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Sunday, September 5, 2010

The French Laundry

6640 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599
(707) 944-2380

The most coveted table in the nation through the years. It escaped me in 2002, I pressed redial for two and a half hours straight. Once I got through, I was on hold for another 30 minutes only to hear that the restaurant was fully booked. Flash forward eight years, my girlfriend and I pressed redial for 40 minutes; we got through only to hear Chef Keller was hosting a Bocuse d’Or private event on Saturday. It’s Groundhog’s Day and I repeat the same process on Sunday. But, this time there is a table for four available at 9:15. I’m so excited, I ask whether that’s AM or PM. It’s doesn’t matter to me, I just didn’t want to be late.
But, this institution is in a new chapter of its life. Timothy Hollingsworth is chef de cuisine running the day to day operations for over a year now. Thomas Keller has exchanged his chef’s knife for a pen and has transitioned to the more lucrative restaurateur. Chef Hollingsworth has been at French Laundry for about eight years and I couldn’t wait to taste his progression.

As we approach the entrance, we got a glimpse into the kitchen noticing Chef Hollingsworth and staff fully focused plating a round of dishes.

The table is set with the signature clothespin. The staff estimates that 105% of the guests take the clothespin home. We did.



SALTED BUTTER - Vermont Butter & Cheese Company
Some of the best butter, I had to ask where they got it from. I believe they source from the same place as Eleven Madison Park.

In order to maximize the variety, two of us did the Chef's Tasting Menu and two us did the Tasting of Vegetables (non-vegetarian). When there was a choice in the prix fixe part of the menus , we altered the dish. So, in the end we were able to taste all 26 courses offered on both 9 course tasting menus (18 plus the 4 prix fixe choices). We also begged for the Coffee & Doughnuts and they obliged. The only dish I saw in the dining room that we didn't receive was a signature truffle infused custard. The sommelier mentioned it was given because a mistake was made at that table. I took a few moments to convince him that a mistake was made at our table also, but to no avail. Due to the number of courses, I won't write a bunch of comments about each, but rather primarily rank the dishes and mention the highlights. I prioritized the dished by a 1 (dishes I loved), 2 (dishes I thought were good) ,or 3 (dishes that I didn't care for). I had 12 #1s, 14 #2s, and 2 #3s.

(click to enlarge)

Salmon Tartare with Sweet Red Onion Creme Fraiche
Avocado Tartare

#2 “OYSTERS AND PEARLS” “Sabayon” of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar
I had this dis at Per Se as well. I actually thought Per Se's was a little better since it was a more concentrated cream. Still this was a highlight of the meal.

#13 SALAD OF HAWAIIN HEARTS OF PEACH PALM Nantes Carrots, Marcona Almond, Medjool Dates, Cilantro Shoots and Young Coconut
Visually it's amazing how much color they retain in each component. I've read Thomas Keller's techniques and views of big pot blanching and I still can't produce the same result, not even close.

#8 MOULARD DUCK “FOIE GRAS AU TORCHON” Mission Figs, Piedmont Hazelnuts, Belgian Endive Relish, Watercress and Aged Balsamic Vinegar ($30 supplement)
THREE SALTS (from Sea Level) Grey Salt, Filipino Salt, Jurassic Salt
A great representation of foie gras. I probably overdid with the salts because I wanted to see the difference in each one.

#20 SWEET ONION “FLAN”Mission Fig, Sicilian Pistachio “Nuage” and Rosemary Essence

#27 COMPRESSED SUMMER MELONS Fennel Bulb, Niçoise Olive, Arugula and Basil Yogurt
I'd imagine on this one, they sous vide to take the water out of the melon, but the result leave you wanting more substance in the dish.

#17 SAUTEED FILLET OF RED SNAPPER Tomato Confit, Nicoise Olive, Fennel Bulb and Saffron “Vierge”
With both fish preparations, it was light in flavor. No errors, but nothing to crave either. I think Jean Georges may have them beat with their seafood.

#22 BRITTANY TURBOT “EN PERSILLADE” Maine Lobster, Summer Squash, Toybox Tomatoes and Extra-Virgin Oilive Oil Emulsion

#6 SALAD OF TOYBOX TOMATOES English Cucumber, Young Ginger, White Sesame, Perilla Shoots and Bonito Gelée
Maybe the alcohol was setting in, but once we tasted the tomatoes we questioned how they prepared them. They boldly stated the tomatoes were raw. The flavor was so intense. I find that hard to believe, we must have been feeling the wine.

#24 GLOBE ARTICHOKE GRATIN Swiss Chard, French Laundry Garden Carrots and “Mousseline Choron”

#18 NEW BEDFORD SEA SCALLOP “POELEE” Hobbs' Bacon, Brentwood Corn, Celery Branch, Ramps and Summer Truffle
Very tender, but I like a longer sear on my scallops. I didn't think the bacon complimented the scallop.

#12 CHANTERELLE MUSHROOMS “A LA GRECQUE” Red Radish, Hawaiian Hearts of Palm and Cilantro Oil
Another one of the beautiful dishes. Simple flavors and that was a good thing.

#26 FAIRYTALE EGGPLANT “EN PERSILLADE” Summer Squash, Jingle Bell Peppers, Parsley and Sweet Garlic Pudding
The dish looked and tasted a bit dated. The crusted eggplant was a bit mushy.

#14 RUSSET POTATO “GNOCCHI” Baby Corn, Summer Truffle, Celery Branch and “Ficoïde Glaciale”
Decent gnocchi and were won over by the grand presentation of the truffles.

#4 HAND-ROLLED BEET “TORTELLINI” 48-Hour Brisket, Fingerling Potatoes, Petite Lettuce and Horseradish Crème Fraîche
An intense beet flavor shined through the pasta that was heavily coated in beurre monté. Isn't nothing wrong with that.

#3 FOUR STORY HILL FARM “POULARDE” Kanzuri, Navel Orange, Red Radish, Perilla and Black Garlic
A phenomenal protein, so tender. I can only they sous vide this as well and finish it with a sear. Only second to EMP's chicken for two.

#15 45-DAY DRY-AGED SNAKE RIVER FARMS BEEF SIRLOIN Matsutake mushrooms, Potato “Mille Feuille,” Broccoli Stems and Pickled Shallot Sauce ($75 supplement)
For $75, I was expecting a steak Fred Flintstone would have travel finishing. At this price, I could get an entire American wagyu steak at CUT. It was nonetheless a well executed dish and it was my first time trying matsutakes.

#19 “CHATEAUBRIAND OF MARCHO FARMS NATURE-FED VEAL globe Artichokes, Marinated Eggplant, “Piperade” and Caper Jus

#25 ANDANTE DAIRY “CAVATINA“ Pink Lady Apple Compote, Red Beets, Walnut Streusel, Sorrel and Truffle

#7 “FLEUR DU MAQUIS” Roasted Belgian Endive, Toasted Pecans, Grapes and Verjus
The group's favorite of the cheese course. I was always been impressed by chef Keller's cheese courses. Most places do cheese and accoutrements. At French Laundry, we had three courses that highlighted cheese. There's a difference and it's better.

#5 “QUICHE” Blu del Moncenisio Cheese, Asian Pear, Pickled Cauliflower and Watercress
My favorite of the cheese course, I'm a sucker for blue cheese. Now I was definitely feeling the wine because I was baffled at how such a little tart could be so uniformly cut into ten slices.

#23 JACOBSEN’S FARM AMBROSIA MELON SORBET Summer Melons, “Moscato d’Asti” and Garden Mint
Very light on flavor, although it was cool to see how thin they could slice the melons.

#21 ARMANDO MANNI OLIVE OIL SORBET Muscovado Sugar “Génoise,” French Laundry Garden Summer Berries and 30-Year Aged Balsamic Vinegar

#28 “PEACHES AND CREAM” Santa Rosa Plums, Pine Nut Nougatine and Tahitian Vanilla Bean-Basil Ice Cream
The peach was too raw and unripe here. I know, it looks beautiful. We all had high expectations. The flavors just didn't come together well.

#11 “PEANUT BUTTER AND CHOCOLATE” Maple Toffee, Chocolate Ganache and Salted Popcorn Sherbet
They're just cheating at this point. Chocolate and peanut butter at The French Laundry. Of course it's going to taste great.

#16 VALRHONA GUANAJA CHOCOLATE “MARQUIS” Goat’s Milk Mousse, Bing Cherries, Thai Long Peppercorns and Cassis Sorbet

#10 DELTA BLUEBERRY FLOAT Vanilla Sablé, Persian Lime Sherbet and Lemon Verbena Foam
Aside from the proceeding dessert, this was my favorite. I like the multi-layers of the dish and I've always loved the stacked plate presentation.

#1 “COFFEE AND DOUGHNUTS” Cappuccino Semifreddo and Cinnamon-Sugar Doughnuts
Talk about cravings I'm having trouble writing about this dish just looking at the picture. It's near perfect. In my world, there is ice cream and really good ice cream and they call that gelato and semifreddo. The lightness of the semifreddo eaten with the still warm doughnut is just pure heaven. I want to try to make this out of the cookbook.




The damage for four

Originally presented on a laundry tag to help soften the blow

I was curious how anybody could have a bad experience at French Laundry, so I read some reviews and noted the service was to blame for a majority of the negativity. I could see that, there was a bit of snootiness as we were looking over our menus and deciding a wine strategy. My only advice would be to check your ego at the door and have fun. Yes, it can be a very fun place.

The only question left to answer is whether this was the best meal of my life. The short answer, yes. Based on other great dining experiences I've had. Urasawa couldn't hold its own against FL and FL was a much better bargain. My girlfriend, who recently traveled to Paris and was able to try L'Arpège and Ledoyen, still ranked FL as her #1. Eleven Madison Park, Daniel, The Fat Duck, Jean Georges, and probably 95% of high end restaurants are not designed to compete because they don't offer extensive tasting menus and I think that's where you get a full range of a chef's talent. The only restaurant that I had in contention was my previous #1, Alinea. FL plays it safer and you can't finds faults with any of the preparations. Alinea takes more chances, sometimes it pleasantly surprises, other times it makes you question his motive. When I went to Alinea, I ranked the dishes in the same manner: 1 (dishes I loved), 2 (dishes I thought were good) and 3 (dishes that I didn't care for) and realized the experiences may have been a lot closer than I had previously thought.

The only thing I find disheartening is that arguably the most talented chef in the world has put his chef’s knife down. Probably not for the obvious reason of profit, but to allow more time for the most important things in his life. Understandable, but, damn I would love to sit at a table with him in the kitchen. If this is how one of his understudies cook, one can only imagine what the master could produce.

1 comment:

  1. Waleed it's time to invest in a better camera my friend!!! Very Jealous though :)