Saturday, March 6, 2010

the best part of The French Laundry

...was the butter. I'm not even kidding. Yes, there were other highlights from the meal. I will get to those. But bear with me for a moment while I rave about the butter. This butter was something else. I will go so far as to say it was the best butter I've ever tasted.

After an amuse bouche (little cheese-filled bits of fried dough that tasted like the best cheese nips ever) and what looked like miniature ice cream cones filled with iced salmon puree and creme fraiche (JR) and iced avocado puree and creme fraiche (me), two butters were placed on the table. The first was described as an unsalted butter from Andante Dairy in Petaluma, CA. It was a beautiful shade of yellow-orange, almost like the yolk of an egg and tasted incredibly creamy. The second was from Animal Farm in Orwell, VT (obviously a perfect name for the location). It was topped with fleur de sel and was amazing. I could have eaten spoonfuls of it. That wasn't necessary, however, because there were three bread services throughout the meal, with different choices each time, all freshly baked by the Bouchon bakery down the street (the waiter told us Bouchon makes 2 deliveries during each service, which means no bread is ever more then 2 hours out of the oven).

My favorite course of the meal was the turnip soup. I realize that sounds strange as I type it; I certainly wasn't expecting turnip soup to be terrific. The presentation was great (I love when they reveal the big bowl with practically nothing in it, then pour the soup over the small treasures). But what impressed me most was that you were hit with a different flavor and texture with each bite: turnip soup with the sharp bite of ginger, turnip soup with tangy, juicy grapefruit, turnip soup with crunchy, toasted hazelnut.

Why were we at The French Laundry? My birthday week, which began last Sunday with my cake baking, ended today with a 9-course meal at one of Napa Valley's most famous restaurants. Our reservation was for a late lunch. Though I had initially been hoping for a dinner reservation, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Even for lunch, it was a 3 hour meal (I've heard dinner can take in excess of 5 hours, which makes me extremely happy that we didn't opt for the 9:30PM reservation!).

Our choice was between two menus: the Chef's Tasting Menu, or the Tasting of Vegetables. I hadn't made up my mind until our whispering waiter started telling us more about the Chef's Tasting Menu. When he got to calf's brain, my choice became easy: Tasting of Vegetables. JR went with the meatier option (though chose rabbit over the calf's brain), so we were able to trade tastes when we wanted to, and I was happy throughout the meal that I chose the more veggie-focused menu. The one possible exception was his course of "peas and carrots"; the forkful of lobster with pureed carrot sauce was perhaps the best single bite of the whole meal.

Yes, I was tempted, but no, I did not take any pictures of the food. The presentation was beautiful across the board and would have photographed extremely well, but I had promised myself that I would not be that person. Restraining myself from snapping a pic was the hardest when I was presented with the salad of beets. It wasn't a salad at all, but rather varying sized perfectly circular little beet tastes with apple swimming in a vinaigrette made of rhubarb and olive oil. It was a vibrant shade of pink and was served on a round plate with a slightly sunken square in the center of it, where the salad was contained. Beautiful. And certainly the best beets I've ever eaten.

Some other observations about the restaurant that are with me hours later: There were beautiful gardens across the street, where herbs, chard, and other veggies were growing (I didn't venture out too far in my heels, so not sure exactly what else it contained, though several of my courses listed ingredients from the garden). Inside the restaurant, there was less ambiance than I had imagined there would be, though I suppose in a way this makes you concentrate on the food even more, so perhaps that is by design. There were many (many) bustling waiters in suits. I never had to fill my water from the bottle at the table; someone was always there to fill it before needed. All plates and silverware were exchanged for new between each course. Within 45 seconds of leaving the table to go to the restroom, a new, crisply folded napkin was put in place of the one I had taken off my lap (yes, I asked JR to time it).

I'm glad we went and the food was absolutely amazing. I won't be clamoring to return to The French Laundry any time soon. I've experienced it. There are too many other fantastic restaurants to explore. But it was a certainly fantastic way to celebrate 30 years and 3 days!


Ruby Red Grapefruit, Hazelnut
and Ginger "Panna Cotta"

Granny Smith Apple, Black Truffle, Manni Olive Oil
and Rhubarb "Vierge"

Cauliflower, Chick Peas, Sultanas, Harissa,
Pine Nuts, Cilantro and Yogurt

Lobster "Salpicon," Sunchokes, Savoyard Spinach
and "Mousseline Bearnaise"

Fennel Bulb, San Marzano Tomato Compote, Green Garlic,
Marcona Almonds and Sherry Mignonett

French Laundry Garden Broccolini, "Piperade," Spring Onion,
Nicoise Olives and Creme Fraiche

Apricots, Toasted Oats, Celery
and 100-Year-Aged Balsamic Vinegar

with Candied Kumquat and Goma Meringue

Walnut Pain de Genes, "Nocino Gelee"
and Grains of Paradise Sherbet


6640 WASHINGTON STREET, YOUNTVILLE CA 94599 707.944.2380

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