Thursday, July 15, 2010

San Francisco & Napa: Legendary Culinary Experience at French Laundry - Worth All The Hype!

When thinking about honeymoon and mini-moon locations, we knew we wanted some place that offered us great food; afterall, we live to eat! I don't quite recall how we ended up picking San Francisco, but perhaps it was the alluring possibility of visiting The French Laundry. We learned later that the little town of Yountville actually has the highest concentration of Michelin Star rated restaurants - boy did we pick a great place to stay! At first, we resisted The French Laundry - it seemed like an obvious restaurant for us to visit, but one, it's quite pricey, two, Tony had been before, and third, getting a reservation wasn't exactly easy. In the end, we decided that it was our mini-moon after all, and if we had to cut-back on other meals, this had to be worth it. We enlisted the help of our Amex and Visa concierges, who both managed to get us a reservation...and on this incredible food adventure we went.

The French Laundry is very nondescript, one could easily drive right by and not know they had passed one of the most famous restaurants in the world. It looks just like a European cottage. Before stepping into the garden of the restaurant, we visited the garden across the street - this is where the restaurant sources much of its fresh fruits and vegetables. Probably the most expensive garden ever to raid?? I wondered if there were video cameras! We had a short wait for our table, second seating, and had a chance to walk around the small, intimate garden - it was like being in the most beautiful backyard ever, pristine and with a quiet air of elegance.

We were welcomed to our seats in a cozy nook of the restaurant - inside is also pristine yet intimately warm. We were shown two menu's: chef tasting menu and the lighter, vegetarian option. Although I have no doubt the vegetarian one would be more unique than anything we have ever had, neither of could turn down the allure of rabbit and veal in the chef's tasting! The restaurant actually does not offer a standard wine tasting accompaniment, but the sommelier was happy to inquire about our tastes and recommended several over our "9" courses. I put that in quotations because the 9 on the menu did not include all the additional dishes we had - in the end we must have had at least 12 courses! I've numbered the official courses below.

*To start, we had a lovely pastry ball (malteser size) filled with something light and savoury, but I've already forgotten what!

*We were also served the famous salmon tartare coronets with creme fraiche. You'll find this recipe leading the French Laundry cookbook.

1. Oysters & Pearls: this was the first and probably my favourite course (what a way to start), pearl tapioca with oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar. Was a bit creamy, savoury, rich but not at all heavy or overwhelming. Was the best caviar serving I have ever had!

*White truffle-oil infused custards with black truffle ragout: We were ecstatic to have this "bonus" dish, as Tony had made this for me for my birthday - how nice to experience the "original". We devoured every bit of it - love!

*We were also served a wonderful pain-au-lait, cross between a croissant and brioche with salted and unsalted butter. The unsalted butter was amazing - incredibly smooth with great "butter" flavour although unsalted! Genius, and I wish we could have taken some home. Normally, I don't indulge much in bread (filler!) but the bread and butter here were so fantastic....more below....

2. Foie Gras (we upgraded from the Endive Salad): was served with a peach consomme - should not be surprised that this was one of Tony's favourite dishes. It wasn't the foie gras that made the dish for me, but that it was accompanied by fantastic brioche toast and 3 salts to be sprinkled on the foie gras. I had not tried it this way before and it brought out some different flavours when consumed together.

3. Sauteed Kanpachi: a lovely white fish.

*Another of my favourite courses (albeit bonus), handmade tagliatelle with black truffle. The dish looks so simple and tasted so fresh and amazing. Although I knew scarfing down pasta would not help me through this "9" course meal, I could have had another full bowl if given! This, I have to learn to make!

4. "Deconstructed" Caesar Salad with lobster: Don't be mistaken, this was not anything like a salad, but more like lobster inspired by caesar, served with petite lettuce and parmesan foam and compressed roe shaved on top. Nice touch! And honestly, it was salad the way I liked it - more lobster than vegetables :P

5. Rabbit: Even the potato salad it was served with was quite delicious - we were starting to appreciate the incredibly fresh vegetables our dishes were selectively served with.

6. Veal: This was the MOST amazing veal, served with a side of delicious vegetables - sweet pureed corn, hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, and swiss chard served in a tarragon jus. (see top pic!). The veal was definitely one of my favourite courses.

7. Assorted cheeses

8. Apricot Sorbet served with a light foam on top (I love foam!).

9. French Laundry garden strawberries with pistachio and white chocolate sorbet: this was light and a great way to finish dinner; I even enjoyed the sorbet and I don't like white chocolate! Tony had the ricotta cake, which was very unique and served with blue berries and pine nuts and buttermilk sherbet.

*Of course, dessert was not quite done, we were also served a fancy peanut butter and jelly tart - upscale Reece's peanut butter cup, but light, flakey, and of course....delicious.

The French Laundry was really a wonderful experience. I expected it to be stuffy, but all the staff were warm, pleasant and chatty. The service was, of course, impeccable. Several times, I noticed our course being brought out to be served by our waiter - but because of any reason, like water was being poured, our neighbouring table was being served, or one of us was out of our seat, the server would quickly (and almost invisibly) disappear and return when we were ready for our food to be properly plated. Seamless and amazing. We also had the most spectacular wines - we loved in particular the whites that the sommelier recommended. Just smelling one in particular, Tony and I found it exciting. I don't think I could have ever described a white wine as exciting before! And he recommended just the right amount - a glass for every couple courses so we were not downing glass after glass without really enjoying it. And although we did not love the reds, they were great accompaniments to the meats and we recognize they were great recommendations.

I loved simple things like bread and unsalted butter, salt for my foie gras, simple (?) pasta, simply prepared veal, and even a P&J tart! Speaks to the exceptional quality of the ingredients used and the high level understanding of how to combine flavours, meats, and vegetables to bring out their best naturally. We would not have traded this experience for any other meal - it was simply AMAZING and we were thrilled to have celebrated our mini-moon there.

Once in a lifetime experience - must go!

No comments:

Post a Comment