at the French Laundry, we were offered the tour without asking. (Table captain knew this because my son told her during our initial pre dinner getting acquainted period).

Ok, so we are now at the French Laundry. We were seated in the upstairs dining area. The only choice we made for dining which I wouldn't do again was to order so many wine pairings. It was very hard to drink so much wine and it ain't cheap.

Lunch is now served.

Our first item was the Salmon Tartare with Sweet Onion Creme Fraiche

Califlower Panna Cotta with California White Sturgeon Caviar
see French Laundry cookbook page 22

Special caviar spoon

We then had a choice of either a Salad of Asparagus and Brooks Cherries or Moulard Duck Foie Gras Torchon (with a upgrade supplement). We all chose the foie gras. It was suggested that the foie gras be spread on the very tasty toast provided. What was extraordinary was that midway through eating the foie gras we were served a fresh warmed replacement of the butter brioche bread to assure the foie gras was eaten with warmed bread. G burst a smile at this action. what service and attention to detail.

Choice of Sauteen Fillet of Line Caught Atlantic Black Bass or
Citrus-cured Pacific Kahala. G and I chose the bass, Tony chose the Kahala


Next came the Sweet Butter Maine Lobster Tail (Perfectly cooked by simmering in sweet butter)

All along we are served bread choices with two types of butter.
one an unsalted butter from a local dairy. The other a whipped butter source I don't remember the source.

All day braised Kurobuta Pork Belly- yum!

Another choice with an upgrade supplement.
Elysian Fields Farm Lamb Ribeye (my choice)or Grilled Pave of Kuroge Beef From Shiga(similar to Kobe beef) choice of G and Tony. The ribeye was exceptional but the Kuroge beef was to die for. The guys gave me a taste. Oh my God how tender, flavorful and almost orgasmic.

Lamb Ribeye

Kuroge Beef

Cheese Plate was named Gabietou

Diane St. Claire Buttermilk Sherbert

Doughtnuts (no photo- not sure why I forgot to document such an exceptional doughnut. See the cookbook as it was served exactly like that.)

Choice of dessert, we all selected the Lingot de Chocolat En mousse de Malt Croustillante with a popcorn glace. We were told that the popcorn glace was made by taking buttered popcorn infused in milk, filtered, sweetened and then frozen. Sounds odd, but it was exceptional with the chocolate mousse.

...and then all sorts of sweet treats called Mignardises started showing up

After 4 hours of dining, we were given a packet of shortbread cookies to take home. Feeling very gluttonous we took our kitchen tour, headed back to the hotel and crashed.

See my Flickr Photos for additional photos


maltese parakeet said...

i'm so jealous! thanks for sharing the experience - it looks like you really enjoyed yourself.

Deborah Eley De Bono said...

Wow! Just all the prep for the trip was amazing. This looks like an experience of a lifetime that you will talk about again and again.

Did you learn anything? A different way to prepare something you've never thought to do or a pairing of wine you'd like to try again?

Glad you got to realize your dream.

barb said...

all I can say is WOW!!!!!!!! what an amazing experience for a foodie such as yourself. The photos are magnificent - it just seems like we were there with y'all.........oh how I wish ;)

sylvie1950 said...

One thing which was proven over and over again was the wealth of creativity of Thomas Keller and his staff. The perfection in presentation and the care that went into every aspect of each dish. I don't think that preparing any of the courses would be an easy feat. The prep steps were obviously extraordinaire. For example, the simple red bell pepper was finely diced into very tiny exact portions. The tornades of turnip and radish was exact. The pork belly was fantastic. A combination of smoky favor, crisp outside texture and tender morsels of meat. Who would have thought. G who doesn't appreciate the fine prep that went into it wanted to call it simply thick bacon, which I overlooked as his undeveloped palate.

The use of locally farmed ingredients was highlighted along with the meat sources which included earth friendly, organically raised and were politically correct (except the foie gras which is outlawed in places like Chicago.)

More than anything, you can not eat like this all the time. Rich, lots of fat and highly caloric.

I emphasize that the wine pairings were nice but very hard to enjoy because of the quantity of booze you had to consume. I did find that the pairings did compliment each course, but that was overkill for me. We chose to have local wines which were nice and which we could purchase ourselves. Corkage here is $50 per bottle which if you bring your own would be a great cost savings.

Anonymous said...

I'm speechless. That was an awesome looking meal. Wish I could have shared it with you guys.

GirlyFruFru said...

Great looking food!!

Anonymous said...

Oh thank you so much posting all the pictures and the descriptions! Wonderful!

Hubby and I will have an opportunity to go in January and it is something I am so looking forward to.

I cannot begin to image how inspiring your experience must have been. I, too, am a huge foodie and personal chef. I so envy your adventure there.

sylvie1950 said...

Denise you will truly enjoy it. Lunch menu was great but I hear the dinner menu has more unique new courses compared to the classics on the lunch menu. Start dialing at 10 am PST, 60 days exact before you want to go and don't give up.