As is evident by this blog of mine, I like food and I like to write. So you would think that if I ate dinner at The French Laundry (!!!) on the 21st of January, I would have had a post up about it immediately. But The French Laundry left me speechless. So what follows is my meager attempt at describing my greatest dining experience.
To begin, I was fortunate enough to get reservations by putting my name on the waiting list. I was planning my trip to
Fast forward to January 21st, the time is . As we walked through the front door I was nervous. I almost didn’t want to eat there. I’ve read so much about The French Laundry and Thomas Keller and heard so many amazing stories that it seemed as though it was destined to disappoint. But I had traveled over 3000km to get there and I would not be going home on an empty stomach. I gave the hostess my name and we sat down to wait for our table to be ready. As with almost every other location in the
It wasn’t long before we were seated and our server, Shannon, (one of about nine people who waited on us throughout our meal) greeted us warmly, handed us menus and encouraged us to ask her questions if there was anything we were unsure of. There are only two menu options at The French Laundry, both are nine course Chef’s tasting menus but one is vegetarian. I’m sure the vegetarian option was amazing, (I read it over just because I was curious) but there was no way this carnivore was choosing it. Within the regular Chef’s tasting menu there are four courses that require you to choose between two options. For the most part Dad and I made sure to coordinate our selections so that we got to taste everything. However on the course that offered either a cauliflower salad or foie gras, Dad and I both chose the foie. As for wine, we put ourselves in the very capable hands of the sommelier, Anani. It was the right thing to do as he chose an excellent white and then red to carry us through the meal. We couldn’t have asked for a nicer sommelier. I liked him so much I wanted to take him back to
The first bits of food to arrive were two tiny gougères, served on an equally small silver platter. We popped them in our mouths and so began our taste adventure. Warm from the oven and full of cheesy goodness, the gougères left us eager to see what would come next. It was the reknown Thomas Keller Salmon Cornet, the cutest, most delicious little savory cone you’ll ever eat. That was followed by our first official course:
“Oysters and Pearls”: “Sabayon” of Peal Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar
After one bite from a mother of pearl spoon it became very clear to me that The French Laundry would not disappoint. I savoured that little dish of oysters and pearls like nothing I ever have before. The balance of flavours and textures was unlike anything else. Dad, who previously thought he didn’t care much for the texture of oysters was blown away by how much he liked these.
Moulard Duck “Foie Gras en Terrine”: Sunchokes, Apple Mustard Seed Relish, Toasted Brioche and Dijon Mustard
Attention to detail. This dish embodies it. Every element on the plate has a purpose and every flavour combination has been carefully considered. The foie is served with a trio of salts so that you can customize it to your liking, as well as with warm, toasted brioche to spread it on. Half way through this course a server appeared to whisk away our partially eaten brioche and to replace it with warm ones. Thomas Keller thinks the warm brioche enhances the dish and wants to ensure that your last bite is as enjoyable as your first. Attention to detail.
Columbia River Sturgeon “Confit à la Minute”: Globe Artichokes, Pearl Onions, Parsley Shoots and
Cod Milt “En Aigre-Doux”: Fennel Bulb, San Marzano Tomato Compote, Niçoise Olives, Arugula and Smoked Eggplant Coulis
This was the first course in which Dad and I had something different, although after eating our way through half our plates, we switched so we could taste everything. I think I’m quickly becoming a fan of anything confited, the sturgeon was to die for. The
“Beets and Leeks”: Maine Lobster Tail “Pochée au Beurre Doux” with King Richard Leeks, “Pommes Maxim’s” and Red Beet Essence
Dad and I have eaten a lot of lobster in our lives. His family is from the East coast of
Corned Marcho Farms Veal Tongue: Tuscan Lentils, Black Trumpet Mushrooms and Brussels Sprouts
Being fans of wild mushrooms, we were happy to see that two different kinds appeared in these dishes. And I was happy to try something completely new to me, veal tongue. Veal tongue is one of those ingredients that when I mention it to my non-foodie friends, I usually get somewhat of a horrified or disgusted look as a response. I challenge anyone to eat veal tongue at The French Laundry and not like it. It was delicately nestled into a perfectly cooked bowl of Tuscan lentils and it was fantastic. Dad went on at length about how wonderful his duck breast was.
Snake River Farms “Calotte de Boeuf Grillée”: Sweet Garlic “Pain Perdu,” French Laundry Garden Carrots, Broccolini, Bone Marrow Pudding and “Sauce Bordelaise”
I now have dreams about Snake River Farms beef. And considering the price, that’s probably all I’ll be doing about it for quite some time. But it was, hands down, the best piece of beef that has ever passed my lips. I let it dissolve on my tongue and tried to make it last for as long as I could so that the memory would remain even after I swallowed. I wanted to lick the plate clean so as to garner every drop of beefy goodness. I miss that beef.
“Tomme de L’Ariège”: Belgian Endive, Green Grapes, Watercress and Black Truffles from
The cheese course arrived and with it came truffles! Hurrah! Point of interest- the grapes were peeled. Every detail is accounted for.
Ruby Red Grapefruit Sorbet: Pistachio “Pain de Gênes” and Mascarpone
Prior to going to The French Laundry I had recently tried to make grapefruit sorbet. The flavour of mine was decent but the texture was woefully inadequate in comparison to the velvety smoothness of TFL. Their pairing of grapefruit with pistachio and creamy mascarpone is something that I can only hope to one day think of on my own. Sadly, this was one of my worst photos of the night. Taking pictures by candlelight is not easy.
“Mousse au Chocolat Amedei”: Gros Michel Banana Ice Cream, Candied Cashews and Curry “Arlette”
Braised Golden Pineapple: Spiced Sweet Rice Beignet, Dark Raisin Coulis and Long Pepper Sherbert
When we were seated at the beginning of the meal, our server had asked if we were celebrating anything in particular and I told her Dad’s birthday was in a couple days so when they brought out the desserts his was adorned with a ‘Happy Birthday’ sugar paste plaque. I managed to snag a tiny spoonful of Dad’s chocolate mousse and I could have happily eaten a whole bowl of it. The only slight hiccup in the whole FL meal came at dessert for me, (and I cringe at calling it a hiccup because it was barely anything). The long pepper sherbert that accompanied my dish just hit too hard at the back of my throat. The spice was overpowering for me. Although it didn’t linger long, I found the taste to be too sharp when I swallowed it. I debated whether or not I would even mention this little tidbit but decided I would, just to show that in a four hour meal, the only thing I could find to complain about was a tiny element of one single dish.
We were getting pretty full by the time the beautiful box of mignardises was brought to our table but neither of us could resist sampling one or two anyways. The rest were boxed up and given to us to take home, likewise with the selection of gorgeous chocolates. As much as I wanted to eat them at the time, I couldn’t manage another bite. I enjoyed them on the plane ride home instead. Besides the mignardises and chocolate, our take home package included shortbread cookies for each of us and extra chocolate bars for Dad for his birthday.
The service at The French Laundry is nothing if not accommodating. They ask specifically at the beginning of your meal if you have any food allergies that they should be aware of but seem equally good about personal preferences as well. At the table behind me, one of the women requested that there be nothing “cold” in her desserts. The course consisting primarily of Ruby Red Grapefruit Sorbet was therefore out, as were both of the final dessert options which contained ice cream. The kitchen improvised with completely different plates for her. I almost wanted to make up an allergy just to see what they’d make for me…
As we were finishing up, our wonderful server Shannon, knowing that I work in a kitchen, asked if we wanted to see The French Laundry kitchen after our meal. Absolutely! We were one of the last tables to finish at the end of the night and it was after by the time we were lead back to the kitchen. There was a team of cooks working hard on tomorrow nights menu. They use a matrix to ensure that no ingredient is repeated twice throughout the meal. If I hadn’t of been in awe of the kitchen itself, there were a million questions I wanted to ask them.
As Dad and I made our way out the door I felt like I was walking on a cloud. Time had flown by and I couldn’t believe my French Laundry experience was over already. Despite the fact that it was after 4am my time, (it’s a three hour time difference between
My French Laundry experience was everything I hoped it would be and more. I can’t adequately express in words how wonderful/amazing/incredible it was, (the thesaurus can’t help me here either). A very special thanks to everyone at The French Laundry who made our meal there an unforgettable one.