Last weekend my wife and I went on a whirlwind eating adventure in the Napa Valley,that included everything from a In-and-Out Burger to the French Laundry. Needless to say I have a few reports to write over the next few days,but thought I would start with the pinnacle experience of our trip.
Last year my wife and I visited Per Se and had a amazing dinner that we believed could never be topped. Well it looks like Thomas exceeded himself with our French Laundry meal. Part of this may have to do with the whole Yountville setting. One of the most beautiful small towns I have ever seen full of flowers and smiles,and street sweepers who drive up and down the road with nothing to sweep.
As we entered the restaurant we were greeted by Jen and Larry who treated us like long loss friends. We were escorted to our table in the downstairs dining room and I was kind of surprised by how small and cozy it was. It does not have the grandeur of Per Se,but yet I felt that it suited my style more. I have no doubt that Thomas wishes nothing to distract one from the cuisine.
I also fell in love with the china,as each course was presented on a different style plate. Also, all the truffles were grated table side,and had an amazing flavor and aroma for this time of the year.
Let me start with the menu and comments below:
Warm Gruyere Gougeres
Cornet of Marinate Salmon with Red Onion Creme Fraiche
Wonderful way of starting. What can I say!!
Puree of Avocado with Sweet Peppers (wife)
Puree of Carrot with Medjool Date (me)
Cool, Refreshing, and the pure strained essence of what they are.
Oysters and Pearls (me)
Sabayon of Pearl Tapioca with Beau Soleil Oysters
and Russian Sevruga Caviar
Cauliflower Panna Cotta
With Beau Soleil Oyster glaze and Russian Sevruga caviar(wife)
Oysters and Pearls is a classic dish that is brilliant. This was the first time tasting the Cauliflower Panna Cotta,and it was delicious.
White Truffle Oil-Infused Custard
with a Ragout of Black Perigord Truffles (wife)
Poached Arcuna Hen Egg with Thomas English Muffin,
sauce Hollandaise and Black Perigord Truffles (me)
[B]Salad of Hawiian Hearts of Palm,
Pearl Onions and Mint Oil (wife)
Warm Salad of Roasted Cepe and Chanterelle Mushrooms(me)
My wife loved the Hearts of Palm Salad,and I was in mushroom heaven.
Hand-Cut Tagliantelle with Black Perigord Truffles (wife)
Carnaroli Risotto Biologico
with Grated Black Truffles and Truffle Cream(me)
Two wonderful courses,and hard to pick which one I enjoyed more. Batali should take lessons from Keller as far as I am concerned.
The Tagliantelle was presented in a flying-nun hat type bowl.
The Risotto was creamy with a slight bite to the rice;executed perfectly.
Salt Encrusted Bronzino,
with Spanish Capers,Fennel and San Marzano Tomato(for two)
Presented to the table whole in a salt crust and taken to the kitchen to be plated. One of our favorites of the night
Maine Lobster Tail Pochee Sous Vide (me)
Caramelized Fennel Bulb, Crystallized Fennel Chip,Sweet Peppers,
and Sauce Noilly Prat
Sweet Butter Poached Maine Lobster,
Silver Queen Corn Pudding and Summer Truffles(wife)
My god just the thought of this lobster gives me a tingle. Both surpassed my lobster at Per Se by being more flavorful and tender. The Fennel chip can replace the potato chip,and the sauce Noilly Prat was to die for.
Saute of Moulard Duck Foie Gras,
Cream of Arrowleaf Spinach, Oeuf De Caille Poche Au Vinaigre De Champagne
Frisee Lettuce and Applewood Smoked Bacon Gastrique (wife)
Moulard Duck Foie Gras En Terrine, Masomoto Family Farm Peach Jelly,
Pickled Peaches, Marinated Red Onion, Melba Toast
and Crisped Carolina Rice(me)
I had the Peach Melba at Per Se, and I'm curious if this dish may have been invented by Cory Lee as he is now at the French Laundry.
Rillete of Rabbit,
Ginger Glazed Santa Rosa Plums and Melted Endive (wife)
Pork and Beans
All Day Braised Hobb's Shore Pork Belly,
Cassoulet of Early Summer Pole Beans and Whole Grain Mustard(me)
The rabbit was moist and succulent, and just wonderfully accented with the plums.
I bet the beans were supplied by Rancho_ Gordo that came with the pork belly. I made a mental note to order some in the future.
Snake River Farm Calotte De Boeuf Grillee,
Roasted Cepe Mushrooms, Braised Cipollini Onions, Crispy Bone Marrow
Scallion Salad an Sauce Bordelaise(for two)
My god,being in the restaurant business I must have thrown away hundreds if not thousands of these caps. Surely I will pay for it one day as I meet my keeper. This dish was also presented whole,and plated in the kitchen.
Abbaye De Belloc
Roasted Heirloom Beets,Beet Vinaigrette
and Frisee Lettuce (ME)
Adante Dairy Acapella with figs
and Fifty Year Old Balsamic Vinegar(wife)
Thomas has been criticized over his cheese course by some in the past but I have no complaints as they were both delicious.
Thyme Ice Cream with Warm Olive Oil (me)
Olive Oil Ice Cream with Valhrona Chocolate(wife)
The Thyme Ice Cream was presented with a thin chocolate shell covering the bowl, in which the warm olive oil was poured over to melt. Both were smooth and satisfying!!
Hayden Mango Sorbet,
Yuzu Scented Genoise,Goma Nougatine and Black Sesame Coulis (me)
Napa Valley Red Verjus Sorbet,
Szechaun Pepper Gelee, Raisin Puree, White Verjus Emulsion
and Vanilla Marinated Muscat Grape (wife)
By this time we were really full,and had been at the table over five hours. But these sorbet's were wonderfully refreshing,and added a much needed wake up call for our palate. I especially enjoyed the Verjus Sorbet.
Coffee and Donuts (both)
Cappucino semi-fredo with cinamon-sugared donuts(for two)
I have been reading about this signature dessert for years,and it exceeded my expectations in every way. As full as I was I could of ate a half a dozen.
Valrhona Bitter Chocolate Souffle
Dry Apricot Marmelade and Mascarpone Sorbet (me)
Tentation Au Chocolat Noisette Et Lait,
Milk Chocolate Cremeux,Hazelnut Streusel
with Madagascar Vanilla Ice Cream and Sweetened Salty Hazelnuts(wife)
At this point Larry said to us,"its chocolate" and not a living thing. You dont have to finish it if you dont want to. We struggled but did,as it was the perfect ending to a wonderful meal.
Mignardises to Go
For the wine lovers reading this I apologize as I did not receive a print out of the wines served. We had a pairing which had to be eight to ten different wines,which started with champagne.
A few comments on the service:
What can I say about Larry the maitre d'. He is a man at the top of his game and just as much part of the French Laundry experience as the cuisine itself.
Our main server's name escapes me as I believe it may have been Joe but he could not have been more professional,and had a personality so warm that one would think we known each other for years. Another young server named Jeremy I believe, was fantastic. After spending years in the restaurant business I would have paid this young man half my own salary to keep him in any restaurant I managed. He is that much of a asset to any front of the house. I can understand that I may be a minority,but I enjoy engaging in conversation with staff, and they were very open and friendly to the point where I would of loved to pull up a chair and have them join us.
Before leaving I had the oppurtunity to have my second kitchen tour of the night and meet Thomas as he and the staff were discussing the next days menu. He could not have been more gracious as we talked for fifteen to twenty minutes,and also was kind enough to take a photo with us. Keep in mind it had to be at least 1:00 a.m. at this time. A unheard of time for most chefs of this caliber to be in the kitchen.
This truly was a meal of a lifetime that will never be forgotten.