Let’s pick up where we left off.
Thomas Keller signs “The French Laundry Cookbook” with the phrase, “It’s all about finesse.” And it is. You’ll observe the refinement woven into every facet of the dining experience from start to finish.
As you would hope, the service is flawless. What I didn’t expect was to be so amused by the dry sense of humor of the head waiter. He infused a sense of levity that transformed the atmosphere, preventing it from being the overly formal and stuffy affair that it so easily could have been.
Every detail has been considered and crafted to create the desired experience. Bills are handwritten on laundry tags, the large wooden truffle box is inlaid with the clothespin logo, a waiter trails the head waiter with a thick wooden crate containing Austrailian black winter truffles to be shaved on dishes with a flourish.
Of course, this delicate precision extends to the kitchen. When I stepped into the exceedingly clean and bright-with-natural-light kitchen, the first thing I noticed was a bevy of chefs intensely focused and gingerly placing components with tweezers.
Each course and amuse sent our way was presented with pride and how we enjoyed tucking into each, discovering each nuance and hidden component. The meal (with beverages and extras) was my most expensive and most memorable (it’d better be!) to date.
Was it everything I expected? Yes and no. While the overall experience was on par with what I’d hoped, there wasn’t one single dish that I could point to as the best dish I’ve ever eaten.
We also hoped for a little more of an adventure with the ingredients. I love beef, lobster and lamb. But, where was the sauteéed calf’s brain with pancetta and brown butter I’d read about? If ever there was a chef I trusted enough to eat whatever I was given…
I’d also hoped for wine pairings, maybe for every other course? Pairings aren’t offered for the day’s menu, but the head waiter and Master Sommelier, Dennis Kelly are quick to recommend a progression based on the menu, your tastes and your budget.
Below I’ll share the photos of each bite. I confess that I was the annoying foodie with the DSLR camera shooting each morsel. (But, that’s a topic for another blog post.)
The parade of treats started with classic gougères, warm and almost creamy inside.
Next came the restaurant’s signature tartare cornets filled with crème fraîche. This amuse was one of my favorite bites of the meal. The papery thin sesame cornets were so delicate with the tiniest crunch. Its slight sweetness played off of the salted fish and tangy crème fraîche.
The iconic oysters and pearls dish. Two plump and meaty Island Creek oysters and a generous portion of white sturgeon caviar burst with the salinity needed by the tapioca custard below.
Beware of the bread. Don’t get full here. At this point, you’re starting to get into the groove and are ready to see those dishes continue to fly out of the kitchen. Two kinds of butter, a cheesy unsalted from Pennsylvania and the beehive-shaped salted one from Vermont melt into the yeasty rolls, making them so hard to resist. Couple of bites only. Stand strong.
Salad of Hawaiian hearts of peach palm with Marcona almonds. This dish had a few surprises like the long rectangles of palm custard lined with an apple reduction gelée and dollops of creamy Marcona almond butter.
King Salmon “Confit a la minute.” The salted (but not salty) olive-oil poached rounds of fish almost melted in your mouth. Textural variations included the luxuriously thick-but-smooth red beet and orange purée and a crispy triangle of housemade seeded lavash.
Sweet butter-poached Maine lobster. The whisper of sweetness of the lobster was tempered by a thin garlic essence tuile. The accompanying dandelion greens with a beautifully light but full-bodied ham consommé felt like a nod to our good old collards stewed with ham hocks. Sorry, grandma, I’m going with Keller’s version. In fact, my next project will be to replicate to that consommé.
Behold the return of the bread basket with a new range of selections including miniature loaves of sourdough, multigrain and a chewy buttered pretzel. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Milk-poached poularde with a black truffle stripe. Another of my favorites, this dish had a symphony of flavors from the salty meat stuffed with the earthy truffle to pistachio jus and sour cherry marmalade. I only thought about licking the plate.
Herb-roasted lamb rib eye. This Elysian Fields lamb was so smooth for domestic lamb. It came paired with a take on creamed corn with bacon, buttery chanterelles and mild padrón peppers.
Best dish! Cheese course. Bites of Robiola Foglie de Fico, an Italian fig-leaf-wrapped goat’s milk cheese, dance in a light tomato vierge sauce and conceal a delightful burst of flavor in the charred eggplant purée below.
The last course on the menu is listed as an assortment of fruits, ice cream, chocolates and candies. That won’t prepare you for the fabulous onslaught of dishes that will decorate your table and make you regret digging into the bread basket.
First up: A smooth quenelle of jasmine tea panna cotta with sliced plum, ginger syrup and a chewy paprika-chile-spiced almond cookie. Floral, fruit and spice: a light way to ease you into dessert.
Caramelized ice cream with shaved pecans. Think of an intensely buttery, deconstructed butter pecan ice cream. I may or may not have eaten this with my eyes closed.
Another quenelle. This one a Valrhona chocolate mousse topped with a delicate salted orange cloud over chocolate dacquoise crumbs. It’s hard to go wrong with crunchy salt crystals and chocolate.
Ready for more chocolate? Prepare yourself for the presentation of chocolates. The glossy bites include flavors like white-chocolate-lime, pbj, hazelnut, salted caramel and dark beer.
Still more. Next comes the signature coffee and doughnuts dish. Warm sugared brioche doughnut holes accompany a cool and creamy cappuccino semifreddo.
Parting gift: Toffee-sugared macadamias and housemade caramels. These might find their way into your purse or pocket for later enjoyment.
A meal to remember? Without question.
–by Jenny Turknett, Food and More blog