Monday, December 7, 2009

The French Laundry, Could It Get Better?

It is nearing 3 years since our first and previous visit with The French Laundry. Another visit was long past due. As I considered how far my cuisine has come and evolved over the past three years, it only seemed like perfect sense to do this again. For research of course! Always good to sharpen your skills and get inspired by observing the best Chefs in the Country.

It also happened to fall perfectly on Mom's birthday weekend! So we celebrated her birthday and mine, which is next week! What a gift.

After securing a reservation for the three of us, I came to realize what a treat we were in for. Knowing that it is truffle season, I was excited! So we packed our clothes and booked a babysitter to join us for the weekend to watch the little one. Off to Yountville we went.

We had such an amazing experience previously that we were naturally concerned about our experience this time. Together we learned that when in the hands of The French Laundry, there is nothing to worry about.

Dinner was truly amazing, something that I could appreciate so much more, knowing the technique and recognizing the skill and refinement that went into the entire production. I picked up some great inspiration and new techniques. So inspiring.

Amuse Bouche: Gougeres, Salmon Tartar

The Gougere seemed smaller and lighter than I previously remember, with the slightest nuance of nutmeg if you will. Extremely warm and meltingly smooth with cheese.

The salmon was so very fresh, cut with such precision, like a surgeon yielding a scalpel over a patient. The lingering acidity of the lemon in the creamy creme fraiche left salvation on our palates.

Cauliflower Panna Cotta, Island Creek Oyster Glaze, California Sturgeon Caviar
What can I say, truly amazing and classic pairing. Rich, so luxurious, and perfect.

Amazing Pain Au Lait, compressed adante butter was amazing, cheese-like richness and texture. My understanding was that they compress the butter with cheese cloth.

"Moulard Duck Foie Gras En Terrine, Quince Relish, Duck Confit, Cornichons, Watercress"
A revelation for me. Foie Gras, the best I have ever seen & taste executed.
The first thing that struck me was just how small or dainty this seemed. Again, such delicate execution, such care taken. The duck confit added a great textural variance, and the pairing was great with the quince, dijon and cornichon. The Brioche was the lightest I had ever seen. As standard, an array of exquisite & rare salts complimented this course.

Salad of Matsutake Mushroom, Tokyo Turnips, Cashew, Mizuna, Meyer Lemon
This course really got our taste buds excited. Not the biggest flavor, but the cashews were great paired with the mushrooms and the acidity really brought a great brightness.

Tartare of Japanese Bluefin Tuna, Jidori Hen Egg, Red Radish, Black Truffle, Romaine Lettuce and Celery Root Remoulade
Angie loved this dish, as she is the crudo queen. Devoured every bite without the blink of eye it seemed. It was very good. But I preferred what came next.

Confit Fillet of Atlantic Cod, Crispy Brandade, Piperade, Garlic Pudding & Parsley
The fish appeared to be put together to form a roulade using activa, though I did not ask I am pretty positive. You could see the seam if you looked close enough. Meltingly soft, rich, warm, amazing. Cooked in 2 parts canola to 1 part olive oil via sous vide. They fill the reservoir and the run the oil right through the machine I believe, at least that is what we were made to believe. The brandade was very crispy and tasted great, but the piperade and garlic brought the dish together and made it sing. So very simple and so delicious.

A Classic
"Beets & Leeks"
Maine Lobster Tail "Pochee au Beurre Doux" with King Richard Leeks, "Pommes Maxim's" and Red Beet Essence.

This dish was rich and luxurious as we noted in our notes. Simple as ever and not fussy at all. The leeks were so creamy, the lobster cooked perfect, the beets rich and velvety and the pommes executed nicely for some crunch and salt. We were very happy with this course.

Next up I splurged and ordered the white truffle tasting from Alba. They obliged and were kind enough to bring Angie and Mom another classic.
White Tuffle Infused Custard, Black Truffle Ragout, Chive Chip.

Spectacular and simple.
The loosest polenta I had ever had enriched with mascarpone cheese, a ring of the cleanest flavored rich veal jus, and white truffle shaved generously over the top. Heavenly. Divine. Can I have seconds? I will remember this dish for some years to come.

Mom opted out of the main course options which were either Rabbit or Pigs Head. Instead she subbed to the vegetarian tasting for this.
"Poached Flowering Quince, French Laundry Ham, Crispy Membrillo, Marcona Almonds, Arugula and Piment d'Espelette"
Again a great pairing, seemed rather fall like with hints of anise and almonds and almost the hint of nutmeg. House cured ham for 18 months, everything came together to form a great dish.

Sirloin of Devil's Gulch Ranch Rabbit
Sunchoke, Pine Nut, Royal Blenheim Apricot, Arugula, Aged Balsamic
So amazingly small and delicate, every bite was a gift.

Rouelle De Tete De Cochon
Tuscan Lentils, Melted Swiss Chard, Butternut Squash and Blis Maple Syrup
A great dish. Pork was perfect, tender, crunchy, hot, salty, flavorful, fatty. My problem with this dish was that the puree seemed very one note. The dish seemed one noted. I would have had liked a little more balance here. It was extremely rich but needed some acidity to balance the fattiness of the dish. Very rich. Very good however.

Elysian Fields Farm Lamb Saddle
Autumn Pole Bean Cassoulet, Tomato Compote, Petite Sale, Thyme Jus
I was pretty loving this dish. Lamb was perfect. Perfectly cooked, flavor was amazing. The cassoulet was the best bit of beans I have have ever eaten, so I was pleasantly and extremely surprised by that. Thyme jus complimented the dish great, and the tomato compote brought that sweetness and acidity to the course. Perhaps my favorite of the night. I ate 2.

Red Hawk
Caramelized Brussel Sprouts, Pickled Pear, Chestnut vinaigrette
Amazed at how well they nailed this pairing. The brussel sprouts really brought out the cheeses grassy and natural flavors. This was very good and everything a cheese course should be.

We Love Cheese. My Mom kept talking about blue cheese. The waiter heard this. So he brought us an additional cheese plate not on the menu. Here it is.
Forme D Ambert, French Prune, Hazelnuts, Compressed Endive
The endive was something I thought was special. You can see the translucency in it, all they did was compress this in water. Amazing at how the flavor and texture were enhanced.

Unfortunately I still cannot bring myself to enjoy blue cheese. It is the only thing that I can truly say I do not have a taste for. I have tried and tried to like it, I really want to like it and enjoy it, but I just don't. If anyone has any tips let me know.

Dark and Stormy
Maui Gold Pineapple Sorbet, Spiced Gingerbread, Gros Michel Banana
A really great dish. My understanding was that they used a ginger beer foam which really accented the dish lovely. Crumbled gingerbread and a sugar tuile brought some flavor and texture to the dish. And of course, any time I eat ice cream, sorbet or anything frozen my awareness of texture has gone through the room since my acquisition and practice with the paco jet. The Sorbet was superb, texturally exactly what one would not expect. I mean it was exactly what it should be but usually is not. The texture was amazing as was the clean flavors of the dish and I really enjoyed this.

A Classic
Coffee and Doughnuts
I have a slight obsession with doughnuts. I have been known to make them frequently and have gotten quite well at them I must say. So I really appreciated seeing this appear surprisingly, as it was not on the menu. The doughnuts were great, but the best part was the overlooked coffee. Wow. Something so unique and soooo good. I have found my new favorite drink I think, if you could call it that.

A birthday treat

Gateau Saint Nizier Au Manjari
Mango Chili Relish, Valrhona Cocoa Nibs, Lime Foam, Coconut Milk Sorbet
All I can think of when I look at this dish and the previous pineapple sorbet, is that the pastry chef must be tired of the cold Yountville weather in December. Yearning and daydreaming of a trip to some tropical place where pina coladas flow and fresh tropical fruit is offered. Not very winter like.
I must say, thank you for daydreaming. This was another superb dish! Flourless chocolate cake that was ever so moist, a mango chili relish that all came together with a cloud of lime foam and again a perfectly textural sorbet.

Another treat. How many items did we get that were not on the menu? I would have to go back and count. But I am so glad we did.
A simple cheesecake. Thats all.
Did I mention and truly sensansional simple cheesecake. The thinnest and crunchiest graham crakcer crust perfectly executed as though santa's elfs themselves had worked their magic to make the crust without a flaw. A velvety creamy and not overly sweetened filling, with the right amount of tang to really excite your taste buds after all this food. And one very lonely and amazingly delicious cherry. OMG.

The standard house made chocolates, which we took home and enjoyed over the next week as to try and live the day out as long as possible. Please don't end!

Jaren, one of our servers - previously worked at Alinea and was very knowledgable of food. Even shaired some experiences from his previous position that I will keep in my locker.

Brian, our server who helped to make the day truly over the top. Extra courses, amazing service. Whew. He is of all things a culinary graduate from the CIA!

Anani - Sommelier - A great guy with whom we share something in common; Both of our daughters were born on January 9th, a truly special day for us long before our daughter was born. This seemed like fate! What a great person!

All said and done, whew! Where we eating for dinner? I'm hungry!

Classic, only my wife! What a doll!

As we were leaving we ran into Bob! What a treat! Of course he agreed to a photo and we were able to chat with him on his way into the restaurant. Thanks Bob and hope to see you next time!
As I reflect over the dinner and experience at hand many things come to mind and stand out. Little things like how when one would get up to use the restroom they would appear and present a newly folded napkin. Or how the Brioche was replaced with warm brioche frequently. How we were greeted upon arrival, how the water and wine never went empty, how we never had to ask for anything! They were on top of it all. Service was over the top.
Then I think of the extras. How they really made this day special and above what we expected. The extra food, the amazing dialogue that was shared, the closeness that we felt with our servers. That is what really made all the difference and made the day memorable and special. We felt like part of the family.
We were taken into the kitchen at the end of the meal. I was able to really observe and take it in, just how small the working area is and how amazing they are to achieve what they do. I spoke with the Sous Chef and was able to thank them for a wonderful day.
I think I hounded my server all day about a Stage position. I was really interested in finding out what it takes to get a stage and he was kind enough to help out. Come to find that it requires 3 months of stage as an interview process prior to any sort of pay. Something we will think about moving forward. I would love it if I can afford it.
The food, I think I really have to talk about the food. I was so amazed at the level of skill, the attention to detail. Most of all, I was amazed at the delicate touch that every single item leaving the kitchen that appeared on our plates had. Delicate, Perfect, Simple. Amazing! So very clean and so very good. This philosophy carried over into the operation as a whole. How the staff carried themselves and spoke, delicately. Wow.
Such thought and care goes into their jobs. You can feel the "specialness" in the air if you will, as though people are aware that they are doing something special and as patrons we felt like a part of it. Bravo to everyone at The French Laundry and thank you for an amazing day!

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