My Lunch Visit at The French Laundry! [pics-LONG]
I finally got the call. It was so unexpected I didn't even answer it for the first 2 times (hey, I didn't recognize the number). But there it was. They had a cancellation for a Sunday lunch, would I like to take it? Mmmm (do I want to spend the money right now, do I want ...) YES. So there it was. I was going to The French Laundry!! The aspiration that had seemed so elusive before is now coming true! :)
Sunday afternoon, we drove up the long, windy roads through the mountain to Yountville.
The host led us up to the second floor and into one of the dining rooms there. It was such a nice day out and they had the windows open.
For starters, we were served a small choux pastry filled with gruyere cheese.
Next is their salmon cornet, that you're supposed to eat like eating an ice cream cone.
The whole cone shape made the salmon to cone skin ratio vary as you eat it ... but the salmon itself was great and flavorful.
The celebrated Oysters and Pearls was not on the menu that day, so I asked if I could pretty please substituted it in. The waiter graciously said they would check with the kitchen and shortly after informed me that yep! No problem at all, oysters and pearls for moi!
Such an excellent dish, I can definitely see why this is Thomas Keller's most famous dish. The oysters were small because they were trimmed down, but they were definitely of great quality. In fact, everything in this dish was excellent and work together amazingly.
Cauliflower Panna Cotta with Island Creek Oyster Glaze and White Sturgeon Caviar
This was good, although after having the oysters and pearls, I just wanted more of the first one! :)
All the bread served here are, naturally, from Bouchon bakery. We had two different types of butter, one salted and the other sweet and unsalted, from a local dairy.
For the second course, we also had two options, #1: Salad of French Laundry Garden Broccoli (sunchokes, Marcona almonds and Perigord Truffle Coulis)
The broccoli, and probably many of the other vegetables, came from their own garden, located across the street from the restaurant. You can see it from the balcony of the 2nd floor (where many people go out to take pictures from).
Right across the street, how local can you get? :P Broccolis were excellent - freshest and sweetest ones I've ever had (well, minus the same broccolis I had at Ad Hoc the night before, where we got to have much more of em - more on that later).
Choice #2 ($30 supplement): Moulard Duck "Foie Gras en Terrine" with Hawaiian hearts of palm, Piedmont hazelnuts, Hosui pear, Mizuna and white honey.
I had anticipated this after reading other reviews and opinions, but yes, French Laundry's foie gras terrine is the best foie gras terrine I have ever had.
The terrine was served with a toasted brioche bread and three different salts on the side (they said this is to add texture). One salt was from the sea of Japan and the other (the pink-ish one) was some million-year moon rock salt (OK, I'm not sure abt the million year ...)
Terrine on brioche toast, spread a bit of the white honey, then sprinkle a teeny bit of salt - delicious!!
3rd course, Choice #1: Grilled Pave of Kindai Bluefin Tuna (Potato, radish and cucumber salad, jidori hen egg and preserved lemon "Aigre-Doux")
A great meaty piece of tuna. The middle part is still nicely rare. As far as grilled fish go, this one was excellent.
3rd course, Choice #2: Sea of Japan Bigfin Squid (Globe artichokes, Satsuma mandarins, red mustard leaves and thyme vinaigrette)
Squid was firm and chewy. The combination with the satsuma mandarin was nice and interesting both taste and texture-wise.
4th course: Sweet Butter-poached Maine Lobster Tail (Fennel bulb, "Panisse," Nicoise Olive, sweet pepper essence, and Noilly Prat emulsion)
This lobster tail was absolutely amazing. It's poached perfectly and had an incredible texture that I can only aspire to taste from time to time. I didn't care much about the fennel etc on the side there. I just wanted to slowly devour and enjoy this perfect lobster tail.
5th course: Thomas Farms Squab with Belgian endive, glazed cranberries, red beets, and watercress.
A very game-y (and very lean) squab, as we had expected from FL but on the other hand wasn't so expecting from a "Farm" squab.
6th course: "Blanquette" of Marcho Farms nature-fed veal (Hen-of-the-Woods mushrooms, Nantes carrots and green garlic).
The blanquette includes veal tongue (left) and sweetbread (upper right)
7th course: "Tomme du Berger" with Cipollini Onion, Musquee de Provence pumpkin coulis, brussels sprouts and Maple-pecan Sable.
I liked the cheese with the maple-pecan sable but the rest of it was not sweet enough to go with the cheese, IMHO. The cheese was semi-hard and on the mild side, so I didn't think the brussels sprout and onion were good pairings. Something sweeter/saltier would've been better.
8th course: Ruby Red Grapefruit Sorbet, with pistachio "Pain de Genes" and Mascarpone.
The sorbet was great, light and refreshing. Perfect palate cleanser. I'm ambivalent about the pistachio cake though, since it make the whole thing a bit heavier and hence not quite as refreshing.
9th course/Dessert option #1: Braised Golden Pineapples, with spiced sweet rice beignets, dark raisin coulis, and long pepper sherbet.
The spotlight here is on the pineapples, which are sweet and delicious, but didn't seem like there were enough of them :P It wasn't very 'satisfying'.
9th course/Dessert Option #2: "Mousse au Chocolat Amedei" with Gros Michel banana ice cream, candied cashews and curry "Arlette".
A nice rich chocolate mousse. I guess I needed a good amount of sweetness at the end, but anyway I thought this one was more satisfying than the first!
We'd seen everyone else getting this next dessert although it's not on the menu, so when they asked if we wanted to try their "coffee and donuts" we said "sure, what's another dish!"
Apparently the "coffee" was coffee mousse! Good thing I hadn't tried to pick it up and sip it! That would've been embarassing :P Donuts were good - nice and light. Since it wasn't actual *coffee* I decided to get some mint tea to get with the rest of my desserts/mignardises.
As the last part of our meal, we were presented with the mignardise, presented in a beautiful layered tray.
Oh oh but wait, there's MORE! We also got a small dish filled with crunchy chocolate macadamias. And while we're munching at those, one of the servers came bearing a silver tray of gorgeous chocolates. From left to right they were: banana, yogurt, coconut, mm ... something?, passionfruit, and peanut butter. Sigh ... you guys want me to choose? What torture ...
Having felt pretty good and full after the 9th course, they managed to completely stuff me with chocolates :P
BTW, we witnessed a proposal and the other ladies in the dining room started tearing up and one of the waiters dashed around with a tray of Kleenexes (for the ladies first, and then jokingly to everyone else after :P ).
This meal was definitely quite an experience.
Everything from ambiance to service to food preparation were excellent. With the nice breeze coming through the windows - relaxing in Napa over amazing French food was quite the luxury.
Looks and sounds like a great time. Although I've heard a lot about it, I've never really looked into French Laundry and find your post a great introduction.
So for my experience they actually did NOT charge me any extra for the coffee and donuts and substituting oysters and pearls, which I thought was awesome of them :)
The only extra charge I got was the $30 for the foie gras terrine instead of broccoli, but that is listed on the menu.
You can also make reservations on Open Table, FYI. Not that this is usual, but today was apparently my lucky day, because I got a same day reservation for dinner at French Laundry from Open Table. I'm way too sleepy and full to discuss it in detail now, but I had an incredible meal, beginning to end, and the thing that impressed me the most (other than the fantastic food, and the box of chocolates that I brought home with me to have in the morning) was the overwhelmingly friendly and gracious service. It was really a wonderful meal.
No fine dining will charge for extras they bring of their own accord.
And sometimes, as noted above, not even for some that are requested.
If they do, well, they should be put out of business.
You cannot charge more than the "agreed" upon amount.
Good example was once at Per Se, 2 of us had 5 course and 2 had the 9 course, well, we of the 5 course choice had about 9 and the others probably 10 or 11. Granted, the menus are different now but just to show. Keller charges his fee up front, you know what you are in for. After that he does not go about trying to finagle dollars with tricks and smoke.
It certainly sounds like a lot of food, but I'm most impressed with the endless amount of extras at the end.