Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Exceptional French Laundry

I recently experienced one of my bucket list items, a dinner at The French Laundry restaurant. Recipient of three Michelin stars for ‘exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey’, The French Laundry has earned its accolades through innovative cuisine, impeccable service, elegant presentation, and an overall unforgettable dining experience.

The first challenge was figuring out how to get a reservation. I’d already made our hotel reservations at the nearby Villagio, but became concerned when I discovered online how difficult it was to secure a spot at the famed restaurant. Open Table apparently only has one or two tables available per day, reservations fill up quickly exactly two months before the desired dinner date, and it is so difficult to get through via phone to the restaurant’s host that some people call 500 times before success.

Luckily our hotel concierge came through for us. I don’t know how many spots they’re able to obtain, but I’m sure being just a few blocks away helps. I contacted her several months before our desired dinner date, and had already made our hotel reservations. I mentioned that it was a wish of mine to celebrate a milestone birthday there, pleading my case. By the way, we thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Villagio as it was comfortable, spacious, near all the great Yountville restaurants, and included a very tasty brunch and afternoon tea.

My husband Brad ordered the regular menu, while I opted for the vegetarian. Besides the nine courses listed, we received the usual bread service with several types of bread and two kinds of butter, a canape course, and many extra and welcome sweets at the very end. The canapes included a perfect, crisp little cone with creme fraiche and salmon tartare, and a little cheese puff. Each menu included some pricey supplements, but we opted out of those.

The servers showed astute knowledge of the food and drink, the observational skills of an anthropologist, and the understated service I imagine royal families expect from their staff. They knew just how much interaction and service to provide, whether diners wanted less hovering and talking as we did, or wanted to talk more about the various wines and dishes as some neighboring parties preferred. They seemed to know what we wanted before we did, anticipating, guiding, and revealing the meal’s gems.

The setting was cozy, elegant, understated, and quiet. No music played, the rooms slowly growing more animated as more diners arrived and as we consumed the excellent food and drink.

Each dish was a work of art visually, in its delivery, and of course in its flavor. Most often we could not exactly determine what all the various ingredients were, and so were grateful to receive a copy of the menus as we left. Our menus were personalized with my birthday greetings, a nice touch (and they didn’t embarrass me with any more acknowledgement of the occasion).

The meal exceeded our high expectations. The bottom line? We will fondly remember and savor the experience, and will return someday. I’m already looking forward to it.

Here are both menus, the regular first followed by the vegetarian. The menus change every day since the chefs decide at midnight what they will serve the next day based on what’s fresh from the garden across the street. That sense of adventure and uniqueness only adds to the restaurant’s well-deserved reputation.

c h e f ’ s t a s t i n g m e n u | 2 8 D e c e m b e r 2 0 1 2
6640 WASHINGTON STREET, YOUNTVILLE CA 94599 70 7.9 44.2380

“OYSTERS AND PEARLS” (Brad enjoyed this with a beer brewed with oyster shells, a perfect and unusual briny complement to the elegant starter)
“Sabayon” of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters
and White Sturgeon Caviar

Candy Cap Mushrooms, “Pain Perdu,” Sour Cherry,
Red Walnut and Mache

Young Fennel, Hass Avocado
and Citrus “Vierge”

Celery Salad, Black Truffle
and Celeriac Pureé

Potatoes “Rissolées,” San Marzano Tomato Compote,
Romaine Lettuce and Spanish Caper Jus

French Laundry Garden Crones, Broccoli, Garnet Yam,
Pomegranate and Madras Curry

Flowering Quince, Petite Onions, Dijon Mustard
and Ibérico Ham “Vinaigrette”

Champagne “Granité,” Brown Sugar Streusel
and Fresh Cream Sherbet

Pearson Farm Pecans, Cinnamon Whip
and Banana Ice Cream

MIGNARDISES (a fun and dramatic flourish to the end of the meal including macadamia toffees, hand crafted artisan chocolates, cinnamon sugar donut holes, and coffee mousse in a little demitasse cup)

t a s t i n g o f v e g e t a b l e s | 2 8 D e c emb e r 2 0 1 2
6640 WASHINGTON STREET, YOUNTVILLE CA 94599 70 7.9 44.2380

PARSNIP VELOUTÉ (incredible flavor, probably the most surprising and delicious soup I’ve had, with a creme brulee sugar coating on my spoon that dissolved as I ate)
Gros Michel Banana, Pearson Farm Pecans,
Sorrel and Noble Maple Syrup

Belgian Endive Marmalade, Black Winter Truffle,
Garden Mâche and Juniper Balsamic

Quail Egg, “Pain de Campagne,” Black Trumpet Mushrooms,
Tardivo Radicchio and Oxalis

MUSQUÉE DE PROVENCE “PORRIDGE” (the most dramatic dish I’ve ever had, including the precious black truffles revealed in a silver box, and the waitress shaving large quarter-sized slices of the truffle on top of the parmesan sauce....I was expecting 5 to 7 shavings, but she just kept going and going; it may have been 20 or more all together!)
Parmesan, Sicilian Pistachios
and Black Truffle

Cranberry Beans, Kale, Peppers, Meyer Lemon
and “Sauce Pimentón”

MASCARPONE-ENRICHED CHESTNUT “AGNOLOTTI” (the most delicious pasta I’ve ever tasted with an unbelievable combination of buttery chestnut and who-knows-what-else flavors)
Celeriac, Cutting Celery

Flowering Quince, Toasted Walnuts
and Peppercress

DASHING RANCH PEAR SORBET (packed with delicious fruit flavor, a definite wow)
“Financier au Beurre Noisette,” Candied Hazelnuts
and Asian Pear Jam

Spiced Crème Fraîche, Rum Syrup
and Manjari Chocolate Ice Cream


1 comment:

  1. This post left my mouth watering. You are so fortunate to experience such extraordinary artistry. I am amazed that the French Laundry standards have endured over such a long period of time.