Wednesday, March 12, 2008

'Epic'urean Weekend Part 3... SUNDAY The French Laundry

The French Laundry

For those of you that are unfamiliar with the French Laundry, it is located in Napa Valley, California, more specifically in the quaint, rustic town of Yountville. The French Laundry is only one of Chef//Owner, Thomas Keller's Legendary Restaurants of which he has five in California, Las Vegas & New York. The French Laundry itself was first opened in July of 1994 and quickly became a multiple award-winning Restaurant. It was modeled after the 3 Star restaurants that he apprenticed at in the French countryside. The Cuisine is American with a French influence and the Dishes are artistic and imaginative, using high quality, unique ingredients.

What fascinates me so much about Thomas Keller is that after reading Michael Ruhlman's The Soul of a Chef (a book that I highly recommend for you fellow Foodies), I learned that Chef Keller had no formal or professional training whatsoever aside from what he learned on his own as a young man working in one of his mother's restaurant kitchens in Southern Florida and as an apprentice in various kitchens abroad in the South of France. He has the highest regard for Food and everything related to what it takes to bring it from the Farm or Garden to your Plate. And today, The French Laundry as well as his restaurant, Per Se in New York are both 3 Michelin Star rated restaurants, one of the highest accolades a restaurant can achieve in the world and he is the only American Chef to have two restaurants that are 3-Star Michelin rated.
Pretty impressive, huh?

Reservations are extremely difficult to come by as you may have read in my earlier post and after trying for the past five years, I did as suggested and called 2 months to the date of when I wanted the reservation and finally scored one back in December.

So that weekend, we woke up early Sunday morning in anticipation of our Lunch at the French Laundry. We arrive in Yountville a half an hour early to stroll the gardens, but upon arrival, we were actually sat early and were led to one of the upstairs dining rooms.

After perusing the Menu, in which you are given a choice between a 9 Course Chef's Tasting Menu or a 9 Course Vegetable Tasting Menu, we made our selections for the parts of the Menu that allowed for supplemental items such as Foie Gras for an additional $30. All Tasting Menus are a fixed price of $240 per person (Service is included) and we opted for
wine pairings by the Sommelier. The Sommelier, whose name escapes me, was Parisian and when approached by him, his clever question to us was, "Would you like to stay local or do you prefer to travel?" Our suggestion to you is to definitely travel.

Rather than give complete thoughts and musings on every single Dish, I thought I would post photos of all of the Food, of which there are many, with full descriptions from the Menu. And if any of the Dishes stood out, then I will elaborate of course.

One thing that I will mention before I start is that Thomas Keller is known for his Culinary imagination behind his Dishes, and as I was writing about our FL Experience, I began to recognize and interpret some of the ideas behind some of his Fare. See if you can too.

So Here Starts Our Culinary Journey...

Our Amuse Bouche was the Signature Savory Salmon Tartare Cornet prepared with a sprinkle of Black Sesame Seeds... Simple & Delicious.

Cauliflower "Panna Cotta"
with Island Creek Oyster Glaze & Sterling White Sturgeon Caviar.

KJ & I personally enjoyed this Dish but our dining companions, JZ & JL did not as they are not fans of Caviar. I thought the combination of the saltiness of the Caviar went well with the creaminess of the Panna Cotta. This was what we had instead of Keller's Signature Dish, "Oyster's & Pearls", a play on Oysters and Tapioca Pearls with Sabayon and Caviar. *sniff*
Perhaps another time...

Salad of Yukon Gold Potato "Confite"
with Kohlrabi, English Peas & Garden Mint Vinaigrette

Hardcore Carnivore that I am, I still have an appreciation for Vegetarian Dishes from time to time and this one was a 'star' in my mind. The Potatoes, which where prepared Confite-style were tender & creamy yet fresh-tasting. A lovely Dish...

Moulard Duck "Foie Gras au Torchon" (a $30.00 supplement)
with Compressed Hosui Pears, "Granola", Watercress Leaves & "Trockenbeerenauslese" (a German/Austrian Dessert Wine) Vinegar-Wildflower Honey "Gastrique"

I am not a huge fan of the Torchon or Terrine Preparations of Foie Gras. I prefer just the simple Pan Seared style, because I love the Crispy & Creamy contrast that you get in those preps, especially when it is prepared with a nice Brioche and Fruit. In this particular case, I thought the the size of the portion of Foie au Torchon was just too much. I could not even finish it, which is a shame and I even shared it. I also was not too keen on the large, unwieldy size of the Brioche Toasts that we got to accompany it. They were tasty, but they made a huge mess on the table. I would have preferred less Foie, more Fruit and smaller Brioche.

Grilled "Pave" of Kindai Bluefin Tuna (One of my Most Memorable & probably my Favorite Dish)
with Ruby Red Grapefruit, Crosnes, a type of Japanese Artichoke) & French Laundry Garden "Tatsoi", a dark green spoon-shaped type of Asian green, that was Sauteed and added a nice Creamy Texture to the perfectly medium rare grill of the Bluefin Tuna, the Tartness of the Ruby Red Grapefruit & the interesting flavor and texture of the Crosnes. The combination of all of the flavors & textures knocked it out of the park for me. I can still taste it as I think back and am even salivating as we speak...

Sea of Japan Bigfin Squid
Globe Artichokes "a la Grecque", Spanish Caper "Pain Perdu", Sweet Peppers and Field Arugula

JL was the only one to have this Dish, as the rest of us had the Tuna, and in a nutshell, he thought it was nothing special.

Sweet Butter-Poached Maine Lobster Tail (Another Favorite for Me)
New Crop Fava Beans, Sunchokes, Marcona Almonds and Madras Curry Emulsion

This was a favorite for me and the rest of my Dining Companions as well. The Art of Poaching Lobster in Butter is a technique that Chef Keller is known for and the result is exceptional - Lobster that is extremely tender and delicate. Superb!

Four Story Hill Farm "Cuisse De Poularde"
Applewood Smoked Bacon, "Spaetzle", Savoy Cabbage, Pickled Pearl Onions & Caraway-Infused "Jus".

Not sure if i just did not 'get' this Dish, but it did not do it for me at all. The rubbery, Raw Bacon-like texture of the Chicken was strange and I did not care for it..

"Filet Mignon" of Marcho Farms Natural-Fed Veal
with Bluefoot Mushrooms, Green Garlic, Sweet Carrots & "Bearneaise Reduction"

The Ladies opted for the "Filet Mignon" naturally expecting a Filet of Beef. As I mentioned earlier, this is one thing you have to be careful with when ordering from Chef Keller's Menu because he enjoys various 'plays' on different Foods and Dishes, as in the cuts of Meats in this particular case. We were mildly surprised and enjoyed the Veal immensely.

Kuroge Beef and Black Winter Truffle "Saucisson En Croute"
Fennel Bulb, Cherry-Truffle Coulis & Garden Mache

While the Ladies enjoyed the Filet Mignon of Veal, the guys opted for the Kuroge Beef which is a breed of Wagyu Beef and they were extremely disappointed. JL said that he thought it tasted like a hot dog, in which he was not too far off the mark as Saucisscon En Croute is essentially - Sausage prepared in Pastry. Now why you would do that to a Kuroge Wagyu Beef is beyond me!

"Vacherin Mont D'Or"
Garnet Yams, "Pecan Pie" and Cutting Celery Greens

This to me was unremarkable.

Diane St. Clair Buttermilk Sherbet
with Spiced Streusel and Honey-Glazed Cranberry

I liked the Creamy, slightly Sourness of the Buttermilk Sherbet that was paired with the Crispy Spiced Streusel and the Sweet, Tartness of the Honey-Glazed Cranberry. A nice, refreshing Palette Cleanser prior to Dessert.


Valrhona Chocolate "Dobos"
Chestnut Butter, Candied Chestnuts and Brown Bread Ice Cream

Granny Smith Apple "Bavarois"
Cinnamon "Sable", Dijon Mustard Ice Cream and Crystallized Napa Valley Mustard Blossoms.

It was light, creamy & refreshing, just how I like my Desserts typically. And How beautiful is this dessert? How do they do that?...

We were not only presented with the Desserts that we chose from the Tasting Menu, but were We were given a plethora of extra Desserts & Mignardises from Creme Brulee to little Petit Fours & Cookies. A Happy Ending all around...

To sum it all up...

The Restaurant itself. Rustic, Beautiful and Subdued...
The Service. Outstanding.
The Food. The Star. Simple, Imaginative, Artistic...
The Overall Experience. Once in a Lifetime.

The Question is, would we do it again? We are not so sure. I mean, I am all for splurging on a Meal, especially if it is in a place that is as highly regarded as the French Laundry. I think that if you are spending that type of money on a Meal, then every single Dish or at least the bulk of it should be exceptional and knock it out of the park. I loved three or maybe four of the nine or so Courses, so I admit that I was a little disappointed. Although as I was writing this I did begin to learn to appreciate the artistic nature of the Dishes, as well as Keller's reverence for Food and of course, it goes without saying that the Service was impeccable. So I guess if you factor all of these things in, it was worth it. Foodies that we all are, we definitely agreed that at the very least, we are glad that we were able to experience the French Laundry.

At the end of the Weekend, we collectively agreed that this was one of, if not, the best Weekend that we had ever done in Wine Country. It truly was an 'Epic'urean weekend, or as KJ put it, it was Bacchanalian, Dionysian & straight up Gangster all in one...

All in all, when you finish your weekend with the French Laundry, you know you've got it made.

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