travel

The French Laundry

We went to The French Laundry for the first time just a little over a year ago. I was so blown away by the experience that when I got reservations for a return visit I was secretly afraid that a poor second visit would ruin the good memories of the first.

You know how that happens. The “that was fun, let’s do it again” and then the “again” kinda sucks and to tally ruins the “that was fun.”

As it turns out my worries were unfounded because The French Laundry rocks.

**SIDENOTE: Please forgive the darkness of these photos. The restaurant was very dimly lit and I didn’t want to turn on the flash because I didn’t want to disturb the other diners. I probably could fix this with Photoshop but I’m feeling lazy.**

The meal started out with little balls of pate a choux, about the size of shooter marbles, with melted Gruyere cheese inside. I didn’t get pictures of these…they got eaten too quickly.

Followed shortly were Coronets of Salmon Tartare with creme fraiche topped with a nice little chive.

Coronets

The coronets were thin, almost paper thin, but super crunchy. The crunchiness of the coronets is the perfect pairing with the creaminess of the cream fraiche and the ocean flavor of the salmon.

OYSTERS AND PEARLS

I love caviar. This caviar in particular I love. I love how the saltiness of the caviar and oysters offsets the richness of the tapioca. I love how the caviar dissolves in your mouth. I especially love how you get to eat this with a baby spoon made of mother of pearl. Fun!

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I DON’T REMEMBER WHAT THIS WAS
It wasn’t on the menu and just showed up at our table.

I’m really not kidding. I don’t really remember what this was. This is what I remember. It was some kind of custard inside the egg. The custard was topped with a gravy like stock reduction and had a potato chip shoved inside it. The potato chip was actually two very thin slices of potatoes with a chive sandwiched between.

I remember this being very rich. It was so rich I could hardly finish it….but I did anyway. The potato chip was the best potato chip EVER. Please just give me a bowl of these and a good movie and I’ll be a happy camper.

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MOULARD DUCK “FOIE GRAS EN TERRINE”
Juniper-White Honey, Brooks Cherries, Endive Relish, Piedmont Hazelnuts and Aged Balsamic Vinegar

MOULARD DUCK "FOIE GRAS EN TERRINE"

I love that when they serve this they serve it with warm brioche. You get three bites of the bread and they replace it because it’s supposed to be served while warm!

The foie gras is the texture of room temperature butter with a sweet glaze on top. It is also served with a selection of sea salts. One of the coolest parts of this dish is that each bite tastes different because of the presentation. On some bites you get the cherries, some bites you get the endive relish and the different salts just add to the flavor diversity.

Who knew you could make relish out of endive…

I don’t want to know how many calories are in this little rectangle of heaven.

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ATLANTIC HALIBUT “CONFIT A LA MINUTE”
Chorizo, Tomales Bay Clams, Fava Beans, Paquillo Pepper, Nicoise Olive, Garlic, Parsley and Olive Oil Emulsion

ATLANTIC HALIBUT "CONFIT A LA MINUTE"

This was possibly the lightest course we had during this visit. The halibut was rich, flaky and moist. The pequillo peppers were slightly tangy but sweet and who would ever think to put raw oysters on top of a piece of fish?

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“BEETS AND LEEKS”
Maine Lobster Tail, “Pochee au Beurre Doux,” King Richard Leeks, “Pommes Maxim’s” and Red Beet Essence

"BEETS AND LEEKS"

This was one of my favorite courses. The lobster tail was super good, as any lobster tail from Maine should be. The best part of this course was the beets! Who would ever think that beets and lobster would go together?!? The leeks were almost the consistency of tuna or chicken salad. I could have eaten that stuff spread on a piece of toast all day long. Yum.

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MARCHO FARMS “COEUR DE VEAU”
Sacremento Delta Asparagus, Green Tomatoes, Grilled Melba Toast and “Sauce Gribiche”

MARCHO FARMS "COEUR DE VEAU"

Veal heart. That’s what this was. It was veal heart made into something that was like bologna. Come to think of it, this was a glorified bologna sandwich with mustard on the bottom, the toast in the middle and the bologna on top.

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SNAKE RIVER FARMS “CALOETTE DE BOEUF GRILLEE”
Tokyo Turnip, Chanterelle Mushrooms, Red Radish, Watercress and Green Pepper Sauce

What used to be...SNAKE RIVER FARMS "CALOETTE DE BOEUF GRILLEE"

This was so good that I forgot to take a picture of it before I ate it…so I took a picture after I ate it.

To say that this was the best ribeye I’ve ever eaten would be an understatement…but it was. By far. The best ribeye I’ve ever eaten. It was tender. Juicy. Well marbled. Please give me more.

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“CAVATINA”
Granny Smith Apple “en Feuille de Bric,” Celery Branch, Summer Truffle and Cider Reduction

"CAVATINA"

The cheese course was very good. Or is that obvious? It was goat cheese. Very salty. I accidentally flung that left walnut across the restaurant trying to cut it in half with my fork…

…and this was the best celery I’ve ever eaten. No, I’m not kidding.

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ROYAL BLENHEIM APRICOT SORBET
Toasted Barley-Brown Sugar Streusel, Cilantro Shoots and White Apron Ale Foam

ROYAL BLENHEIM APRICOT SORBET

The palate cleanser if apricot sorbet with some kind of yummy crunchy layer of goodness on the bottom.

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COFFEE AND DONUTS!

Coffee & Donuts

When we first went to The French Laundry I was disappointed that I didn’t get to try the legendary coffee and donuts. Honestly, when I saw the menu for this visit I wasn’t disappointed that this wasn’t on it because I had forgotten about it…so, when this arrived at our table completely unannounced I was so excited I could barely contain myself. I knew exactly what this was before the waiter even got to the table. This alone made my day.

The waiter said, “don’t try to drink it, you’ll be here a while.” This confused me. Why would you not drink coffee? Then I stuck my spoon in it…it was coffee pudding served in an espresso cup! Now it makes sense!

Was it good?
Is the grass green? Is the sky blue?

These are the best donuts I’ve ever eaten. Are you noticing a theme?

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“CREMEUX AUX FRUITS DE LA PASSION”
Silverado Trail Strawberries, Pistachio “Pan de Gene,” and White Chocolate Sorbet

"CREMEUX AUX FRUITS DE LA PASSION"

The dessert course was…go ahead…guess.

You’re right! It was good! The strawberries came from the garden across the street and were so unbelievably ripe that they were red all the way through. I didn’t realize that strawberries did that…

That was it. It was over. When the meal began and those little cheese filled puffs came to the table I almost didn’t want to eat them because I knew the meal that I have been long looking forward to would soon be over. The thought of that made me sad…and then I ate the little ball of melted cheese goodness and that thought didn’t enter my mind again.

We drank an after dinner coffee and reflected on our experience.

CAPPUCCINO

I was almost finished with my cappuccino when the waiter came to our table.

FLASH BACK: I remember last year being excited when the waiter asked us if we’d like to see the kitchen. See the kitchen? Really? YES! Yes, I would!

So when the waiter approached the table and muttered something about the kitchen I wasn’t surprised. Yes, I’d love to see the kitchen! Wait a minute. He said.., “Would you like to see the kitchen and meet the chef?”

WHAT?!?! Meet the chef? Really?

I knew Chef Keller was there – Jason spotted him outside on his way to the bathroom earlier in the meal. An event which went something like this…

Jason: What does Thomas Keller look like? Would you recognize him if you saw him?
Me: Yes, I would. Tall. Thinish. Greying dirty blone hair.
Jason: He’s outside on the patio.
Me: What? REALLY?
Jason: Go to the bathroom and see…
Me: I’m not gonna do that…(gets up and goes to the bathroom)

Was he there? In the kitchen? Working? Really? Here’s your answer.

Me and Jason with Chef Keller

I’m such a nerd. I’m a complete nerd. I can play it cool around a lot of people but when meeting Thomas Keller I started crying and almost hyperventilated. He made eye contact with me and grinned and my eyes just started welling up. Yes. I’m a dork.

He was actually working there in the kitchen. Seeing him in that capacity is just so uber cool.

Like I said, I’m a dork. Happy birthday to me!

California – Day 6

On Monday, we packed up the car and left Pebble Beach. 🙁 But before we hit the road we enjoyed a little cruise down 17-mile drive. To say that the scenery is beautiful is an understatement. The scenery is almost other-worldly; the way the ocean meets the land looks like it comes from a fairy tale.

We even got to see The Lone Cypress. It is the symbol of Pebble Beach and is 250 years old. Crazy how it can grow out of the rock like that.


After our little drive we headed out of Monterey and began the 4 hour trip to Napa Valley. On our way we stopped in Davenport at Taqueria El Jarro – something that has become somewhat of a tradition during our trips down the coast. This place makes real Mexican food – not greasy Tex-Mex.



If you ever find yourself in Davenport, CA, I highly recommend that you stop by. Plus the view is spectacular.


A quick trip over the Golden Gate Bridge (something that never gets old) and the next thing we knew we were in Napa Valley.


We got checked into the hotel and had just an hour to make ourselves presentable before our French Laundry reservation.





I will write a separate post about The French Laundry. Yes, it is expensive but if you can get a reservation and don’t mind spending at least $250 per person on dinner then I highly recommend it. Do it at least once. It is an experience that you can’t find anywhere else. I would love to delve into each individual course and describe the experience but this blog entry is already long enough!

California – Days 3 thru 5

On Friday we packed up our stuff, picked up our rental car and started the drive to Monterey…but not before we ate breakfast at Cafe La Taza.

We have driven down the Pacific Coast Highway before but the scenery never gets old. It’s difficult to not just stare out the window in awe.

The drive was relatively uneventful. We got to Monterey with no problem and as soon as we arrived we headed off to play a round of golf at Tehama. For all the golfers that follow my blog (are there any?) Tehama is diabolical. It is in a location where there should perhaps not be a golf course but that’s part of its charm.

It was cold. Very cold. Windy. Very windy. And overcast. I lost 8 balls. BUT. I had a blast!

I really feel like my golf game is getting better. Don’t you???

At least I look good. A giant improvement over my pictures from Tehama from last year.


After golf we headed back to hang out with some friends and enjoy some wine.

First thing Saturday morning we went to the US Open where we camped out on the 14th green to watch the professional golf carnage. That’s basically what we did all day.

Much of the same on Sunday. We sat on the 12th hole and watched all day long.

All in all, the US Open was awesome. If you’re a golfer/golf fan and want to know more about the Open send me and email. I’ll tell you all about it. Unfortunately, we don’t have any pictures because they don’t allow cameras or cell phones into the event. I would normally be upset about this but I have endless photos stored away in my head. It was unforgettable.

I. Just. Met. God…Kinda.

I know I told you a couple of months ago about our upcoming trip to The French Laundry. Today it happened. Today was the day. Just minutes ago I was there. I had the food. I spent four hours enjoying the work of the gourmet Monet. Just minutes ago…I met him. Thomas Keller. He was there. I saw him. We made eye contact. I shook his hand. He gave me a hug.

I cried.

I will write about the meal later. I need to go to bed now.

California – Day 2 – Our Biking Adventure

What is there to say about today? As Jason just put it, “Ass whooped”. We have a tradition when we come to San Francisco. We always spend a day riding a rented bicycle all over town. Today we continued that tradition – WITH AUTHORITY! A 30+ mile bike ride which included a trip over the Golden Gate Bridge, riding through 3 different cities and I think we may have actually climbed every hill on the San Fran peninsula – twice.

Here’s a map of our adventure.
http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&msid=103005025912010123926.000489444180173bed887&ll=37.843953,-122.4646&spn=0.189782,0.291824&z=11&output=embed
We fueled up for the bike ride at Lori’s Diner first. 2 eggs, over easy, bacon, hash browns and the best pancake I’ve ever eaten. Yum.


From there it was 9 miles over the Golden Gate to the town of Sausalito where we ate at Fish & Chips where we had…you guessed it…fish and chips. They were good. The batter was nice and cripsy. The chips were just okay but over all a solid meal.


More biking, 9 more miles, to Tiburon, where we discovered our new favorite San Fran area dining location, Sam’s Cafe. We just wanted to sit and have a drink while we waited for the ferry to arrive but the food looked too good to pass up so we ordered mussels and crab cocktail. It was absolutely fantastic.

At 3:00 p.m. we got on the ferry and started the trip back across the bay to San Francisco. The ferry was cold. Very windy. But fun!

Jason got the hair-brained idea that we should ride to Golden Gate Park after the ferry ride so we got back on the bikes and went another 11 miles down the Embarcadero to Mission Street where we were pedaled for our lives trying to dodge traffic. From Mission Street we just followed the signs…the ones that pointed straight uphill. Ouch.

Once we got to Golden Gate Park we decided that it was getting late and time to head back but not before taking care of one last San Francisco tradition…biking down Lombard Street. The unfortunate thing about biking down Lombard is that you have to get UP Russian Hill first. It was worth it though. The ride down was fun and I even risked life and limb to take a video!

After we returned our bikes and limped back to the hotel we changed clothes and went to Washington Square Bar & Grill where we had some marginal crab cakes but a kick butt burger with…are you ready for this…DUCK FAT FRIES. Double yum.

A short cab ride later and we were back to the hotel and about 10 seconds later, in bed, asleep.

California – Day 1

I am having to remind myself why we decided to book the 6 a.m. flight out of DFW this morning – because it was cheap. I am reminding myself of this because it is 3:30 p.m. (PDT) and I am finding myself completely exhausted.

In addition to the four hour flight time we also had the privilege of sitting on the tarmac at DFW for 20 minutes this morning while the ground crew tried to fix some thingamajobber that was broken with the cooling system. That little glitch aside it was a pleasant flight, which coming from me is a huge compliment to United Airlines. Flying makes me sick, literally and I didn’t feel even the slightest bit of queasiness. Yay!

Once we landed in San Francisco we hopped in a cab and went to our hotel (The Prescott) where we dropped off our stuff and then went out into town.

Here’s a map of our walk.
http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&msid=103005025912010123926.0004892d6ea04d66f1b91&ll=37.797306,-122.402716&spn=0.023738,0.036478&z=14&output=embed
Our first order of business food! This came in the form of a burger at Red’s Java Hut off the Embarcadero – an awesome, super cool breakfast/lunch spot on pier just under the Oakland Bay Bridge. Yummy! The burger was scrumptious and the view was pretty gosh darn cool.


Once we were full of burgers and beer (at 10:45 a.m. local time) we walked down the Embarcadero towards the Ferry Building where we enjoyed some cheese from the Cowgirl Creamery and some really cool salted pig parts …it was salami…and it was go-od!

Further down the Embarcadero we go…talking, enjoying the view and the absolutely perfect weather.


Near Pier 39 in Fisherman’s Wharf we discovered the Musee Mecanique, a museum of sorts…actually it’s one man’s lifetime of collecting old arcade games…all on display and in working order! It was free to get in. Three dollars of quarters was plenty enough to keep Jason and I entertained for the better part of an hour!

After the Musee Mecanique we were off to the Rogue Public House in the North Coast…quite possibly this and only this was the reason Jason wanted to spend an extra day in San Francisco.

In case you were wondering…this is just about as happy as Jason gets. The only thing that is going through his head at the moment of the above photo is, “Which beer do I want?”

Notice the look of concentration. It took him all of 10 seconds to figure it out.

Three beers later we walked back to the hotel…but not before a quick stop at my favorite coffee place on the planet, Cafe La Taza for a 20-ounce Iced Cafe Mocha. Yumm. I have had dreams about this coffee, literally.


After a little down time at the hotel we set out to dinner at Pazzia, a little casual but delicious Italian Restaurant off 3rd street. We split a bottle of wine, an order of bruschetta and a sausage and mushroom pizza. Followed by the best cappuccino. Ever.


After dinner, thanks to Jason’s taxi cab hailing skills, we took a cab to a little dive bar called Toronado off Haight Street. Jason enjoyed two beers that he cannot find in Dallas, Pliny the Elder and Damnation. I didn’t have any but I take it on his authority that they were very good.

Some contact lens trouble cut our evening short. At 10 p.m. we got in yet another cab and came back to the hotel.

Wednesday, June 10 – the Trip Home

This is the last entry from our trip! Enjoy!

The last day of our trip was much more eventful than we anticipated. We dropped off the rental car, I got a cafe mocha from Cafe La Taza and we headed to the airport. Jason spent most of the flights thinking about work, making some notes and trying to bring his brain back from California. I spent most of the flight trying not to throw up on the poor guy next to me.

We arrived back in Dallas to some very overcast weather. We got in the car and noticed quite a bit of lightning. I turned on the radio and we landed during the middle of a tornado warning! This huge line of severe thunderstorms was barreling our direction and we were only about 10 minutes in front of it. We were hoping to pick up the dog and make it home before the storm found us so I was pushing our little Beamer to the brink of acceptable speeds.

Somewhere between downtown and the Hwy 80 split I heard a rumbling noise…we had a flat tire! What poor timing! I slowed down and exited the freeway. Jason and I executed a tire change in record time! 5 minutes flat! It was almost like a tire change ballet – beautifully executed with not a second wasted. Unfortunately, the storm caught us just as we were finishing up and we had to drive the rest of the way in a the pouring rain and 70 mph winds! What an exciting end to an exciting trip!