Thanks to someone else's cancellation, and to the flexible schedules of two friends, I finally made dinner at the French Laundry a couple of weeks ago. After everything I'd heard, I was glad to be able to find out for myself.
Two of us had the tasting menu:
"Oysters and Pearls"--a single tiny Malpeque oyster, somewhat overcooked, submerged in a rich sabayon, made texturally interesting by little tapioca pearls, and given a luxurious accent by a small spoonful of osetra caviar. Conceptually brilliant.
"Musquee de Provence" pumpkin soup--a very nice pumpkin soup, a bit more fragrant than most, but the hazelnut-sized Granny Smith apple fritters were dull and somewhat soggy, adding nothing to the dish.
Grilled Fillet of Hawaiian Big-Eye Tuna--grilled on one side only; nothing remarkable about the dish except for the thinly sliced shiitake mushroom garnish which had been fried to a crisp, and had the rich flavor of crisply fried pork fat.
"Beets and Leeks"--another famous dish, the butter-poached lobster with "melted" green leeks and red beet essence. Very nice, though the butter treatment was not nearly as apparent as I had expected. The leeks, which did have a melting quality, and the sweet red beet sauce--almost like a coulis--were more interesting than the lobster
"Un Paquet de Rilletes de Lapin"-- certainly my favorite dish of the evening! Shredded, moist rabbit flesh and small chunks of what I believe was rabbit liver (firmer and sweeter than foie gras) wrapped in caul fat and gently grilled to crisp the exterior.
"Italian Parsley Crusted Rib-eye of Elysian Fields Farm Lamb"--a disappointingly tough piece of lamb, though the parsley crust was crisp and flavorful and the accompanying roasted roma tomato very sweet. (Perhaps the "Elysian Fields" imagery led us to expect too much. )
"Maytag Blue" with Rosemary Poached Dried Fruits and Rosemary-infused Oil--a very good blue cheese, almost as good as roquefort, with the floral sweetness of the rosemary-infused fruit a good counterpoint.
"Cara Cara Orange Sorbet with Persimmon Pudding Cake"--I would have forgotten about this dessert had I not had a copy of the menu. An ordinary sorbet and a heavy steamed pudding-cake that only vaguely reminded me of persimmons.
"Delice au Chocolat et Caramel"--a nicely done caramel mousse just dense enough to support a coating of dark chocolate glaze, and trimmed with a lacy chocolate cookie and caramel creme anglaise.
It was a very good meal indeed. (I even got to see the back of Thomas Keller while he chatted with an important-looking couple.) I'd say it was definitely among the top 10 restaurant-of-this-type meals I've had. Not the best, not the second- or third-best, although it had certainly been the most expensive, at a bit over $200 per person, including 2 glasses of decent wine per person.
One of my dinner companions took the words out of my mouth when she said that it had been a very nice meal, but that it had not redefined anything for her.
Would I do it again if I happened to have a few hundred dollars and time to spare? The short answer: probably not.