Ah, dinner at The French Laundry in early May. The restaurant had just been named the Number 1 restaurant in the world, voted on by 300 international chefs. In addition, theyd just received the James Beard Award for the best service. And it's no wonder. We were seated at 6:30 and we got up at 10:00, completely unaware of the passage of time.
Im not sure I have the vocabulary for this, but I'll try. We arrived just a little early for our 6:30 reservation and had a glass of champagne in the little front bar. In the short time we were there, the hostess answered several calls, telling each caller they were fully booked on the requested dates and explaining that they got 200 calls every day. We felt truly lucky to have gotten our reservation and especially on the night of our anniversary.
Once the food started coming, we felt blessed! We ordered the Chefs Tasting Menu 9 courses for $135.00 each, not including supplements, wine, the 18% service charge and tax.
We started with a half-bottle of champagne - Pierre Peters Blanc de Blancs - and a little lagniappe before our ordered dishes began arriving was a pair of cornets: for my husband, Kellers standard scoop of salmon tartare, perched on a tiny cone that was filled with red onion crème fraîche. Because Im allergic to fresh salmon, my little cone was filled with eggplant caviar, with a scoop of chopped sundried tomatoes and I dont know what all else. It was just wonderful. Then on to the nine courses
1. The famous Oysters and Pearls oysters poached in sweet butter atop pearl tapioca and topped with osetra caviar. Marvelous texture and taste.
2. My husband had the sautéed foie gras, served with poached field rhubarb, a black pepper brioche, and vinegar gastrique. Mine was a cold foie gras slice, served with bergamot orange marmalade and toasted brioche. We each preferred our own dishes which, incidentally, both carried an additional $20 supplement. A new half-bottle was opened to go with the next couple of courses: Paul Hobbs Richard Dinner Vineyard Chardonnay 2000.
3. Filet of Atlantic cod, crusted with herbs, served over a cassoulet of pole beans and thyme-infused oil. The crust was, indeed, crusty, the fish perfectly cooked.
4. Beets and Leeks is a misleading name for this dish. Two generous chunks of butter-poached lobster, over a pile of nearly melting sautéed leeks, all on thin bright red layer of beet reduction. Resting on top was a crisp, see-through potato galette. To me, this was the absolute high of the entire meal.
Time for red wine, as the meats were coming next. One glass for each of us of Alvaro Palacios Les Terrasses Priorat 2000. I realize that yummy is probably not the appropriate adjective, but I simply dont know what else to say.
5. This one wasnt as successful as the rest: rabbit loin with spring garlic, lemon confit, toasted almonds and parsley salad. It probably didn't help that, as the plates arrived, I mumbled, "Here comes Bugs." But Im sorry, the tiny rack of rabbit, with microscopic rib bones, was just a little off-putting. Both of us tried it, and neither of us liked it.
6. More successful, but not spectacular, was the pan-roasted lamb, served with artichokes, olives and roasted tomatoes. By this time, anyway, we were beginning to fade.
7. Next was palate refresher of poached apricots and celery salad. Nice, but veering toward overkill by now.
8. Coconut sorbet with a tiny piece of warm banana bread. Now that was hard to resist. Did a little damage there.
9. Chocolate Velours a miniature valrhona chocolate cake with cocoa syrup. Incredibly rich and impossible to finish.
Naturally, this was all followed by petits fours with our coffee, as though we could put anything else solid into our mouths!
While never supercilious or pompous, the service was simply there. We never had to ask for anything - every need was anticipated and every little question was answered. When I looked for a pen to make notes on the meal and our wines, our waiter explained that we could take the menu with us, as it was dated and wouldnt be used again. In addition, he offered to write down, next to the appropriate courses, the wines we were drinking. When we jokingly said something about having lunch there the next day, he said, Absolutely come back! And, since youve just eaten dinner with us, well make sure you have a completely different experience tomorrow. We were satisfied, however, to have this be a once-in-a-lifetime meal. (Of course, now that Keller is opening a branch right here in Manhattan toward the end of this year, we can't wait to give it a try.)