Saturday, December 8, 2007

The French Laundry aka the reason you go spend Thanksgiving in San Francisco...

well ok, the real reason for your (or my in this case) trip to San Francisco may be to visit a dear friend and take her to The French Laundry for lunch as a long overdue birthday gift... But what is the French Laundry some of you may ask, the answer being that it's Thomas Keller's three Michelin star restaurant in Yountville, CA (that would be in the Napa Valley). And the earliest day you can make a reservation is exactly 60 days before you want to go, and believe me, in order to get a reservation, you'd better call on the dot 60 days before you want to go, preferably starting your dialing before 10AM and just redialing until you get through, because if you start at 10:03 or 10:12 or any other time during the day, you'd better believe that those tables will be gone. This is how we did it, on September 25th for November 25th.

It's funny because the building is a lot less imposing and big than it appears to be in the picture on their website. But I suppose that makes sense if you consider that there are only 16 tables in the restaurant seating 60 or so people for each service. Overall it was just about the kind of experience you would expect in such a highly rated restaurant, except for the fact that it was overly austere. Everyone seemed to be whispering, I think we may have been the loudest table and we're not exactly rowdy gals, and it was much more formal overall than I expected it to be, given that it is California and the Napa Valley. Judging from others' experiences at FL, it may also have been due to the nature of the people at the tables around us. The clothespin holds the napkins folded together and the restaurant is named so because the building used to house a French Laundry.

The menu was a nine-course tasting menu of course, although you could actually choose between two different tasting menus, one traditional and the other vegetarian, and if there was something you really didn't care for in one menu, you could ask for a substitution from the other menu. Since I wasn't crazy about eating panna cotta as a mandatory first course (and since Chlöe and I had already agreed that when there were two options we wouldn't get the same thing so we could taste each other's and therefore taste the whole menu), I asked for a substitution from the vegetarian menu which came in the form of Valley Oak Acorn "Flan" with Compressed Fuyu Persimmons and Black Truffles. It was quite unusual and apparently takes about three days to make because you have to roast the acorns and blanch them and then do other things to them and so on and so forth...

Thomas Keller wasn't there that day because he'd gone to the "Relais et Châteaux" annual big dinner in Washington, D.C., so his sous-chef was presiding. I had a long chat with my father later about how tasting menus are actually a cheaper alternative to à la carte menus for restaurants like this because the kitchen essentially becomes an assembly line, albeit, a delicious one. Everything was very good, although I'm not sure I agree with giving guests brioche as their first piece of bread because it is filling. We started with amuse-bouche of cheese gougères and the salmon and crème fraîche cornets for which Thomas Keller is famous and they were both lovely, especially the cornets which I would love to make at home (guess I might have to snag that recipe from the FL cookbook). The dishes were balanced and dosed such that we did not feel full until it came time for the desserts, but I do think that after the desserts the mignardises became too much as we were both feeling a little overwhelmed with how full we suddenly felt. In addition to the desserts we were offered a mini crème brulée and lemon crème, coffee, almonds covered in chocolate and perhaps coconut (I don't remember exactly), and then a platter of freshly made chocolates in various flavors (I could only take one banana-cream filled chocolate to taste as I couldn't possibly eat anything else). The blue ribbon in the top picture was tied around four butter cookies which they gift you as you leave. We shared a half bottle of white wine and then a half bottle of red wine. The only other thing to note is that some of their wines are incredibly marked up, I don't think I've seen such high mark-ups before.

If you go make sure to leave yourself plenty of time, it takes about 3 hours to go through the entire meal. Apparently, we could have taken a break in the middle of the meal to walk around the garden but the weather wasn't very nice so it didn't occur to us, and we could have asked to take a tour of the kitchen at the end of our meal, but I didn't know that was possible, which I would have loved to do, so maybe next time...
Here is the menu as I'm not sure you would be able to read it from the pictures (stars denote my preferences since I tasted everything):

The Amuses-bouche are not listed on the menu but again, were the
Cheese Gougères and the Salmon Crème Fraîche Cornets

Cauliflower "Panna Cotta"
with Beau Soleil Oyster Glaze
and Sterling White Sturgeon Caviar
*French Laundry Garden Tokyo Turnips
Jacobsen's Farm Flowering Quince Purée, Toasted Marcona Almonds,
Dijon Mustard and Watercress
Moulard Duck "Foie Gras au Torchon"
Satsuma Mandarins, Sunchokes, Shaved Burgundy Truffles
and Mâche (his was accompanied by 3 kinds of salt to sprinkle on the foie gras)
Sautéed Atlantic Striped Bass
Swiss Chard Ribs "en Ravigote," Niçoise Olive Emulsion
and San Marzano Tomato Compote
*Summer Flounder "Carpaccio" and Santa Barbara Sea Urchin
Broccolini, Fennel Bulb, Pickled Pearl Onions
and Juniper Berry-Tynant Water "Mousse" (which I actually think should have been called foam)
Sweet Butter-Poached Maine Lobster Tail
"Matignon" of Sweet Carrots, Salsify, Chestnuts and Celery Branch
with Tahitian Vanilla and Diane St. Claire Butter (which is actually the butter we were served as table butter and which was probably the best butter I've tasted in the US)
Four Story Hill Farm "Poularde"
Marble Potatoes, Black Trumpet Mushrooms,
Savoyard Spinach and Madra Curry "Jus"
*Corned Marcho Farm Veal Tongue
Musquée de Provence Pumpkin, Roasted Cipollini Onion,
Bacon "Lardons" and Blis Maple Syrup-Aged Sherry Vinegar Sauce
Bouillon-Poached Elysian Fields Farm Lamb Ribeye
Crispy Golden Polenta, Baby Globe Artichokes,
Piquillo Peppers and Caramelized Garlic
Andante Dairy "Acapella" (we were served a goat cheese)
Fuyu Persimmon Pudding Cake, Toasted Pecans,
Ceylon Cinnamon and Frisée
Feijoa Sorbet
with Maui Pineapple Relish and Angel Cake
Cashew Nut "Parfait," Caramel "Délice"
and "Sauce à la Guimauve Flambée"
*"Charlotte aux Poires et aux Dattes"
Bartlett Pear Sorbet, "Japonais," Candied Hazelnuts
and Pear Coulis

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Anonymous said...

OHMIGAWD!!!!!! This sounds amazing!

Chloe said...

Chloe here--just to reiterate that the St. Clair butter from Animal Farm in Orwell, Vermont, was one of the very best best best things about the meal. Yeah, the butter was *that* good.

Katy said...

i am too jealous for words!!! i bet it was incredible!

Wanna B Thin 2 said...

Chloe, thanks for recommending the butter. I'll have to try to purchase some.

Heather said...

It sounds so relaxing to be able to visit with a friend and eat for 3 hours.

Jeanne said...

Oh. my. This is why the French laundry is still on my bucket list :)

Kat said...

Thanks for the heads up about the kitchen tour!

Sari said...

Sounds wonderful.

denie heppner said...

haiti. ;)

Ted said...

Leaving a comment for Haiti.

Anonymous said...

comment comment. thanks for the good work.

Anonymous said...


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