When driving by you’d never guess that this tiny building is one of the top 10 restaurants in the world. Its very unassuming. If you didn’t know it was there…you’d never see it. Inside it is very small – much smaller than I anticipated. It has two small dining rooms both with about 7-8 tables, one upstairs and one downstairs. It feels more like you’re at a dinner party at someone’s home than it does a restaurant.
French Laundry is special – not just because it is famous but because it is unique. They serve a 9-course tasting menu that is different every day. Our experience on Sunday is unlike the experience that anyone else will ever have. It is unique to us and the other people that were dining with us on Sunday. Each meal is carefully crafted so that you never repeat an ingredient during the course of the meal. Since it is a tasting the portions are only a couple of bites. You get just enough of each course for it to make you want more – then its gone – and you move on to the next course.
Jason and I arrived at the French Laundry at 5:20 for our 5:30 PM reservations. Since we had a few extra minutes before dinner we sat outside in their garden and waited for Holden and Tamara to arrive. After only a few minutes of waiting we were all ready to go and were being escorted to our table.
Once we sat down they reviewed the menu with us and helped us choose wine that fit our tastes and also went well with the menu. All the pairings were spot on – they fit each individual dish perfectly. The service staff was extremely attentive. Our table had a team of approximately 5 different servers – each doing a particular job. When each course was brought out it was delivered in unison almost like a ballet. During the second course they took away our old brioche and replaced it with fresh because “it was meant to be served warm”. Seriously, if I had known they were going to give me more….I would have eaten more than two bites of the first piece.
I tried to take pictures of each course but as I drank more and ate more the easier it got to forget…oh well. They would not allow a flash during the meal and most of the light in the room was sunlight so the further we got into our meal the darker the photos got. I will try to tell as much about these dishes as I can remember but I am not going to describe their taste. I cannot describe in words the flavors that we experienced – I will leave this up to your imagination. Just know that to say that this was the best meal I have ever had would be a huge understatement. The taste of each dish will be something I will never forget – it will be something I will take with me to my grave.
Okay, enough babbling – this is what we had:
“Oysters & Pearls”
“Sabayon” of Pearl Tapaioca with Island Creek Oysters and California Sturgeon Caviar
Paired with: Pierre Gimonnet, Champagne, “Blanc de Blancs”
Moulard Duck “Foie Gras en Terrine”
White Honey Glaze, Onion-Mustard Seed Relish, Mustard Greens & Peach Purée
Paired with: Topaz, “Special Select”, Late Harvest, California 2003
The foie gras came with three different types of salt to pair with the dish. Between the salt and the onion-mustard seed relish each bite of the foie gras tasted completely different.
Sautéed Japanese Bluefin Tuna
Salad of Lily Bulb, Carrot, Sesame Seed and Red Radish with Broccoli Purée and Yuzu Paired with: Pieropan, Soave Classico, Veneto 2007
Paired with: Patz & Hall, Chardonnay, “Hyde Vineyard, “ Carneros 2006
I got so excited when I saw the lobster that I forgot to take a picture. It was beautiful and delicious. You’ll just have to use your imagination.
Four Story Hills Farm “Poularde”
Hobbs’ Bacon, English Peas, Turnips and Béarnaise Reduction Paired With: Giuseppe Mascarello, “Monprivato,” Barolo, Piedmont 2003
This chicken isn’t the normal chicken you buy at Kroger. It is milk fed which makes the flesh bright white. Four Story Hills Farm is the only farm in the country milk feeding chicken.
“Chateaubriand” of Nature-Fed Veal
“Ris de Veau, “ Yukon Gold Potato, Wild Asparagus, Peppers and “Sauce Pimenton”
Kuroge Beef “Saucisson En Croute”
White Asparagus, Summer Truffles, Bing Chefies and Mache
Paired With: Staglin Family, Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford 2005
Course #6 allowed a choice of dish. I ordered the veal and Jason ordered the sausage. I can’t describe the sausage because obviously I didn’t eat it but I can tell you the veal was amazing. It came with crispy potatoes and glazed sweetbreads. I have never had sweetbreads before but OMG they were amazing!
Beets, Green Apple and English Walnut
Paired With: Karhauserhof, Riesling, “Eitelsbacher Karthaserhofberg-#13, “Auslese, Mosel 1990
This was a cheese dish. Timanoix cheese is a goats milk cheese from southern France. It was tangy and salty and went very well with the beats. As you can see from the picture I was excited about the cheese because I had already started eating it when I remembered to take a picture.
Ginger “Gelee, “ Puffed Quinoa and Boysenberry Puree
This was a palate cleansing course. It did a great job of getting my tastebuds out of savory into sweet. Got excited therefore no photo.
“Cateau Au Chocolat Avec Bavarois Praliene”
Caramelized Gros Michel Bananas and Hazelnut Sorbet
Lemon Verbena, “Vacherin”
Tellicherry Pepper, Panna Cotta, Garden Lemon Verbena Sherbet and Chilled Silverado Trail Strawberry Consomme
Paired With: Kiralyudvar, Tokaji Cuvee, “Ilona,” Tokaji 2002
Our dessert course left us with another choice. I chose the chocolate and Jason chose the lemon sorbet. It is hard to tell from the photos becuase it was getting very dark but the chocolate dish had “bars” of cocolate that were a brownie like consistency with a cracker like crust on the bottom.
That was it. The dinner that we had been waiting on for two months was over. They brought the bill and some shortbread cookies to take home as well as a custom printed menu of our choices and wine pairings. This meal wasn’t cheap – upwards of $2,000 for four people – but it was worth every penny and I strongly urge anyone who can swing it to do it just once. It was the experience of a lifetime.
After our dinner was over the head waiter asked us if we’d like a tour of the kitchen…WOULD WE?!?!? Are you kidding???? OF COURSE WE WOULD!
So we stood there in the kitchen for 5 minutes just watching the frenzy of the chefs in the kitchen. The kitchen was pristine and organized. The nightly menus were taped to butcher paper on the tables each chef had a specific job.
The French Laundry gets 5% of its produce from gardens that they own across the street. All the produce that they don’t grow themselves they get locally. On Monday we went by the garden to take pictures (since it was dark when we left). Here is a photo from the garden.
That’s it. It was awesome. I’m already trying to figure out how I’m going to swing getting another reservation…maybe in a few years. It will take that long for my tastebuds to recover!