I possibly haven’t blogged about our trip to the French Laundry yet because I wasn’t really sure I could do it justice. I know I still won’t, but for those out there who are saving up to go, just like we did, and are looking around on the internet for blogs and pictures of people who have gone, I will try to explain our experience as well as I know how.
Our reservation was for 7:30, but we arrived a bit early at 7:00 and took a few pictures outside. As you can see, this place is humble and charming – it really was an old laundry house a hundred or so years ago.
You have to make reservations exactly 2 months in advance from the date you want to go. We were both on the phone on redial for 4.5 hours. I actually fell asleep once on the couch and woke up, terrified that I had gotten through and that they just hung up when they heard snoring. But Matt messaged me at exactly 4.5 hours and said he got through. Elation. We couldn’t believe it. And we actually got the precise date and time we were hoping for. They only have two services a night and we wanted the later one so that we might go see the kitchen after dinner and it wouldn’t still be in the middle of service.
This is the classic napkin secured with the laundry pin. You get to keep the pin. 🙂
Matt and his dad. We sat upstairs. There are only something like 20 tables in the whole place. Upon walking in I felt so intimidated. And not because they make you feel like that – I think I just knew I was out of my element – that nothing I did would be appropriate as a response to the food we were about to enjoy. And not just the food. This whole place is at a different level of operation than anywhere I had ever been before. This is the one place where they really mean it when they talk about customer service. Maybe I felt so out of place because I’ve never been waited on in that way. Like my needs were of utmost importance to the whole staff.
Our waiter, Ruben. He was so sweet to us. And we just told him from the beginning, “Look, we don’t do this often. This is actually probably a once in a lifetime thing for us. We’re not fancy, so you may have to tip us off on how to act properly.” And he was very gracious and helped us pick out a good wine and didn’t try to sell us anything expensive. That would have been tacky and nothing of that sort goes on here.
One of the “starters.” A Gougere for each of us. I’ve made these before but they didn’t compare. Small, intensely cheesy and practically evaporates in your mouth.
Another appetizer. The classic “ice cream cone.” Salmon tartare atop a crispy tuille cone filled with red onion creme fraiche. I sometimes think about this little bite in my day-to-day and it still makes me grin. It was the most delicate crispiness and the onion and cream were magic paired with that little dab of salmon. This place takes something familiar and puts it together in a way that makes you question everything you thought you knew.
First course. “Oysters and Pearls” A standard dish at the French Laundry. The description on the menu says, “Sabayon of Pearl Tapioca with Beau Soleil Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar.” Served with a mother of pearl spoon as to not have metal clash with the delicacy of this dish. This is one of the dishes that I have a hard time describing because I can honestly not compare it and say, “well, it tasted kinda like….” Because it didn’t. It was seductively smooth, not fishy, but rather velvety and slightly sweet. It took all the restraint in the room to keep me from leaping across the table to finish the stray bits that Matt’s dad left behind. You don’t leave a molecule of food behind at this place. You just don’t.
Second Course – the second course you got to pick from two options. The Foie Gras or the Garden Tomato Salad. While we didn’t care much about getting a salad, we both knew that 1.) a salad here would be fantastic and 2.) we couldn’t justify BOTH eating the foie gras. So I ordered the foie and Matt got the salad and we shared bite for bite. The foie gras came cold with 3 different salts to experiment with (see to the right in the little metal dishes) and warm brioche to spread it on like butter. For those who don’t know, foie gras is fattened duck liver. This, however, tasted nothing of the metallic sort of liver you may have had in the past. It tasted like a rich, nutty butter spread. It came with honey poached cranberries, chestnuts, celery branch and banana bread puree.
Matt’s second course option. “Romain Lettuce, Hass Avocado and Horseradish “Creme Fraiche” See, this place isn’t just about impressing you with fancy dishes. Anyone can make a salad. But it is taking the best of what you have – in their case, this dish came from their garden across the street – and offering it up in the best way possible. Doing things properly was a resounding theme in this evening.
The pretzel roll and the two butters – one salted and one sweet cream. They brought fresh bread in between each course.
For the third course, we again, got to choose from two options. It was the fish course and I ordered this – Crispy-Skin Japanese Suzuki “Globe Artichokes, Wilted Arugula, Nicoise Olive Crumbs and Meyer Lemon Pudding.
Matt chose the “Sashimi” of Pacific Kanpachi – Akita Komachi Rice, Pine Nuts, Tokyo Turnips, Mizuna and Umeboshi “Gastrique” We made sure to always order what the other didn’t so that we could try absolutely everything on the menu.
This was the fourth course. Called Beet and Leek. Maine Lobster Tail poached in butter with King Richard Leeks, “Pommes Maxims” (aka potato chips) and Red Beet Essence. I am not a connoisseur of lobster, I have rarely had it, but this was incredible. The leek puree was a mild buttery onion flavor and the beet essence was dense and slightly tart. We’ve heard that if you don’t like a certain food, the French Laundry is the place to like it. True for beets!
Fifth course – We again got to choose between two. I chose this: Wolfe Ranch White Quail, Brussels Sprouts, Pecans and Brown Butter Sauce
Matt chose: Rouelle de Tete de Cochon (literally, hog’s head) “Haricots Verts (green beans) Poached Quail Egg, Frisee Lettuce and Sauce Gribiche. This is no time to be squeamish about food. I know, I know-hogs head. But honestly, it was probably some cheek meat and tongue and other various tasty tender bits, all fried into a little round and the quail egg on top, when cut into, transformed the dish into a sort of “bacon and eggs” taste. Only multiplied by 1000.
Sixth Course – the steak course. Mishima Ranch Beef Sirloin – Golden Chantrelle Mushrooms, Garlic “Pain Perdu,” Glazed Carrots, Watercress Leaves and “Sauce Bordelaise” I love it that they didn’t ask us how we’d like our steak cooked. They simply cooked it right. 🙂 I think if you want your steak done “well” you should go to Golden Coral. That little half-moon thing is the “pain perdu” which was a garlic flavored spongy toast. Went really well with the flavor of the beef.
Seventh Course – cheese course. “Haystack Peak” Jacobsen’s Farm Figs, Fennel Bulb, Jingle Bell Peppers and Parsley Shoots. They brought out fresh bread to spread the cheese.
Eighth course – Jacobsen’s Farm Apple Sorbet – cream yogurt and ginger foam. This was like being punched in the face with a whole bag of apples and pears. We thought it was pear because the sweet tang and crisp bite was just like one. The cream yogurt was so nice as a break from the tartness of the sorbet and the ginger foam rose it to that level of not being able to adequately describe it. Matt’s dad said that this was his favorite course of the night. Even in light of what he said was the best lobster he had ever eaten. Guess that just shows how you don’t have to have anything complicated for it to be good.
Ninth Course – Dessert! Another section where you got to choose between two. I chose the candied Cashew Nut Tart – Salted Cashew Ice Cream and Concord Grape Jam. It was kind of like peanut butter and jelly from Mars. The salted cashew ice cream was divine.
Matt chose the Delice au Chocolat et a la Menthe – basically a chocolate-mint ice cream sandwich.
So that was the end of the official menu. They of course, brought by some “freebies” that included creme brulee for me and a raspberry panacotta for Matt. When my creme brule was empty, the bottom was speckled black with vanilla bean. Luxurious.
They also brought a tray of truffles by. By this point, I honestly was so stuffed that I couldn’t even think about eating one. Although I wanted to. So bad. And I expressed this anguish to our waiter and so he graciously (for all of us) boxed up one of each, plus some house made short bread cookies and so we all got a “goodie bag” to take home.
After dinner, we went outside and as I took pictures from outside through the window at the kitchen, we heard a voice say, “Hey! You guys wanna come inside?” It was the chef de cuisine, Cory Lee (the chef when Keller isn’t there) and he took us inside to show us around. They were still busy plating desserts (at 11:30 at night – remember we got there at 7:00) but not a sound was heard in the kitchen. Chefs quietly talking, plating and cleaning up after themselves. Sparkly, well run and impressive.
They also had a live-feed of Keller’s restaurant in NY, Per Se. So they can always see what the other restaurant is up to during service.
And second, a clock with “sense of urgency” written underneath
Again, this wasn’t something I could compare to anything else. And it’s not like I went away only thinking about the food we ate. While that is the point of the restaurant, I felt more than just the taste, there was a message being conveyed that was all about doing ones’ trade with integrity. This is how I felt being here. Like everyone just “got it” and had such pride in what they did and that the food was respected. I left with a conviction to be this way about whatever it is in my life I want to put out there for others to enjoy or consume. You’ve got to respect yourself and your product and someday you’ll own the French Laundry. Or something similar. 🙂 For those faithful foodies who read to the end, if you ever get to go here, I hope you post as long as I have. When we were looking around for pictures of people who went to the FL, we always wished for lots and lots of images and descriptions to get us excited. So that’s what this was.