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A meal at The French Laundry (Part 2: The food)

tfl kitchenLet’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.

The restaurant's 2.5 acre garden

The restaurant's 2.5 acre garden

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.)

Gougeres

Gougeres

The parade of treats started with classic gougères, warm and almost creamy inside.

Cornets

Cornets

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.

Oysters and pearls

Oysters and pearls

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.

TFL bread butter

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.

Hearts of palm salad

Hearts of palm salad

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.

Olive-oil poached salmon

Olive-oil poached salmon

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.

Lobster with garlic tuile, dandelion greens and ham consommé

Lobster with garlic tuile, dandelion greens and ham consommé

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.

More bread!

More bread!

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.

Black truffle poularde

Black truffle poularde

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.

Lamb with pistachio jus and sour cherry marmalade

Lamb with creamed corn and chanterelles

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 of the meal

Best dish of the meal

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.

Jasmine panna cotta

Jasmine panna cotta

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.

Deconstructed butter pecan ice cream

Deconstructed butter pecan ice cream

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.

Chocolate, salt, citrus

Chocolate, salt, citrus

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.

Truffle assortment

Truffle assortment

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.

"Coffee" and doughnuts

"Coffee" and doughnuts

Still more. Next comes the signature coffee and doughnuts dish. Warm sugared brioche doughnut holes accompany a cool and creamy cappuccino semifreddo.

Candies

Candies

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

13 comments Add your comment

Veggie

August 7th, 2013
3:22 pm

Just curious, assuming everything offered was eaten, I wonder how many calories were consumed…

nsk

August 7th, 2013
3:39 pm

That’s almost exactly the same menu I had in March. And I agree with your assessment: fantastic overall experience, but no one standout best-of-lifetime dish. Nice piece.

Baltisraul....

August 7th, 2013
4:16 pm

Veggie……I can answer your question; all the calories were consumed. If you are counting calories at The French Laundry, you have wasted a good night out on the town.

Ned Ludd

August 7th, 2013
4:43 pm

Well done Jenny—Thanks for your wonderful and descriptive phrases and detailed pictures. Spellcheck was obviously and essential part of your review! Great place to visit, truly a work of edible art. Certainly a lot of hard work behind the scenes goes on here, but they make it seem so simple. Here’s to hoping they never change.

Art

August 7th, 2013
4:59 pm

Nice piece. Imagine the prep that goes into making that happen every night. To be in wine country, I find it interesting that they don’t do wine pairings. I’d be interested to know how long it took you from start to finish? We did a 7-course dinner at Cyrus (now closed) in Healdsburg last summer and I was waving the white flag after the 5th course. You really have to pace yourself with these gastronomic marathons and bread temperance is a must.

Sean

August 8th, 2013
9:29 am

I’m glad you got in! The menu was fairly different than what I had last month. Definitely a meal to remember! See my blog if you are curious as to my experience

http://www.thedryrub.blogspot.com/2013/07/the-french-laundry-in-yountville-ca.html

Jenny Turknett

August 8th, 2013
9:42 am

Baltisraul – yes, all calories were consumed! ;) Art, it only took us about 2.5 hours. I thought it might take longer, but the service was so quick there was little delay between courses. I was willing to stay as long as they fed me!

Lisa

August 8th, 2013
9:47 am

WOW. that’s wonderful and you did a great job of capturing the experience. Food Porn rocks, Jenny! Thanks.

Edward

August 8th, 2013
10:03 am

Do they have offerings for people with shellfish allergies? I notice that on many of these pre-fixe meals at various restaurants, a lot of the courses are shellfish. Since those are deadly, and as a side note, I can’t stand truffles (to me, they taste like dirty feet smells), I suppose I can save myself the expense of one of these meals.

Baltisraul....

August 8th, 2013
11:35 am

Edward…..I have a shrimp allergy. Don’t know if it is from white or brown shrimp, as my Dr could not tell for sure. Since I love shrimp, we eat it all the time and I get hives 25% of the time. The itching last about 30 min. Not so bad, so I keep on eating my shrimp and loving life! Benedril is always in my wife’s purse. Nobody goes thru life undefeated!

jamie

August 8th, 2013
3:04 pm

Had the brains at Per Se. Even Thomas Kellar can’t make brains texturally pleasing. I will say that the waiter picked up on the amount of food left on my plate and brought me another course without a word.

Jenny Turknett

August 8th, 2013
3:05 pm

Edward, good question about the allergy. I would imagine they would make some substitutions, maybe from the vegetarian tasting? They did ask about allergies each time I spoke with the restaurant prior to our meal. But, interestingly enough, although we mentioned my husband’s avoidance of gluten and they confirmed it when we arrived, they just made sure to point out the three meticulously placed croutons on the dish before him (instead of leaving them off).

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