Friday, August 14, 2009

Restaurant Experience: The French Laundry Happy Anniversary!

Happy Anniversary Mr. and Mrs. Walnofer (shameless self plug!). Being that you are only in Napa Valley once in your lifetime and it just so happens to coincide with your 1st Anniversary and I just so happen to be currently employed as a team member of the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group (TKRG), we decided to cap off the weekend of celebration with the greatest dinner of all time. After a relaxing day poolside at the Yountville Inn, the Mrs. and I got all fixed up for the 2 minute drive down to The French Laundry (TFL). Jackets mandatory and little black dresses required for this date. Heralded by some as "The most exciting place to eat in the United States"-Ruth Reichle, The New York Times, I'm not going to lie, we were both a little bit nervous walking in. Life doesn't bless you with many opportunities to dine at 3-Star Michelin restaurants. In fact, their are only a handful in the entire United States. Get ready, this is going to take awhile. Sit Time: 7:42p.m. There it is, the famous French Laundry napkin fold and the signature clothespin. TFL does actually have their own laundry to clean the TKRG linens and tablecloths. As soon as this thing falls into your lap, IT IS ON!
Wine #1: Out of the ice bucket and into the glass, a NV Pierre Gimonnet, "Blanc de Blancs," Cuis, 1er Cru Champagne. Amuse Bouche 1: 7:43p.m. The Escoffier classic Gougère. A cheesepuff that Nabisco and Chef Thomas Keller obviously collaborated on because these things tasted exactly like a Goldfish.Amuse Bouche 2: 7:44p.m. The TFL trademark "Cornets" of Salmon Tartare with Sweet Red Onion Creme Fraiche. A specially created cone holder makes these the most elegant finger food I have ever had.1st Course: 7:53p.m. Vichyssoise Soup. Pickled pearl onions, scallions, and summer truffles. No description can be given to explain how smooth the consistency of this soup was. The brightness of the acidity from the pickled vegetables cutting through the cream and the burst of finishing flavor from the summer truffles already left me speechless.
Wine #2: Alsatian 2006 KuentzBas "Tradition" Riesling replaced the Champagne as we roared through the Chef's Tasting menu. We had still yet to see a menu or had any idea of how many courses the Chef would be sending out. Fun stuff, eh!2nd Course: 7:59p.m. "Oysters and Pearls" with a "Sabayon" of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar. Remember that Champagne from 7 minutes ago. A chilled refill and the classic pairing of Caviar and Champagne is complete. 3rd Course: 8:14p.m. Santa Barbara Sea Urchin with Pink Apple Granite. Sea Urchin is incredible salty and has a melt in your mouth texture. The crystalline structure of the granite actually provided all the texture for the dish and the acidity of the pink apple balanced the sea flavor of the urchin. Very unique!
4th Course: 8:25p.m. Atlantic Fluke "Fume a la Minute" with Blis Maple Syrup. The summer flounder was served in a glass sphere encased in a cloud. As the lid was removed, the entrapped maple smoke exited creating an olfactory tantalizing puff around the Mrs. and I. "What are they having gawked a nearby table of 8?" Just something from the chef in the kitchen. The presentation neat-o factor was very high on this dish.
5th Course: 8:34p.m. Sauteed Fillet of Japanese Bluefin Tuna with Red Radish, Romaine Lettuce and "Bottarga di Muggine." Classic garden freshness served with fresh fish. What is Bottarga di Muggine you ask? Dried egg sac from a Mullet fish. Kind of like dried placenta I guess. Trust me, it tasted better than the mental perception I just created for you. 6th Course: 8:45p.m. Tartare of Japanese Sea Scallop with Aleita Komachi Rice, English Cucumber, Perilla Shoots and Black Sesame. Chef de Cuisines Tim Hollingsworth is showing off some classic Asian flavors in this dish. If I was TFL, I would put that sesame paste in a bottle and sell it in Wal-Mart (sorry, Northwest Arkansas humor coming out in that one).
Wine #3: 1958 Barbeito, Malvasia, "Reserva Velha" Madeira. Just bottled after 50 years in heavily toasted barrels. Nutty, raisiny goodness that was as old as our parents.
7th Course: 8:54p.m. Jidori Hen Egg Custard with a Ragout of Perigord Truffles. Another famous dish of TFL. The custard is baked in the perfectly opened egg shell and infused with the finest truffles southwest France has to offer. The wine pairing and the dish was my favorite out of the first seven courses. Maybe even the favorite of the night.............maybe another will dethrone it before the evening is over. We shall see.Wine#4: Something creamy and buttery must be on its way with a 2006 Hestan, Napa Valley Chardonnay being served. Half bottles are the way to go for gastronomic tasting menus and they dominate the TFL Wine list. Trust me though, a 1/4 bottle split between two is all you need. It's classy by the way to leave a little wine in your glass right?
Bread and Butter: 9:08p.m. Selection of Local California unsalted butter or Animal Farm's butter from Orwell, Vermont ( on the TFL dinner roll. The high butterfat content of the Animal Farm Butter gave it the exact flavor of melted movie popcorn butter. Those Jersey's up in Vermont sure no how to do what they do.
8th Course, 9:12p.m. Salad of Mission Figs with Fennel Bulb, Oxalis Blossoms, and Balsamic Vinegar. Clean and crisp salad. Perfect mid-menu option to slow the fatigue. Speaking of fatigue, we took a little bit of a break at this point and toured the upstairs of the restaurant. TFL has an upstairs balcony that overlooks their garden and provides a nice breath of fresh Napa Valley air. Back to our seats.9th Course: 9:29p.m. Hand-Cut "Tagliatelle" with Black Icon Truffles from Australia. Is there anything more beautiful than a shaving of black truffle floating like a feather down to a plate of handmade pasta as it is being camouflaged on its way down by the cocktail dress of the most beautiful Walnofer in the world?
I don't think so.10th Course: 9:51p.m. Sauteed Fillet of Atlantic Striped Bass with Hobb's Bacon, French Laundry Garden Squash, Fennel Bulb and Spanish Capers. Here is the detail work of the expienced TFL chefs at its finest. A brunoise of fennel, squash, and bacon creates a perfect edible garnish.
11th Course: 10:10p.m. Maine Lobster Tail "Pochee Au Beurre Doux" with Hass Avocado, Tomato Crouton, Little Gem Lettuces, and Summer Truffle Creme Fraiche. Sweet butter poached lobster tail is all the "surf" I ever need.Salt Plate: 10:25p.m. Top three from Hawaii. Bottom two French.The middle salt was excavated from the dead sea of Montana, over 200 million years old. Is that a hint of crush paleolithic dinosaur bones I taste? I don't think I can look at my salt shaker the same way ever again.
Wine#5: 2005 Cold Heaven, Viognier, "Late Harvest," Santa Barbara. Oh no, something with really high residual sugar, similar to the classic Sauternes! It must be time for the Foie course!
12th Course: 10:27p.m. Moulard Duck "Foie Gras au Torchon" with Honey Glaze, Peach Relish, Celery Branch, and Cream Yogurt. A foie experience unlike any other I have ever experienced. Nothing melts in your mouth better than foie gras.Wine#6: 2007 Lucia Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands. We were both wondering when we would even get to the red wine part of the course. Whew! Slowing down and sipping less and less. The beauty of this presentation of a dinner is that you only have to take bites and one sips to "achieve" the experience.13th Course: 10:52p.m. Marcho Farms Veal Sweetbreads with Swiss Chard, Cipollini Onions, and Pickled Huckleberries. Beer battered sweetbreads with a mixture of spices that oddly enough took me down "the Golden Arches" memory lane. I would never compare MacDo to TFL, I'm not saying I'm just saying.
14th Course: 11:14p.m. Snake River Farms "Calotte de Boeuf Grille" with French Laundry Garden Potato Confit, Spinach, Chantrelle Mushrooms, Bone Marrow Pudding, and "Sauce Dijonnaise." Prime red meat at it's finest. You don't need 12oz's when 2oz's is this good.
15th Course: 11:36p.m. Serra Da Estrela with Iberico Ham, Globe Artichokes, Pain Perdu and Piquillo Peppers. A tempered Portugese sheep's milk cheese was quinelled by our server on top of the set. Sweet, salty, creamy, vegetal, dairy. A little taste of every sense in this one.
16th Course: 11:51p.m. Peach Sorbet with Oatmeal Cookie and Honey. A palate cleansing is greatly needed at this point in the meal. All savory taste bud receptors are beyond fatigue and a little sweetness is now needed.
17th Course:12:04p.m. "Coffee and Doughnuts." Cinnamon-Sugared Doughnuts and "Cappuccino Semifreddo." My mom always told me, no sweets after midnight, but this was an exception that I was more than willing to make. No longer on the tasting menu, this TFL icon dessert is only available to VIP's nowadays. Not for sure how we ended up with it, but more than happy to accept. I have seen this reincarnation at school a dozen times or more, but no B&P student has yet to master the real thing.
Wine#7: 1995 La Cave de l'Abbé Rous Banyuls, "Cuvée Christian Reynal," Grand Cru. Another fortified wine, surely no more chocolate!
18th Course: 12:16p.m. Mint Parfait with "Thomas Keller Oreo" Cookie Crust, Chocolate Sorbet and Crispy "Dentelle". A little mint to freshen the breath and the deepest, rich chocolate to put us over the top! Yeah, Happy Anniversary to us! This was the best gift of spoils we could have ever given each other. Wait, our anniversary was yesterday! It's already Monday. I gotta go to work at Bouchon in 6 hours.
19th Course: 12:31p.m. The Mignardises. Assortment of handmade bite-sized desserts presented elegantly in a chrome multi-leveled candy jar. This is the most classy way to end a meal I think I might ever experience.

20th Course: 12:35p.m. Chocolate Truffles and Petit Fours served tableside. Wow, is the only word to describe the celebration, the experience, and the love of 1-year of marriage. Now off for a kitchen tour to shake the hand of Chef Hollingsworth and give our compliments to the TFL chefs. Once again, wow. "Did the Laundry shrink my pants again, because my belt is a little tight for some reason?"

No comments: