French Laundry- Yountville CA- lunch 10/9/09
First of all, huge props to my husband Tom for getting this reservation. While I'd researched, obsessed, drawn up an internet and telephone game plan, set alarms for logging onto OpenTable in the wee hours of the morning, and hit redial over and over again, my husband calmly googled how to get a reservation, logged onto to Open Table, tried for a lunch table, and got it. While I'm dialling and redialling on both phones he's asking me what my OT logon is and calmly entering our credit card info. Then he shows me the laptop screen that has the reservation confirmation and says, "hey, did I get the reservation?" Crazy French Laundry savant!
I guess OT released the reservation at 10am PST instead of midnight (which is why I was downstairs at 3am EST that morning to no avail.) in concert with the phones being open??
Anyway. We show up super early for our 11:15 reservation and initially pass the place by- it looks like a small house from the road, but something seemed familiar about it (or maybe it was the huge garden across the street) enough that I realized that we'd passed it and we turned around to investigate. We parked in the small lot behind the place (empty at this point) and went into the courtyard to wait. It was a chilly morning but sunny with blue skies, so you knew it was going to be gorgeous as soon as the sun got a little more traction on the day.
At around 11am, the blue door opened up and we (along with another couple who showed up early for their reservation) went inside, gave our name, and waited in the front room. After a few moments, we were shown to our table- it was on the first floor in a room off to the right that had stone walls and 2 other tables. The 2-top next to us was empty till we were about 2/3rds through our meal and they were obviously friends of the chef or the house- they had a note waiting for them and were not given menus or the spiel that we got, just were informed that the chef had a special 15 course menu planned for them. It made me feel a little smaller, momentarily, but I snapped myself out of it, because... really. Being there at all was a wonderful experience.
The other table was a 4-top that seemed to contain a family from Texas, an older couple and either their son AND daughter or son OR daughter and spouse. The younger woman took pictures of all her dishes (which I was forbidden to do by my husband, so I was jealous) and the older woman took a cell phone call shortly after seating, which sort of scandalized me! Hee.
OK. Our server Guillaume came over, introduced himself, and explained the menu. I told him that I'd be driving and would like his recommendations for 2 glasses over the course of the entire meal and non alcoholic beverages for the rest of the meal. He assured me that he knew exactly the plan to execute. My husband said that he really preferred beer and he and Guillaume discussed a plan for that. TFL has a small but really excellent beer menu, and there was a progression that really worked within that list. So it was decided that he would start with the lightest beer, Hitachino Nest, "White Ale," from Japan, followed by Huyghe Brewery, "Delirium Tremens," from Belgium, and then Blue Apron Ale, a beer brewed specifically for Keller's restaurants by Brooklyn Brewing. Since the Blue Apron was a 750ml bottle, he wasn't able to get to the last bottle on the list (which was G. Schneider & Sohn, "Aventinus," Germany.) But he was plenty happy with what he did get.
Drinks discussed, Tom decided to order the tasting of vegetables and I had the regular tasting menu.
1st amuse: we both were served a pate a choux Gruyère gorgere, a lovely cheesy bite.
2nd amuse: they brought out 2 different tartares in a cracker cone, so it looked like a tiny ice cream cone. Tom's was a yellow beet "tartare" and mine was a salmon tartare. They both had slightly differently flavored creme fraiche in the interior of the cone. Salty, creamy, crunchy. So good.
The first wine I was served was the La Cana, Albariño, Rías Baixas, a white wine.
me: Cauliflower "panna cotta" with Island Creek oyster glaze and California sturgeon caviar
Tom: Quinine sorbet with green apple, candied ginger, and juniper "Aigre-Doux".
Thoughts: the soft panna cotta with the salty pop of the caviar was amazing. Tom's sorbet was like the best gin & tonic in solid form ever.
We got some bread and butter in here somewhere, also at another point toward the end of the meal. Both were fresh and delicious.
me: I chose the fois gras upgrade which was Moulard duck foie gras en terrine with golden corn genoise, Belgian endive, white honey, huckleberries, and nasturtium.
Tom: Salad of compressed cucumber with watermelon, red chili, cilantro, yogurt, and madras curry
Thoughts: Simply, the fois gras was amazing. Tom's salad was very clean with a kick from the chili and the curry. My fois came with 3 different kinds of salt which was used by Tom to season his bread and butter as well as my terrine.
me: there was a choice between sauteed halibut and California sea urchin. I chose the urchin- Santa Barbara coast sea urchin with akita komachi rice, red radish, edamame, cashew nuts, mizuna, and young ginger.
Tom: Matsutake mushrooms with water eggplant, ginkgo nuts, broccolini, padron peppers, perilla and "sauce Japonaise"
Thoughts: this was my most challenging dish. the sea urchin was intensely flavored and unusually (to me) textured. It was an educational dish. It was too new for me to really "love" but I appreciated it quite a bit.and I was glad I had it. Tom noted that the kind of mushrooms was the same (or at least extremely similar) to the ones he had the night before at Cyrus. Very delicious.
me: New Bedford sea scallop with sunchokes, chanterelle mushrooms, hazelnuts, preserved lemon and watercress.
Tom: he had a choice between an omelette or a "degustation of potatoes" which was a touch choice. He ended up choosing the omelette with garden squash "sofrito," pine nuts, and greek basil. And he was glad he did.
Thoughts: this was easily one of Tom's favorite dishes of the day. Something about an egg being prepared simply yet perfectly is really soul enhancing. Also, the garden squash were teeny tiny, adorable, and delicious. My scallop was also perfect. Perfectly cooked, perfectly balanced, perfectly seasoned, perfectly presented.
me: I had the choice between corned veal tongue and braised pork belly. No contest- when pork belly is in the mix there is no real choice to make. The pork belly was served with butternut squash, maple syrup, pearl onions, swiss chard, and "sauce perigourdine"
Tom: he had a choice between a farro salad and a veal heart salad. He went with the farro, which tomatoes, avacado, parsley, and tartar sauce. (we laughed about veal heart making an appearance on a tasting of vegetables.)
Thoughts: the pork belly was awesome. I loved it. Tom's farro was also delicious Before this course was served, Guillaume brought over a glass of Porter-Bass, Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley to accompany the meat courses.
me: Elysian Fields Farm lamb saddle with glazed "ribettes," Thumbalina carrots, "Panisse," Medjool dates, cilantro and madras curry jus.
Tom: Hand-rolled cranberry bean "agnolotti" with Nicoise olives, peppers, arugula, and sweet garlic
Thoughts: the lamb was delicious. I loved it.
me: "Val Bagner" Caraway spaetzle cake, braised red cabbage, Michigan sour cherry, and dijon mustard.
Tom: "Bo Peep" cheese with prunes, Belgian endive, Sicilian pistachios, and watercress.
Thoughts: I don't actually remember this dish, though it sounds great and I'm sure it was wonderful. Tom loved his cheese course.
me: Moonglow pear sorbet with chai tea sable and roasted pears.
Tom: Pain Perdu sherbet with concord grapes, pili nuts and maple syrup
Thoughts: sorbet course! nice and refreshing. Tom's was sort of a PB&J vibe and also had maple syrup which he loves as much as figs. So a success for sure.
me: Bakewell Tart with black mission figs, marcona almonds, and creme fraiche sherbet
Tom: "Opera Cake" with praline "Namelaka", milk granite, and coffee ice cream.
Thoughts: of course I switched desserts with Tom, as this kind of tart was a fondly remembered childhood treat for him (he's British) AND it had figs! The opera cake was chocolate too, which is quite fitting for me. When we looked at the menu and made our decisions, we decided then that we'd order the thing the other one loved and switch at the end. The bakewell tart was probably another highlight along with the omelette for Tom. Also, they inscribed "Happy Anniversary" on little sugar sheets and put on each dessert plate. Aw!
We ate everything in the three tier little petit four/candy tray. Then Guillaume brought by the housemade chocolate truffles. I had a salted chocolate caramel, and Tom had a pumpkin truffle and a smoked maple truffle, which he said was amazing.
We were presented with the check, which was on a giant laundry ticket thing, very cute. We were stunned to see we spent less than $100 on drinks, so yay. Our credit card was not declined, double yay! Guillaume brought by some shortbread for us to take home and told use we could take the napkin holder clothespins if we wanted to. He also brought over both our menus for me to take home. He walked outside with us and cheerfully observed that the day was a beautiful one.
It really was.
We wandered the gardens across the street and marveled that just hours earlier, the food we enjoyed so much was being plucked from this garden. It was a another wonderful connection to the meal we'd just had. There were a couple guys harvesting for the evening seatings. Very cool.
Final thoughts: we loved this meal and this experience. Tom especially was surprised how comfortable he was there. Although it is of course very high end, the service and atmosphere were comfortable and friendly and non-snobby. Everyone there seemed to love food- eating it, serving it, cooking it. He was completely blissed out from about 2 courses in through the end of the day. Food that makes people that happy is always a good thing.
The French Laundry
6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599
Just and FYI - you needn't be a friend of the house to extend the tasting - just call/e-mail ahead and name a price. I told them $450 (food, no wine) when I went and allowed the chef to work his magic - my review is here - I didn't know anyone at the restaurant, I just made it known that I wanted to experience Lee's work as spontaneous as he could be. Counting the mignardises and petit fores - 21 courses.
uhockey is correct, you don't have to know someone to get the extended menu. However you should probably inquire about the extended menu ahead of time. One determining factor (from what I've been able to tell) is that you will have better luck if you are at a table time which does not get "turned". I.e. 7:00 p.m. PT start time (or so) will give you a better chance of getting the extended menu. One time when we went we asked for the extended menu on the spot (it was the end of our Honeymoon) and they did it for us (our seating was 7:30 p.m.). they kept on sending courses until we said "stop" which was about 1:30 a.m. We got some choices on the menu and otherwise the food just kept on coming. It was quite an experience. We went through 7 bottles of wine for four of us.
Btw, nice writeup.
Yep, it might have been until 2:00 a.m. actually. We didn't ask the price ahead of time (I think it was $450 when we saw the bill). They just went ahead and added courses to the regular menu from what I can recall. We went again two month later and here is a writeup of that trip (a writeup of the entire weekend of gastromonic excess slanted towards the wines). I think we started at 7:00 p.m. and got out around 1:30 a.m. the second time.
Wow!! Just wow! Can you please apply to our local paper, the SF Chronicle, to see about replacing their esteemed food critic, He whose name must not be spoken... Had the pleasure of dining there 18 years ago for the most memorable lunch ever and you evoked the feelings of that meal so eloquently. A big tip of the toque to you, noradeirdre! adam
I always love to read about The French Laundry (a vicarious thrill, I suppose), but I particularly loved your report because I believe it is the first detailed one I've read on the vegetable tasting menu, so thanks for that....It sounds as though your hubby has a similar reaction to high end restaurants to my own...perhaps if I show him this he will decided to take me there some day.
BTW, how did Tom think the beer pairings went with his dishes?
Truly enjoying your reports, again thanks!
Tom here. I thought the beers went very well with the progression of the meal, for the most part. I wish that I had started the Blu Apron one course earlier than I did. I did not get to the final beer on the list (the Aventis), but having had it before I think it would have been very nice with the desserts.
Wonderful report. This degree of detail in your report
took some effort to write.
Thank you for your time and energy, and for your description of the day,
the meal and its many courses, the server and service, the beer selections,
the vegetable tasting, the garden and setting -- all of it.