Monday, August 25, 2008

The long awaited Review: French Laundry

MARCH 24, 2007

Much time has passed and many meals eaten since my visit to "Culinary Paradise"... the #1 restaurant in all the United States, the mecca of culinary goodness, The French laundry. I have been meaning to write about it, blog, review, call it what you want; I finally have found the motivation and platform to do so.

Our visit began January 24th, at 9:50 am to be exact. That was the time that I had prepared my cell phone, my work phone which consits of 3 lines, Terry's and Angie's cell phones, every line we could operate. I had the number dialed into every line so I could just hit redial.

I got through on the line until about 9:59 which is when the chaos began. It was busy and stayed busy as I held the cell phone in one hand and the office phone in the other, juggling to hit redial on every line. We did this non-stop until 10:20 am when the magic happened; finally, a ring tone!

I was then put on hold for about 10 more minutes. By the time the receptionist finally spoke with me they only had lunch reservations available, fine with me! We took the March 24th date at 12:30 and we were set for 3 people! Whew!

The 2 months thereafter seemed like forever and at the same time flew by, I love it when that happens. There was so much anticipation I had for the event, it was almost better than actually going! Finally the day arrived.

We arrived a bit early to the "Laundry" as we call it. Immediately we were greeted by a door man, followed by a coat man, then the hostess. From there we were asked if we would like to be seated immediately or rather linger a bit. I do remember the overwhelming feeling or nervousness, of sheer panic almost. I was like a little kid, eager and scared, anxious and yet ready to run at the same time. I was definitely sweating up a storm I felt like. I was fully dressed and we were definitely the youngest in the joint.

We were taken to our table which was the first room to the right, downstairs, immediately following the walkway to the kitchen. It was the room which looked into the wine cellar of the worlds finest wines, a room filled by stone walls yet with a wonderful feeling of natural light.

The waiter came and introduced himself: Bob was our guy. He was a character, a little up tight at first as I think they feel their clientele out for their demeanor, but once he got comfortable with us was a charm. We started with a bottle of champagne while they brought the classic Salmon Tartare cornet.... I have made these prior at my home, straight from the book. I must say that they are truly a lot of work considering the time consuming efforts and patience one must have to complete each individual cornet, working it while hot to form the mold. They were delicious! Every little bite filled with extreme flavor and texture, crispy, creamy, cold. It was all there.

Next they followed with the homemade bread. I must say that to date I think this may have been the very best single piece of bread I have ever eaten, absolutely amazing, and I was quite impressed with something so simple, I laughed! It was the round Boule which I did not capture a photo of, but highly recommend to anyone going there!

Bob then came by and took our orders: 3 Tasting menus it would be... If I had know then to ask for the extended menu I would have, but I was young and inexperienced? Lol.. next time. They then brought the signature Gourgeres made with gruyere. Delicious and so much smaller than I would have imagined them to be and much smaller than those I have ever made personally. Light and airy while still being able to maintain the creaminess and cheesiness!

I had decided that I didn't have the fat wallet to afford to buy 3 bottles of high quality wine therefore we brought our own bottles.... the first was a 2480 Hollywood Vine Chardonnay. It is a great bottle of wine which is normally on their menu for I think it was $240 but they were fortunately out of it, therefore we were able to bring ours in and have it corked for a mere $50 fee! Ouch, but much cheaper than buying the bottle!

Next another signature dish came, I think this came while we were still enjoying the Champagne, as that would make the most sense. It was the Cauliflower panna cotta with oyster glaze and Caviar. I have never liked caviar and I sure did not expect to start. But I was so surprised when I fell in love with the flavors of the dish. I truly learned to appreciate the greatness of good caviar and learned an appreciation that day! I am very lucky to have experienced that and was stoked to have liked it!

Our official first course came after this. It was a delicately constructed salad of Sacramento Delta Asparagus spears, Meyer lemons, Golden Beets, Golden Beet hash and a meyer lemon aioli. This was light, earthy, citrus-ee, truly a delicious course unexpectedly so. The beet hash was so amazing I fell in love with it. It also exhibited a truly skilled hand with the knife, the hash was so finely brunoised that I was truly impressed. The dish was a star to begin with, and it was one which we thought would pass without much notice.
Traditionally the next dish is the Foie Gras option. I opted to pass and instead went with the Kampachi dish. It was thinly sliced and folded into ribbons with perfection. It was paired with red turnips, hearts of palm, celery stalks, micro cilantro, small round balls of beets, madras date curry emulsion and again a hash of some sort, I will have to check my notes as I am writing this from my memory and the photos! The dish was excellent, the fish was extremely fresh and silky smooth, and very cold. The madras date curry emulsion was very good, again an unexpected pairing that really worked excellent together. Overall this dish was right in line with the flow of the meal thus far. Following was a Lobster tail, "cuite en sous vide" or rather cooked sous vide. Butter poached, forget about it, rather, take your lobster tail and cook with butter to perfection in a sous vide bath while obtaining the perfect texture and doneness! Viola, a perfect piece of Lobster. And this was no exception at all. This lobster was excellent, paired with cippolini onions nicely caramelized, a hazelnut and sunchoke puree I believe. Again back to my notes to double check and I will update. The sauce was a coffee and chocolate sauce. The dish was probably my least favorite of the night but still remained excellent!
Following the Lobster came my favorite dish of the evening. This dish evolved as the single dish that changed myself and my perspective of food incredibly throughout the meal. It was the one dish that I could not let go of and that I found great motivation in. It was perfect. Quite possibly the best thing I can remember eating. I had never tasted pork so delicious, so tender and succulent, so crispy and textured, so flavorful. No this was new to me as was the rest of the combinations thus far, the flavors, the ideas and techniques involved in creating them. But this dish, the best of the night. It is what lit the flame to my infatuation with this meat which I adore. It was Kurobuta pork belly cooked Sous Vide. I am sure they cook it for 36 hours or so. Just a guess. I am also assuming that they brine the meat as well, something with some brown sugar, honey, salt, apple cider? Peppercorns, herbs, thyme.... etc etc... all speculation and what I could taste coming through, or what I would and have done to execute such a perfect dish myself. The belly was seared to a perfect crisp on top. The inside perfectly cooked, tender and juicy, full of flavor! The puree of apples and vanilla was magical and the creaminess and sweetness paired wonderfully with the saltiness of the pork. The caramelized apple slice, great addition with some fruitiness and acidity, and lastly the braised cabbage finished with champagne vinegar I believe. All the elements were present, salty, sweet, hot, cold, tart, crispy, silky smooth, all of it and more. This dish luckily, was not the favorite of Mom and Angie due to the fat content. I was lucky enough to finish all 3 dishes and still wanted more! It was the one dish worth the entire trip to the "Laundry". Kudos to Corey Lee for this was perfection on a plate and something I relished in!

Following a dish like that is like being on vacation in Hawaii, then someone telling you they are taking you on vacation again, this time to the most beautiful place in the world, but you end up in TJ. Well ok that was corny, but you get the drift, hard to follow. However, they did a pretty darn good job at the progression of the meal as I have stated previously, keeping everything timed just right, keeping the orchestrated touches on all the dishes, the composure and restraint in flavors and in portions sizes, the whole bit. Next we had a Kobe Beef, it was actually American Kobe or Wagyu, from Snake River Farms. Ok so I led you on a bit, this dish was absolutely amazing and again taught me something new. It was a Rib Cap, off the rib eye. It was perfectly cooked Sous Vide I am assuming here, due to the perfect butteriness of the meats texture, the perfect medium rare without being too bloody, and a beautiful crisp or sear on the outside. It was a brilliant piece of meat, one that only a man like Thomas Keller can actually order I am assuming. You will never be able to find a butcher willing to let his rib eye caps go without the entire rib eye. It is the very best piece of the steak and it is very small as well. This dish was prepared with Hen of the Woods mushrooms, or maitake. Th earthiness and texture of these magnificent mushrooms really stood out and held up to the complexity of the meat. There was a broccolini puree and turnips I believe, finished with a black truffle jus. This dish was spectacular!This was another dish that I finished all 3, Mom and Angie not caring the meat and its rare-ness!

Ok by this point I am stuffed. I just finished all of the last two dishes and I don't eat that much usually. I am not a particularly large person, actually not at all.... 5'11" and about 160lbs soaking wet.... So we really needed an intermission... we began to take our time. I failed to mention that we were already on our 3rd bottle of wine by this point.

When the cheese course came out it was beautifully plated. San Marzano tomato compote I believe, Panisse and a firm goat's milk cheese which was a hard cheese, cannot remember name as of now. Again to my detailed notes I took and the menu I took home! Paired with balsamic reduction, was very good dish.

Ok so then dessert started. First was a cleaner or transitioning dish. A wonderful rhubarb sorbet, sweetened yogurt, a cardamon scented financier, a sugar disc tuile and some orange peel candied. Then we got two desserts, one was the pistachio cake with green tea mousse and white chocolate mousse. This later was a play directly from the Claire Clark Dessert book. It was paired with an amazing passion fruit gelee, and some very dark chocolate. Next was a baked meringue, a play on a baked alaska. It had compressed pineapple and was not our favorite dessert. Last they brought out lemon pot de creme, and creme brulee. We had orange tuiles and the traditional tray of truffles and mignardises. Whew... a lot of food! Now I am thinking I may be lucky I did not order the extended menu!
Overall the dinner or lunch took 4 1/2 hours, 1 bottle of champagne, 1 bottle of white wine, 2 bottles of red wine, a ton of money and a priceless experience. I cannot wait to go back! It was absolutley amazing, something everyone must do once, save your pennies it is truly worth them all! See you at the Laundry, or better yet at one of my dinners, they be the best bargain in the state for food like this!


chefjohnpaul said...

Only place you can drop $500 for two for lunch and perceive it as a value!~ They really should call it the cleaners.........

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