The French Laundry

French Laundry
6640 Washington Street
Yountville, Ca 94599

March 9, 2003

It seems just silly to call this a review. Of Course the meal was fabulous! And there was no doubt it would be. This is a record of our experience as well as our meal that exceeded my already HIGH expectations.

This journey began in December when my old boss and new Web contract client gave me a gift certificate for the French Laundry. I hyperventilated when I opened the envelope—well, practically! Initially I wanted to go for my birthday (which became Chantrelle’s Adventures on the Wine Route) but the already impossible-to-get reservations were that much more impossible because they were closed from 1/1 to 1/17!!! Soooo, on 1/18 I called from 2 different phones at 10am for 20 solid minutes of redialing, finally got through and got a Sunday reservation for four. Phew! and YAY!!

So, the boys started debating over what wine in our cellars could possibly be worthy of the $50 corkage fee (and also hoping their suits still fit—jackets are required). And us girls, well, were being more girly than we ever are stressing over what to wear that was worthy of this monumental event. Anyway, we went shopping and I’m never allowed to go shopping with Keri ever again…the dress was a bit pricey but gorgeous! The guys picked wine, the suits fit…we were off to Yountville!!

We stayed at the Bordeaux House which is literally two doors down from the restaurant. It’s within staggering distance because driving is most definitely not an option. Even if wine isn’t consumed, the food is absolutely intoxicating.

6:15: we arrive at Mecca (Note: this is the last time the time is noted until we finis the meal….4 1/2 hours later!). The menu is completely overwhelming and the dining area is absolutely silent (don’t worry, that changes!). We felt like we were in a food library and were whispering questions to each other like school kids! We were a bit intimidated by the whole experience.

Our waiter, whose name escaped me as soon as the food took over my brain, was there to help us through the awe-inspiring 3-page menu right away. Since I’m the picky one, I opted for the five-course tasting, my hubby got the Chef’s tasting, substituting seafood for the meat courses, my dress-shopping-partner-in-crime got the Chef’s tasting “as-is” and her hubby got the Chef’s tasting with the Foie Gras. We had all the bases covered.

So the event begins….The arrival of (trumpets blare) the cone. “Unwrap and eat” are the instructions. It was really everything I imagined it could be but even better. The cone wasn’t crumbly but it was crispy, savory and sweet simultaneously. The crème fraîche was divine; not sour, just exquisite and the salmon was perfect, like buttah.

The next course not listed on the menu (it really is funny that they call it a 5-course…then bring 4 courses not listed!) was a cold “soup” of crab, radish and Fuji apple and I thought, and possibly said out loud, “These are all of my favorite things rolled into one dish—how did he know?” Crisp, refreshing but the crab made it creamy…mmm….crab fat.

The rest of the crew had the trademark Oysters and Pearls which I wanted to try and it was really good but just the opposite of the crab soup. It was everything I don’t really like in a dish: tapioca, cooked oysters (only like them raw) although they were just barely poached, and caviar. So thinking it was even edible was a huge culinary feat! I’m the supertaster! But, yes, its just as good and just as, well, odd, as people say it is.

The first item off the menu for me was the “Tartare” of Hawaiian Big-Eye Tuna with Piquillo Peppers, Haas Avocado and “Huile d’espellette.” Funny, this is similar to a dish I had at Aqua but in idea alone. The Ahi was the best fish I’d had since the Ahi straight off the boat in Hawaii…which we had for breakfast, lunch and dinner but that’s another story. Another two of my favorite things on the planet are Ahi and avocado and this was the perfect combination of those. Cilantro sprouts gave the hit of cilantro without overwhelming the fish and the avocadoes were soooo sweet. The piquillo peppers added just a hint of warmth; they were almost not even noticeable.

The Foie Gras came out next. I tried it because I was at the French Laundry for goodness sake! I tried everything! Anyway, apparently it was just to die for but it still wasn’t for me.

And because I typically don’t eat land animals, (although I tried Keri’s quail and it was amazing!) I got two seafood dishes. The first: Sautéed Filet of Dover Sole with a “Ragoût” of Young Fava Beans, Yellowfoot Mushrooms and Madras Curry Emulsion. I was excited about this one because it had the infamous peeled-while-raw fava beans (discussed in Soul of a Chef) and I have to say, they were the greenest fava beans I’ve ever had! :)

The others had the Grilled Pacific Big-Eye Tuna with Wilted Savoyard Spinach, King Trumpet Mushrooms and Sauce “Mignonette.” I have absolutely NO idea what King Trumpets are. A quick Google search tells me that they are Pleurotus eryngii (Also known as King Oyster or King Eryngii). That’s not in Mushrooms Demystified so they don’t really exist ;) They are cultivated in Sebastapol for the French Laundry. They have the texture of little tiny porcinis but a very nutty flavor. Quite tasty! The spinach was a perfect compliment to both the fish and the shrooms.

Maine Diver Scallop

The Hand Harvested Maine Diver Scallop with Broccoli “Florettes”, Broccoli Purée and Périgord Truffle Salad was the surprise pairing of the evening: Broccoli and truffles! An utterly heavenly combination. “And they sure didn’t skimp on the truffles—the dish was black!

Caesar Salad

The winner of the evening (close race with the scallop) was the “Caesar Salad” (Sweet Butter Poached Main Lobster with Roasted Hearts of Romaine Lettuce, “Confit” of Sweet Garlic, Parmesan “Croutons” and “Bottarga Emulsion”). Oh…my…god…the Lobster! Honestly, the only thing in my notes from dinner is: “Lobster: pure sex”. That’s it, it’s beyond description. It was buttery but not heavy, it was the perfect texture. The combination with the roasted romaine…I mean, who cooks lettuce!?!…was earth-shatteringly amazing.

Now, we think we’re winding down. I get the “Tomette” with a Salad of Endive, Sultanas and Spiced Hazelnuts. I hate raisins. I love these! They’re almost tart, especially when combined with the bitterness of the endive. Also, it’s topped with anise—hate that too—I devoured this dish.

Pear Sorbet

OK, so all that’s left is dessert, right? Well, yes and no. First the palate cleansing sorbet: Red Wine Poached Pear Sorbet with a Cream of Wheat Pudding Cake. Light and yummy but we’re filling up fast!

Delice au Chocolate et Caramel

Next, coffee. We knew this wasn’t an ordinary cup of coffee. Of course not: a blend of Ecuadorian, Guatemalan, and Brazilian beans harvested, roasted and blended just for the French Laundry. It had NO bitterness—even black, it was the smoothest coffee EVER.

Declinaison au Chocolat

Then death-by-chocolate arrived: “Déclinaison au Chocolat”: Hazelnut and Chocolate “Mille-Feuille” with “Mousse au Chocolat Tiède” and Chocolate Sorbet. I thought I was going to die. Really. One, I was about to explode. Two, I didn’t need to continue living after experiencing the Mille-Feuille. In layman’s terms, it was hazelnut praline with hazelnut flour and dark chocolate layers…more like hazelnut rice krispie treats layered in between the most divine chocolate on the planet or elsewhere! The sorbet actually frightened me…I forgot it was sorbet and it was covered in a chocolate syrup so it looked like it was a warm dessert…eek! Cold! Mind-bogglingly yummy but cold!!

The exploto cookies
The exploto cookies

So, we’re done…WRONG! They bring us cookies! Ian ate one. The rest of us almost exploded just looking at them! We took them home and ate them the next day and they were still to-die-for even in a doggie-bag.

We paid, which really is a painful experience after such a blissful evening. We staggered down the stairs, chatted with some of the staff, gave them FoodPorn cards ;) and moseyed on back to the hotel.

Believe it or not, we ate at Lyon’s the next day and had the worst breakfast ever but it was the only place open on a Monday morning! What a contrast!

Oh, I almost forgot, on the way out of the French Laundry I signed the guest book which was really funny…The hostess opened the book and asked if I wanted to sign and hadn’t seen the last entry and she was very embarrassed. In HUGE capital letters that took up half of a page, someone had written, “HOLY SHIT THAT WAS GOOD!” I couldn’t have said it better myself ;)