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Trip Report - French Laundry, Redd, Cyrus, Ubuntu, Peony (long)

Miss Needle Jul 15, 2008 10:10 PM

Hi. Thanks to everybody for helping me plan DH’s 40th! We had such a great time. Just wanted to report back on our very short, but lovely trip. We fit in a lot of eating during a weekend. Sorry, no pics – I forgot my camera at home. Warning – This is pretty long so I’ll first give you an outline of what we did. You can do a search on this post if you just want to read more about certain restaurants.

Fri
Schramsberg Winery
French Laundry
Redd

Sat
Wild Flour Bakery
Cyrus

Sun
Ubuntu
Oxbow Public Market
Peony

Napa Valley

SCHRAMSBERG WINERY

Great. It was incredibly informative and the caves were very interesting. I probably got a lot more from it as I’m a novice when it comes to wine and DH is more of an intermediate. But he even said he picked up a few things. Did a tasting of four sparkling wines (just took one sip and DH had the rest as I was driving). They were all pretty good, but my preferences were for the J Schram and the Reserve (the pricey ones, I’m afraid). The history behind the winery was also fascinating. The guy giving the tour had a great sense of humor and extremely likable. Would highly recommend, especially if you’re into sparkling wines.

FRENCH LAUNDRY

It definitely did not disappoint. We had a wonderful meal there, and I have to say that I preferred it over Per Se. I've read reports about how Per Se's service is much better than French Laundry. But I have to say that I've had the opposite experience. This may be due to the fact that when I was at Per Se, 1/2 of the room was filled with visiting chefs. While we got good service, it was by no means as great as what we experienced at the French Laundry. I think the waitstaff was too busy dealing with the visiting chefs. The head waiter was fabulous and explained every little thing about the food (which I really digged). This is what we had. We got our own individual course for some of the courses. For other courses, we shared so that we could try as many things as possible.

***Gougeres -- well-cooked with a creamy center

***Cones with salmon tartare -- I could eat at least 10 of them

***Cauliflower Panna Cotta with Beau Soleil Oyster Glaze and Californian White Sturgeon Caviar -- really delicious and probably one of my favorite courses

***Salad of Hawaiian Hearts of Peach Palm with Jicama, English Cucumber, Cilantro Shoots and Haas Avocado -- very well composed salad

***Moulard Duck "Foie Gras au Torchon" with Bing Cherries, Tokyo Turnips, Watercress Leaves and Australian Black Truffles -- the truffles really came out in this dish

***Sauteed Fillet of Pacific Kahala with Compressed belgian endive, green grapes, marcona almonds, mizuna and pickled red onion "aigre-doux" -- the waiter was explaining that the endive was compressed in a vacuum sealer to remove all bitterness -- delicious

***Japanese Bigfin Squid with Akita Komachi Rice, green asparagus, nasturtium, candied pine nuts and black pepper gastrique – absolutely visually stunning dish; the squid was scored and charred and looked like a piece of art; personally, I thought the rice with the candied pine nuts was a bit too sweet; I think this was DH's favorite course of the evening

***New Bedford Sea Scallop "Poelee" with English peas, French Laundry Garden Red Radish, Romaine Lettuce and Eureka Lemon Puree -- probably my favorite course of the evening; perfectly seasoned and balanced and the scallop was perfectly cooked; peas were definitely freshly shelled

***Liberty Farm Pekin Duck "Pastrami" with caramelized savoy cabbage, caraway seed melba and "1000 Island Dressing" -- Thank goodness the 1000 Island Dressing was in quotes because I hate the stuff; but this was really good. The duck was sous-vided and was meltingly tender. This was probably my second favorite course of the evening

***Tartare of Kuroge Beef from Shiga with Beech mushrooms, Broccolini, Lily Bulbs, Perilla and Spicy Mustard -- this was probably the only miss of the evening because they were heavy-handed with the salt; a bit difficult to eat; the waiter told us the beef was about 80% fat -- so it was more about the texture than the flavor (which was mild); I think I'm also a person who prefers a stronger flavored beef -- so that may have contributed to me not being crazy about the dish as well. I understand that they may have added more salt because the beef was mild – but it went over the edge for us.

***Elysian Fields Farm "Selle D'Agneu Rotie Entiere with "Petit Sale," Jacobsen's Farm Summer Squash, Oven-Roasted Roma Tomato, Nicoise Olives and Greek Basil -- perfectly cooked and loved the complements; DH thought the oven roasted tomato was too assertive, but I thought it went really well; not really the largest fan of a sun-dried tomato as I find it too sour and astringent; oven roasted tomatoes really brings out the sweetness

***Beecher's "Flagship Reserve" with Golden Corn, Piquillo Peppers, and Tarragon Pudding -- I think I've already had too many courses by this point because I can't remember what a "flagship reserve" was; do remember the tarragon pudding and thought it was quite lovely but DH didn’t like it because of the anisey flavor; Ok, just spoke with DH who reminded me that was the cheese course; it was good but I think I prefer cheeses on their own as opposed to a composed cheese course

***Cantaloupe Sorbet with Compressed Melon and "Muscat de Beaumes de Venise en Gelee" -- Pretty good considering I don't like cantaloupe

***Lingot de Chocolat en Mousse de Malt Croustillante with Candied Spanish Peanuts, Popcorn Sherbet and Caramel -- delicious; the popcorn sherbet really tasted like popcorn; goes really well with chocolate; corn and chocolate go really well together – somebody should invent chocolate covered corn on the cob; maybe I’ll try it when we start getting some good corn in NYC

***"Regal de Fruits Rouges Au Romarin" -- Rosemary scented genoa cake, "creme patisserie" and summer berries -- I really liked this a lot; am a big fan of rosemary in savory and sweet dishes

***Mignardises -- we were so full that they boxed this for us to take home along with the menu (otherwise I wouldn't have been able to tell you what I ate because it became one big blur); we also received a couple of packages of delicious shortbread cookies made with vanilla bean.

I nursed one glass of Dr. Loosen reisling for the entire meal. DH had a glass of rose in the beginning, then had half bottle of pinot called Copain, Kiser Vineyard-en haut, Anderson Valley 2004. Not really my style of wine, but he liked it a lot.

REDD

After our French Laundry experience, we biked for a few hours so we would be able to eat later on that night. We were deciding between Martini House and Redd, but decided on Redd because the menu looked more interesting. We got there after 9P and were surprised that there were no tables and no room at the bar. Room was extremely noisy but it was OK. We waited for a few minutes and two seats opened up at the bar. We shared a bunch of small plates:

***Yellowfin tuna tartare with avocado, chili oil, fried rice -- very good, light and refreshing; the fried rice was interesting but DH had issues as it tasted too much like mochi (he hates mochi)

***Glazed pork belly with apple puree, burdock and soy caramel -- probably my favorite dish of our meal; well cooked and scrumptious

***Crisp sweetbreads with potato and ramp hash, sauce gribiche -- wasn't too crazy about it; the sweetbreads were not crisp; they were pretty soggy; but DH liked it – I don’t think he met a sweetbread that he didn’t like

***Wolfe ranch quail, warm farro salad, poached egg, garlic cream, frisée, bacon bits -- delicious; quail well cooked and went well with the farro; poached egg was perfect

***Carnaroli risotto, maine lobster, meyer lemon confit, truffle oil – absolute huge miss; risotto was overcooked and mushy; for the price we weren’t expecting a lobster claw, but did expect more than the three pieces of mealy lobster that were literally the size of pencil erasers (no hyperbole here); the lemon was way too assertive and threw off the balance of the dish; the risotto shouldn’t be sour (and meyer lemons aren’t very sour)

***Sweet corn fritters, cherries, vanilla bean ice cream -- delicious; I've hated corn in Asian desserts but really liking it in Western desserts

I didn’t drink at all. DH started off with a glass of rose and then got a ½ bottle of pinot from the Willamette Valley – Domaine Drouhin. I tasted his wine and wasn’t too fond of it at all. Then again, I’m not the largest red wine person as I have problems breathing if I drink too much. I think it’s the histamines from it. I’m fine with white.

I was wondering if I was disappointed in Redd because I was comparing it to the French Laundry. Perhaps that may have played a factor. I tried to be cognizant of the biases and expectations I may have and tried to be as neutral as possible. For example, I can see how one can be totally swept away by eating at the coveted French Laundry or be totally disappointed because their expectations were too high. Actually, I shouldn’t say I was disappointed with Redd as I enjoyed most of our food. But there were a couple of misses, ESPECIALLY that lobster risotto. I didn’t know if the lobster was mealy due to it being in the lemon for too long or because it went bad. DH and I both had GI issues afterwards – but it could definitely be due to the fact that we overindulged that day. But in general, a mealy lobster is not a good thing, whether it’s from being a bad piece of seafood or from it being in acid for too long. Service was overall pretty good. I liked our female bartender that served us. She was warm, professional, nice and friendly. I wasn’t too crazy about the male bartender. Even though he didn’t really deal with us, his friend was sitting at the bar next to us, and the bartender was pretty much shouting at him (I think he was drunk) which kind of disrupted our meal and showed a lack of professionalism. I may expect this at a college bar but not in an establishment like Redd. The female bartender was also friends with the guy next to us but managed to talk to him in a reasonable tone and remain professional for the entire time we were there.

We originally planned on going to Mixteca for lunch the next day but couldn’t due to logistical concerns with returning our rental bikes by 10A and being in Freestone (Sonoma) for a spa appointment at 11:45A. So we just ate breakfast that our cottage served us instead. We were still really full from last night that it didn’t matter we skipped lunch. So sorry I don’t have a report for you guys about that or about the Aguascalientes Gorditas and the pastry shop on the same block. I did ask the guys at French Laundry about Mixteca. They haven’t heard of it, but said that the FL workers like to go to Villa Corona in Napa (not the other location – said there’s a huge difference) for Mexican food. They said if you go in the mornings on the weekend, they have some good menudo.

WILD FLOUR BAKERY

After our spa treatment in Freestone, we shared a scone from Wild Flour Bakery, an organic bakery right across from the spa. I guess I made the mistake of getting a white chocolate lavender scone (because I thought it sounded interesting) as DH thought it was like munching into a bar of soap. After a few bites, he got over the lavender thing and finished the entire scone. But I thought it was really good – very well made. I tried a sample of one of their wood-fired cheese breads and wished that I could get a loaf. It was heavenly! But I knew it would go bad so I passed.

CYRUS

We then headed to Healdsburg to go to Cyrus. My goodness! It really was a wonderful experience. We opted for the Chef’s tasting menu as it sounded really delicious. DH just requested that he get the seared foie gras instead of the torchon. So here were our courses.

***Canapes – umami broth of kombu and shitake; some small deep-fried fritter and three other dishes that I forget at this point; they were designed to hit all the five tastes – umami, salt, sweet, sour, bitter. Delicious.

***Amuse Bouche of Cucumber Gelee with a small salad – As not being the biggest fan of cucumber, I was pleasantly surprised by this dish. It was cool and refreshing, but I liked the salad more. DH really liked his gelee.

***Chilled Ratatouille Soup with Olive Oil, Poached King Salmon – this was very delicious; The salmon was poached in olive oil and was so tender; it was served with a couple of pieces of fried salmon skin which added a necessary crunch component to the dish; and the ratatouille soup – I could have eaten bowls of it; outstanding dish

***Salt Cured Foie Gras and Peach Torchon, Toasted Crumpets – Delicious. How can you screw up foie gras unless you overcook it that all you have is a pool of duck fat? Peach went beautifully with the foie.

***Seared Foie Gras with Cherry-Almond Doughnut – Yum! I think cherries are my favorite fruit paired with foie gras. As this was not on the tasting menu but on the regular menu (DH requested this), they served him a HUGE hunk of foie gras as they couldn’t make the dish any smaller due to trying to have it in balance with the doughnut.

***Poached Lobster with Local Egg, Spring Onions, Uni – Unlike Redd, this lobster wasn’t mealy at all; perfectly cooked with a perfect poached egg. It was topped with a piece of Santa Barbara uni and uni emulsion. You could really taste the uni throughout the dish. I wanted to lick the plate. In fact, I was sopping the juices and sauce with my breads (which were all wonderful; most were piping hot).

***Duck Breast with Sweet corn and chanterelle mushrooms with spiced duck jus – This was DH’s favorite dish. Really delicious, and I can’t think of a way this dish could be improved. Corn was so fresh and sweet.

***Wagyu Beef with Kombu and Cherry Tomatoes, Ponzu – I was a bit skeptical when I saw the beef paired with kombu. There’s a Korean dish called seaweed soup which calls for seaweed cooked in a beef broth. I always preferred the ones made with clams as I thought the flavors went much better. But I was wrong – wonderful dish.

***A selection of artisanal and farmhouse cheeses with breads and fruits – Ah! The cheese cart. I love a good cheese cart. They had some great choices. I don’t remember exactly what cheese we received except that we had six – a mild goat’s cheese, a luscious triple-crème, a runny tart cheese served from a spoon, a white Cheddar, a cow’s milk blue and a sheep’s milk blue. We were shocked by how much our waiter gave us. She told me she tends to be heavy handed. They were all expertly chosen and accompanied by a raisin walnut bread, zante grapes, figs, nuts and a dried fig nut cake.

***Strawberry Verjus Soup with Yuzu Parfait – Perfect refreshing course; It was really good.

***Chocolate Beignets – they were filled with salted chocolate ganache and served warm; Delicious

***Mignardises – I had one piece of dark chocolate truffle and something else and couldn’t do any more. They gave us a couple of brownies in boxes to take home and put some migardises in the box for us.

I again nursed a glass of reisling – forgot the name, and wasn’t as good as my Dr. Loosen that I had in French Laundry. I didn’t even finish it. Btw, Dr. Loosen’s reislings are really well priced and I think it’s a fabulous bargain for what you get. DH ordered the half bottle of the ’89 Nuits-St-Georges, Domaine de l'Arlot "1er Cru Clos des Fôrets Saint Georges." Ok, I’m not a red wine fan but this one was outstanding. Too bad I was driving. Otherwise I would have had more than two sips. This was also DH’s favorite wine he’s had on this trip. It was also the most expensive as well.

The service there was really wonderful. We faced a potentially sticky issue from the start, and they were able to accommodate us very gracefully. When we were first seated, there was some pretty nasty BO coming from the table next to us. The people were dressed very casually (short-sleeved shirts and shorts, I think) and seemed like they came for dinner after a full day of activity. I have a very sensitive nose and wasn’t too keen on enjoying a multi-course meal with the BO lingering around us, especially when I’m paying Cyrus prices. This reminds me of the recent BO thread on one of the boards. I just said that I had to wash my hands as soon as I sat down, found the hostess and explained the situation as best as I could (it’s really hard to put something like this tactfully). They just smiled and said that they would handle it and find another table for us. The sommelier said that this was the best way that I could have handled it. So we got moved right next to the cheese cart, which was more than OK by me – this stink I can handle. I was glad that they were able to do this without the BO table getting suspicious as I would hate to make them feel self conscious. I also found our head waiter absolutely wonderful. She had so much knowledge about food and was such a gracious woman. I loved her so much! She told me she’s really passionate about food, and it definitely showed. And another thing about the waitstaff that I particularly enjoyed was that they all had a great sense of humor. They were able to skillfully mix in incredibly professional service with some humor. At the end of our meal, they also presented an envelope which contained a card of our name, the date and the menu (including the substitution that DH made). How thoughtful!

While I should have just enjoyed my experiences at French Laundry and Cyrus for what they were, it’s very difficult not to compare them. I thought service and food was excellent at both restaurants. I would have to give the nod to Cyrus because FL did have a miss in one of their dishes. And I have to say that I can tell you what my favorite courses at the FL were but can’t say the same about Cyrus because all of my courses they were favorites! I really adored every single thing (well, maybe with the exception of the cucumber gelee – but that’s my issue, not the restaurant’s) and everything was really consistent. FL had more highs and lows. Seems that reservations at Cyrus are a lot easier to come by than at FL, and the prices are a lot lower as well. If one is vacationing in the Napa Valley, I would highly recommend taking a trip out to Healdsburg just to eat at Cyrus. It really is worth it. I also wanted to mention that you will be absolutely stuffed after the Chef’s meal at Cyrus. Portions are a lot larger than at French Laundry.

UBUNTU

The next day for lunch, we headed out to Ubuntu. We sat out on the patio and shared the following courses:

***Rosemary lemonade – great combo; perfectly sweetened

***Chickpea fries with romesco sauce – Absolutely scrumptious! I loved the romesco sauce that I ate it plain with a spoon.

***Baby beets roasted in nectarine juices served with speckled quinoa, ficoide glaciale, hazelnut – Delicious. Roasted beets well done.

***Radishes with chevre and nori with mustard and banyuls vinaigrette, black salt – I’m not the largest radish fan but DH loves it. Really liked this version. He said he would have preferred the radishes a bit thicker than thinly sliced.

***Cauliflower in a cast iron pot – So this is what I’ve been hearing about! Wow! Quite a revelation! Custardy, creamy and so good. I loved it, but definitely more of a fall/winter dish. I found a recipe online and look forward to trying it when it gets cooler.

***Deep-fried egg, smoked potatoes and gribiche – Really good. I would have preferred the egg more runny (didn’t run at all, but yolk was still moist), but still a solid dish.

***Vanilla bean cheesecake in a jar – Delicious. Not as heavy as most cheesecakes.

***Mini carrot cupcakes – Good, but a bit too sweet for my taste. It was covered with a vegan cream cheese and a roasted, sweetened mini baby carrot.

I’m glad that we ate here as it was different. Overall, the food was delicious. And light compared to the pigging out we’ve done the past couple of days. I found the cauliflower dish really new and interesting. I’ve eaten at L’Arpege in Paris, a three-star restaurant that specializes in vegetables. So I’ve had really wonderful preparations of vegetables in the past. While Ubuntu wasn’t exactly three star Michelin, it was very good for the price point. Lunch at L’Arpege was in the four figures – this was a LOT more affordable. I won’t do L’Arpege again (unless I win a multi-million dollar lottery or something like that), but would definitely eat at Ubuntu in the future. I know a lot of you guys have been recommending this place to carnivores, saying it’s a very unique experience. It is indeed very unique. However, as I was eating here, I imagined a lot of our die-hard meat eating friends not being very happy, in spite of the delicious food. Perhaps it’s because we were eating off of the summer menu as most of the stuff was on the lighter side. While I personally think it’s great, I don’t think it’s for everyone.

OXBOW PUBLIC MARKET

We also headed out to the market on that day. I’ve read some controversy about this market. As a tourist, I have to say the location is a bit out of the way for most tourists. That said, it’s a great small market. The Fatted Calf store was great and picked up some salumi to take home. I wish I could have taken home some pate but it would have never survived the trip. And there were no cooler bags to be sold anywhere in the market. I also picked up a couple of Andante Cheeses. The French cheese guy is a great asset to the shop – very upbeat, charming and friendly. The arepas looked interesting but there was absolutely no way we could eat anything. I also wanted to try some tobiko ice cream. Maybe next time. I also picked up some stone fruits at the fruit vendor there. So good and much better than anything I can find in NYC. I’d rather have these fruits than chocolate. I envy you guys for your produce.

PEONY

We then drove to Oakland to visit DH’s grandmother. Her favorite restaurant is Peony so we went there. She did the ordering and got the set meal for 4 people which costed $76. This is what we had:

***Soup with bok choy – soothing; it was nice to eat some leafy greens in bulk

***Yang chow fried rice – good with shrimp, asparagus and roast pork and egg

***Rock fish cooked with broccoli and ginger – nice, bland dish; After all this rich food, I was craving something simple and plain

***Frogs with bitter melon in black bean sauce – good, but I was leaning towards the blander dishes; the bitterness from the melon was actually quite refreshing cutting into all the oil of the dish

***Soy sauce chicken – again, well cooked; perhaps a little overcooked for my taste; I like it when it’s silkier but still delicious

***Red-cooked pork belly – ok, this pushed me over the edge; way too salty and too syrupy sweet for my taste; I think I would have appreciated this more if I didn’t gorge myself over the weekend

***Red bean dessert soup – refreshing in some ways; was prepared with dried tangerine peel which helps with the digestion; had a few spoonfuls; DH has issues of eating beans in dessert form so he just took one spoonful

***I only count 7 dishes. I’m thinking that there must have been one more dish as Chinese consider 8 a lucky number. But I really can’t think of what the 8th dish was. I ate too much over the weekend that it really was a big blur.

Honestly, we were NOT hungry at all. We had stuffed ourselves this weekend that the idea of eating another multi-course meal did not sit well with us. But we painfully shoveled the food in our mouths as we didn’t want to insult DH’s grandmother. But we still couldn’t eat a lot. That 96-year-old woman ate way more than we did!

Afterwards, we were extremely uncomfortable from eating and drinking (for DH) way too much this weekend. When we got to the airport to catch our red eye, we found out that the plane was delayed for 3.5 hours! So I ordered some club soda and DH got ginger ale to settle our stomachs a bit. I think we’re going to be eating really blandly and simply for a while to counteract what we did on this trip. But we had an awful lot of fun doing it.

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  1. maria lorraine Jul 15, 2008 10:34 PM

    WONDERFUL REPORT. Fantastic specifics and personal responses.

    Maria

    1. k
      Kathleen M Jul 16, 2008 09:21 AM

      Great report. I love the white chocolate lavendar scones at Wildflour Bakery. That is the first thing I ever tried there so it is still in my memory as a revelation of how good a scone can be. But I do realize that lavendar in cooking is not for everyone - some people do feel like they're eating soap. Just last weekend, I was meeting a friend from Oakland in the city, and so I stopped at Wildflour Bakery on the way into SF and bought her two scones (pluot/dark chocoate/pecan and apricot/white chocolate/ginger) and two for me to take home. I felt a little funny bringing her baked goods because she lives very close to La Farine, which I love, but I know she particularly loves scones and the ones at Wildflour are so good. She couldn't resist taking a bite when I gave them to her (they still smelled fresh from the oven) and pronounced them better than anything! (and yes, the savoury breads there are incredible too!)

      1. t
        tlubow Jul 16, 2008 09:35 AM

        My mouth is watering and I can't wait for our dinner reservation at Cyrus in 2 weeks! Thanks for the terrific and mouth-watering report.

        1. c
          Claudette Jul 16, 2008 10:39 AM

          Excellent report - thanks so much.

          1. daveena Jul 16, 2008 06:11 PM

            Fantastic report, Miss Needle. I can't believe you were able to move after TFL, much less bike for hours and then eat dinner.

            So I guess we can put you in the Cyrus>TFL column too, eh?

            -----
            Ubuntu Restaurant & Yoga Studio
            1140 Main Street, Napa, CA 94558

            The French Laundry
            6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

            Cyrus Restaurant
            29 North St, Healdsburg, CA 95448

            Restaurant Peony
            388 9th St Ste 288, Oakland, CA 94607

            Oxbow Public Market
            610 First Street, Napa, CA 94559

            Schramsberg Vineyards
            1400 Schramsberg Rd, Calistoga, CA

            Wild Flour Bread
            140 Bohemian Hwy, Freestone, CA

            Redd
            6480 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599

            2 Replies
            1. re: daveena
              c
              Claudette Jul 17, 2008 01:13 PM

              daveena - as Miss Needle mentioned, the portions are larger at Cyrus (although still not big). After a $700 meal at TFL, my husband was able to eat a burger, and wanted to. Each dish we had at TFL was about the size of a thimble; the ones at Cyrus were each the size of 2-3 thimbles, and about 3 times the flavor and styling factors.

              1. re: Claudette
                daveena Jul 17, 2008 04:08 PM

                I was actually full to the point of pain at TFL - the portions may have been smaller, but I think a higher percentage of each dish was fat... I really liked the progression of dishes at Cyrus, where leaner, more acidic ones alternated with richer, fattier ones. At TFL, it seemed like the progression was rich=>richer=>richest.

            2. pastryqueen Jul 16, 2008 07:10 PM

              wow! thank you for the wonderful report! Altho it's been years since I ate at TFL - I still think Cyrus has them beat, too. I long to return to Cyrus whereas TFL, eh, I'd go again is someone else was picking up the tab.

              sounds like a wonderful trip!

              1. Miss Needle Jul 17, 2008 07:56 AM

                Thank you, everybody, for your kind words. I'm really grateful that all the SF Bay hounds were able to help me firm up my itinerary.

                I wish I could have tried more things at Wild Flour. Great bakery. But my stomach can only stretch so far.

                Yes, I definitely am in the Cyrus camp. I didn't realize that there were two factions here. I have a feeling the majority on this board is probably FL. But I'd be more prone to return to Cyrus before I return to FL.

                11 Replies
                1. re: Miss Needle
                  m
                  moh Jul 17, 2008 01:50 PM

                  What a great read! Certainly sounds like you had a wonderful trip, and I am awed by the amount of food, as well as your keen ability to remember and report on all of it.

                  The Cyrus/TFL debate has been a very interesting one to follow. Cyrus sounds like a fabulous place to eat. I have to ask, where would you put Cyrus in your personal pantheon of high end restos? Sounds like it is near, if not at the top.

                  I think the biking was a brilliant move on your part. Much easier to eat a lot when you have made room by exercising! I seem to recall it could get pretty hilly there, so it was likely a great work out.

                  Glad your special trip went well!

                  1. re: moh
                    Miss Needle Jul 17, 2008 03:46 PM

                    Thanks!

                    Well, if it wasn't for the menus I got at Cyrus and FL, my review probably would have looked something like, "Well, we had some beef and some duck and shrimp and scallops..." I was trying to be mindful as I ate it, and I'm glad that I wrote this report as I could read it in the future to bring back memories. There have been so many meals I've eaten where I'm kind of at a loss as to what I've eaten because I didn't pay so much attention. I guess that's why some people I know feel uncomfortable paying so much for a meal even when they have the funds because there's nothing tangible from the experience.

                    Moh, I actually sprained my ankle before I left NYC. Luckily it was my left one so I was able to drive. I did go biking but only stayed on flat surfaces. The scenery is absolutely breathtaking in the Calistoga area!

                    I really did love Cyrus. I would definitely put it in the top three of my lifetime -- maybe #2. And my ranking is irrespective of price. I'm just talking food as I think it's still the most important part of a meal. Good service just can't save bad food. I still think my top would be Pierre Gagnaire in Paris. It was really, really stunning. The food was fabulous. Presentation was ingenious -- the most creative presentations I've ever seen without going into molecular gastronomy. And service was wonderful. Here's my Gagnaire report.

                    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/437812

                    But for service, I'd probably say Cyrus ranks #1. Gagnaire was great, but there was a bit of a language and cultural barrier -- a bit more formal than what I'm used to.

                    1. re: Miss Needle
                      Porthos Jul 18, 2008 01:01 AM

                      Closest I've come to Gagnaire in the US is Manresa. The service is more casual and a bit less polished than TFL, Jean Georges, or Daniel, but the cuisine and creativity of Manresa is about as close to Gagnaire as I have come. The kicker is that it was about 40% less than TFL even with the higher euro value factored in.

                      Best service ever was obviously Gagnaire.

                      I would recommend Manresa with wine/premium wine pairing the next time you are in the bay area.

                      My TFL vs Manresa report: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/407803

                      1. re: Miss Needle
                        m
                        moh Jul 18, 2008 01:04 AM

                        Sorry to hear about the ankle. That makes your bike trip even more impressive!

                        Yup it seems Cyrus is moving up fast on the places to try. I really need a reason to go to Northern Cal... I may just have to go to eat. It is also nice to hear that Cyrus is still relatively reasonably priced. Although if it continues to get such great press, that may change!

                        Love the Gagnaire report. And I love the fact that you blew off Musee D'Orsay for macarons!

                        1. re: moh
                          Ruth Lafler Jul 18, 2008 11:39 AM

                          Hmmm ... Musee D'Orsay vs. macarons. Tough choice. I will say, however, that I had one of the great art experiences of my life at the D'Orsay (totally unplanned and unrepeatable: I was exhausted, sat down for a minute in a room full of Monets, dozed off for a few seconds, woke up somewhat disoriented, opened my eyes and WOW). But I can imagine having a similar WOW from a transcendent macaron, too.

                          1. re: Ruth Lafler
                            m
                            moh Jul 18, 2008 11:56 AM

                            Ruth Lafler, I know the room you are talking about, and yes, that would be an incredible experience! Could you imagine having that moment with a delectable macaron in your hand, waiting to be scoffed down? Ahh, this is why Paris is so fabulous.

                            1. re: moh
                              Ruth Lafler Jul 18, 2008 01:38 PM

                              LOL. We could package that: the best of Paris in 90 seconds. That would be kind of like some the experiences some far-out experimental restaurants are doing, matching food with other sensory experiences.

                              1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                Xiao Yang Jul 19, 2008 08:33 AM

                                We could call it Restaurant Guermantes....

                                1. re: Xiao Yang
                                  wolfe Jul 19, 2008 08:47 AM

                                  XY
                                  I'm confused. Macaron or madeline?

                                  1. re: wolfe
                                    Xiao Yang Jul 19, 2008 10:12 AM

                                    A cookie is a cookie is a cookie, as far as I am concerned. Unless it's a Newton, of course.

                        2. re: Miss Needle
                          wolfe Jul 18, 2008 08:03 AM

                          Great reports, thank you. Just one suggestion. The permalink feature cuts down on scrolling.
                          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/43781...

                    2. t
                      thinks too much Jul 17, 2008 08:23 AM

                      I have to thank you too, Miss Needle. I so often enjoy your posts, and to be so thorough about places I fantasize about, but in the case of FL and Cyrus, will probably never get to. You gave me a great imaginary meal.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: thinks too much
                        Miss Needle Jul 17, 2008 01:07 PM

                        Thanks, thinks too much! Sorry I just don't have the pics to complete your meal. Well, your meal is a lot less caloric than mine! : )

                      2. a
                        anzu Jul 17, 2008 05:57 PM

                        Wow. I just read your trip report. It's lovely. So rife with details! I have a friend with whom we decided instead of silly gifts for b-days/holidays, we'd celebrate life w/ some sort of epicurean affair, maybe annually. We just went to a local place this year (this year being our inaugural year of this), but your report of Cyrus is making me consider adding it to our list. (Also loved your report of the French restaurant; especially your revelatory experience w/ Pierre Herme macarons. :) I had the same epiphany w/ hot chocolate at Angelinas.)

                        1. d
                          di82 Jul 18, 2008 09:04 AM

                          Thanks for a fantastic report! We're going in August and I'm really looking forward to it. I went to Cyrus last year and had what I still think was the best dining experience I've had in the US (Per Se was close foodwise but I just thought Cyrus had more wow factor on the service and atmospher side). So this time we tried really hard to get FL reservations, multiple phones etc, but struck out (we're on the wait list). I was a little upset, but we decided to go back to Cyrus and not worry about it. Your review made me remember what a great experience it was- I was getting quite hungry just reading.

                          1. m
                            ML8000 Jul 18, 2008 10:03 AM

                            Excellent report.

                            re: FL, I was just there. I had a great time. However I have to agree about Manresa.

                            Everything at FL was flawless, service, prep, etc. The food was excellent without a doubt, everything super refined. However Manresa was more interesting and exciting -- even a jaded palette would have to notice. Service wasn't at FL level but I prefer it more casual.

                            Any way, Cyrus is now on the list.

                            1. d
                              Docsknotinn Jul 19, 2008 03:38 AM

                              Wow what a great report. You must have had a fantastic vacation. :)

                              1. Miss Needle Jul 19, 2008 07:56 AM

                                Yes, I indeed had a wonderful time on my trip. I can understand that there may be something magical eating at the French Laundry. But I did find Cyrus better, especially in terms of food. Really a special occasion experience. And the value is definitely better. I'm pretty sure rents have something to do with it, but in NYC, a $130 tasting menu won't buy half of what I got at Cyrus. Anzu, this place would be a great place to celebrate life. And I do like your idea of celebrating life as opposed to buying gifts. DH and I really don't buy many things compared to a lot of people. We tend to spend our money on experiences.

                                Porthos and ML, thanks for telling me about Manresa. I'm dying to try that out now, especially as you say it's very similar to Gagnaire. My sister lives near Boulder Creek which doesn't look too far away. So it would be the perfect excuse to visit Manresa.

                                Ha ha. I definitely put food before art/culture in the Paris scenario. I just with I had more time. But the macaron in D'Orsay would have been the ultimate experience.

                                Wolfe, thank you so much about letting me know about the permalink feature. I always wondered how other posters were able to link to specific posts! Silly me, I tried highlighting my post, then copying the link above thinking that it would work. Of course it didn't. I've been scratching my head on that one for a while (I'm not the most computer literate).

                                1. n
                                  Nicole Jul 20, 2008 09:01 PM

                                  Thanks for the detailed review! I am planning a trip to the area in August and this is very helpful. I'm wondering, what was the cost of lunch at Ubuntu? My husband isn't into the idea too much so we are going to compromise on lunch instead of dinner if it isn't too expensive.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: Nicole
                                    Miss Needle Jul 21, 2008 06:38 PM

                                    Unfortunatley, I don't remember exact prices. But the really small plates (eg. lavender almonds, chickpea fries with romesco) were about $5 or $6, the small plates (beets, radishes, cauliflower) were about $9-$12 or so, and the larger plates (deep-fried egg) were about $15 (or so I think). Desserts were around $8. Not exactly cheap, but definitely not French Laundry prices. I hope others who have been there more often can comment on the prices better than I did.

                                    1. re: Miss Needle
                                      n
                                      Nicole Jul 21, 2008 06:51 PM

                                      Thanks for the info! That sounds like a work-able price range.

                                  2. l
                                    lizziee Sep 23, 2008 01:40 PM

                                    Miss Needle, great report.

                                    Update on the French laundry. We were there last weekend and had a terrific meal.

                                    Corey Lee orchestrated a perfect meal for us on Thursday night - each dish was exquisite with a subtle and flawless flavor profile. One caveat - we are regulars and what follows is not the usual French laundry meal. We love the fish canapes so our meals are definitely front loaded. One of my favorite ingredients is uni and Corey always has at least one dish with sea urchin. We usually have one meat course and rarely have more than one dessert.

                                    As always we started with gougeres and salmon cornets and a half bottle of Krug.

                                    Uni from Japan that was “packed” in natural sea water and then served with the natural sea water. This uni was from the south end of Japan and has a slightly less pronounced taste than those harvested in the north. It was served with crunchy ice lettuce and gold leaf.

                                    Oysters and Pearls - the oysters were Island Creek from Mass and the caviar was Californian white sturgeon - this is just a perfect dish and as usual Corey executed it sublimely.

                                    Inada - lightly grilled wild, baby amberjack served with compressed English cucumber, espellette, cilantro shoots, 1/4 inch dice of cucumber

                                    We decided to splurge and honor Didier Dagueneau who had just died in a plane crash at the very young age of 52. The 2005 Silex was superb.

                                    Japanese Pike Conger, Japanese mountain yams (yamo imo), white miso, yuzu, perilla leaves - this was just a wonderful, subtle blend of textures and taste

                                    Uni from Hokkaido, Japan. The water is much colder as Hokkaido is in the north and as a result the uni had a fatter “taste” feel. It was served with peeled sweet 100 tomatoes, avocado panna cotta and borrage (blue flowers). My first thought was for the poor person who had to delicately and precisely peel those tiny tomatoes. What an absolutely perfect combination - the lusciousness of the avocado with the northern uni was inspired.

                                    Fresh water eel was wrapped in feuille de brik pastry and served with persian lime creme fraiche (in the bowl). We were shameless and used our fingers to lick up every drop of the creme fraiche.

                                    Japanese Big Fin Squid Confit (it had been packed in salt for 30 minutes and then poached in olive oil), Summer squash done 3 ways - ribbons, puree, blossoms, garlic aigre-doux, champagne vinegar and on top crispy Iberico ham, brunoise. I never receive a menu at French Laundry and every single description was recited to me tableside by the lovely new wife of Nick, Sandra. Obviously service was attentive and extraordinary from Jimmy, the sommelier, to Dennis our main waiter, Larry as always and every single person of the French laundry team, who stopped at our table to say hi.

                                    Crispy Frogs legs from the Florida Everglades, breaded in panko, Cauliflower puree, tomato raisins, parsley shoots, Meyer lemon - just 3 quick bites - boy, I could have eaten a dozen.

                                    Japanese Black Abalone, roasted whole was then presented.
                                    The roasted abalone was paired with sauteed moulard foie gras, haricot vert from the French laundry garden, baby corn, light as air gnocchi, corn foam and emulsion - I was one very happy camper!

                                    Anago (sea Eel) tempura, Hobb’s bacon, beech mushrooms, Romaine lettuce ribs, red radish, cippolini onions, bacon emulsion - another absolute winner.

                                    Signature Truffle Custard

                                    Japanese Wagyu, sweet Nantes carrots, turnips, snap peas, pea tendrils, bordelaise sauce - how many ways can you say perfect.

                                    We decided to have a cheese course and this was one of the best we have ever had at French laundry - Heirloom tomato tart on puff pastry with burrata, topped with a splash of olive oil and a bit of 100 year old balsamic vinegar

                                    As usual, we just had one dessert. Me - Grilled pine nut gateau (soaked in honey), Jacobson’s Farms figs, Fig marmalade, Pine nut mascarpone ice cream, mint syrup and toasted pine nuts

                                    My husband - Coffee and Doughnuts

                                    There is just no way to convey how sensational this meal was. There was just not one wrong note and what made it so incredibly perfect is that from beginning to end, this was a symphony. Sometimes tasting menus can just be a string of dishes - this was anything but and that is why I call it a symphony.

                                    Pictures here:
                                    http://lizziee.wordpress.com/category...

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