Honeymoon: Napa Valley, CA – THE French Laundry

14 Aug

And then… we arrived.

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After an amazing 10 days romping from Seattle to Sonoma, we arrived at the restaurant we built this honeymoon around, The French Laundry.

You will recall it was quite the adventure trying to get the reservation, but I was so excited to be able to cross my first Big 3 off the Restaurant Bucket List (the other 2 being Per Se, which is also from Chef Thomas Keller, and Alinea in Chicago). We arrived a bit early for our (already early) 11:30am reservation, so we took a seat in the lovely garden area behind the restaurant while they got ready for service.

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At first we actually didn’t even know where to enter, but finally found a door.

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From the moment we walked in, it was obvious we were finally there. Down to the napkin holders.

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There are 2 tasting menus and only 2.

“Tasting of Vegetables”

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and “Chef’s Tasting Menu”

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Yes… you are seeing that price correctly… $270 per person… total 100% insanity… but it was our honeymoon and we were going to DO THIS. We got all the hotels on points, so I rationalized it that way.

You will also noticed there were a number of up-charges throughout. You could choose to upgrade each course, but they were all a $100 supplement. Not $10, not $20… ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS MORE. (I am all about food ridiculousness, but that was even too ridiculous for my blood.)

 

One more thing about the menu… I really liked the custom printed menus wishing us Congratulations.

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The tables were set beautifully and simply.

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And my new husband made quick use of that clothes pin.

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We had trouble finding wine. We wanted to enjoy some drinks (being in wine country and all) but there were very few bottles under $100 (and most over $200). We wound up choosing 2 half-bottles to get to try some different wines. Each were about $80. (Yikes)

Our first bottle was a Chateau Montelena, made famous by the movie Bottle Shock (good movie about the coming of age of California wines… I recommend it)

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Our first nibbles were these very nice little rolls with gruyere. They were almost like a cream puff but savory.

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Followed by a amuse bouche of salmon in a sesame cornet (which was very reminiscent of the amuse we had at Canlis just a few days prior). This was a flawless bite and it was hard not to compare it to the one we just had. This one was slightly better with richer tasting salmon and more flavorful cone.

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And then it began. Our Chef’s Tasting Menu began with their most famous dish: “Oysters and Pearls”

Here was the description:

“Sabayon” of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar

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The description was missing one key word: Heaven. This was one of the best dishes I have ever had in my entire life. This is why we were here. This was the moment. This rivaled the previous best bite I’ve had at Colicchio and Sons many moons ago (scroll on down to the gizzard to get right to that dish).

I cannot even describe the awesomeness of the burst of flavors and textures that this dish had. It was everything I love about food…

They trim the oysters down to be perfectly round, incredibly succulent delicacies swimming in a sabayon (which is described as a custard-like sauce, but that doesn’t do this justice). I don’t know what kind of oysters they were, but they were some of the best I’ve had. Typically oysters are just so good on their own that they don’t need any sauces or treatments, but these were elevated even higher by that sabayon.   The “pearls” are made of caviar that was perfectly sweet and briny. The dish all together was just exquisite.

Even the spoon it came with was special.

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…I just wish it wasn’t where we started. Because where can you possibly go from there?

But on we went.

Bread and butter was a lovely combination of a local butter and a salted butter along with some special flaky pastries.

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Our next dish was a beauty: Salad of French Laundry Garden Potatoes

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This had many different types of potatoes (red, blue, white) with different preparations (chips, baked, etc). It was like a deconstructed potato salad with beautiful shaved vegetables and edible flowers. This was fresh and felt truly original.

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Next was Gulf Coast Snapper “Goulash.”

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Mine had to be altered a bit so as not to have peppers, and my sauce was very good.

I have 0 idea what made this goulash, but the fish was cooked flawlessly and the sauce on both (according to Mike) was impeccable.

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Our next dish was one of my favorite of the evening (though still didn’t hold a candle to those oysters and pearls). Alaskan King Crab “Boudin.” The combination of crab, lobster, and bing cherries made this a fun and playful dish that also screamed “FRESH SEAFOOD ROCKS!” Some of the best tasting lobster I’ve had outside of Maine.

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Up next we had Salmon Creek Farm Pork Jowl. A nice pork dish, but fairly unmemorable during the course of the meal.

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We had polished off our first half bottle of wine a bit too easily, so we ordered a local Pinot Noir (Roar). It was good but nothing stand out.

And it was at this moment that I realized we were already half-way through. I still am not sure how that was possible. It felt like everything was moving TOO FAST (even though, in reality, the meal was paced flawlessly). I just wanted to slow down and enjoy more. We truly tried to, but I have trouble eating slowly when the food is tiny yet scrumptious.

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The next dish was herb-roasted Elysian Fields Farm Lamb Rib-eye. Mike’s had some peppers.

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Mine came with some pattypan squash (which I love).

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The meat itself was packed with lamby flavor. I was worried about the amount of fat on the meat, but it was tender and melted in my mouth.

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And then there was more bread, this time with sea salt and some pretzel bread. (All variations on bread throughout the meal were delicious).

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Our last savory course was a nice segue between the lamb and the dessert. It was a light “Tomme de Brebis” (cheese) with summer pole bean salad, cipollini onion and frisee lettuce. The description didn’t leave me too excited, but this was a great dish. Fresh yet rich and a great transition.

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Dessert began with a “toasted oat glacé” with Santa Rosa plums and Japanese plum jam. I don’t know what makes something a glacé, but what I can say is that the ice cream was a tricky little play on flavors where it tasted like delicious oats but was cold and smooth. The plums were as delicious as they were bright. Not too sweet, a tiny bit tart, and a great combination with the oat flavor.

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The next sweet bite was the “Dark Treacle” which had the description of devil’s food, valrhona chocolate “marquise”, Lyle’s Golden Syrup, and Marshall Farm’s Burnt Honey ice cream. The entire dish was fantastic with tons of flavors playing off each other. But that burnt honey ice cream was something else! WOW! I would have been happy to just have a bowl of that!

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Our final listed dessert was Delta Blueberry Cheesecake which was described as “compressed blueberry muffin, lemon ice cream, and puff pastry “arlette.” I remember this being very good, but not nearly as memorable as that burnt honey ice cream.

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And then the meal wrapped up with a parade of final bites that weren’t listed, which I have learned are called “mignardises.” (I typically call it “petit fours” but it seems these descriptions are close to interchangeable).

First was a classic pairing I always associate with New Orleans:

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Fried dough/donuts/zeppoles/beignets. I don’t remember what they called them, but they were very good.

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And they came with a mousse “cappuccino” which was one of the best mousses (mousse-ie? mousse-i?) I’ve ever had.

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The layers of mousse with the foam on top were fantastic.

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This was also served with some chocolate covered macadamia nuts (I kick myself for not bringing home the rest of this bowl).

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And homemade caramels and fudge (which we took with us and had later on in the road trip… awesome).

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But we weren’t done there.

Out came a selection of chocolate truffles of many different varieties. We tried a few different kinds and all were rich and flavorful and awesome… but nothing stood out. (Though as soon as Mike read this he mentioned “you don’t remember that one of them was beer flavored?!”  I didn’t… but obviously he did!)

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We were given a takeaway (one of my favoritist things about fine dining… a memento to remember them by). It came in a perfect little clothespin tin (which I kept because I just can’t toss it… what to do with it I have no idea though!)

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Inside were shortbread cookies (and they were absolutely flipping fantastic.)

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Our bill was even “on brand” as a laundry tag. Adorable… Except the price… which still makes me gag. (though at least gratuity was included)

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As we left we noticed that the French Laundry farm (or at least one of them) was actually right across the street.

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Can’t get fresher than that!

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Overall, our dinner at French Laundry was perfect. It was flawless. It was impeccable. It was everything a dinner at French Laundry should be…

BUT…

It wasn’t special. At least not special enough.

I had heard some disappointing things going in, so I was kind of ready for this not to be as epic as I wanted it to be. And I am spoiled… very, very, very, very spoiled.

I honestly felt like besides the Oysters and Pearls, I have had much more exciting meals in the past. (And beginning with the Oysters and Pearls meant the rest of the meal just simply couldn’t compete.) I guess this is a bit of a reflection of my taste in food. I love classic food, but I love exciting food better. I love molecular gastronomy and dinners that are as much entertainment as they are delicious. I like to have fun with food. I don’t like to take my food too seriously.

And that is why Eleven Madison Park is still absolutely #1. I would even timidly say that I enjoyed our meal at Canlis better, because it felt so damn SPECIAL.

The service was impeccable as well. And that is part of what makes it so great. But to quote Mike, “It was precision. But it wasn’t magic.”

I wanted to love French Laundry. And I did love it. But I just didn’t love it enough to want to take it home with me. It lacked in sex appeal, I suppose.

I’m glad we went. And yes, even at that price, it was worth every penny for the experience and to check it off my bucket list.

Some people want fancy jewelry. Some people want fancy clothes. Some people want to collect handbags or priceless antiques.

Me? I just want to collect memories of fantastic meals.

What can I say?

Total Nom Points: 9 out of 10nomscale- 09.0

 

 

 

5 Responses to “Honeymoon: Napa Valley, CA – THE French Laundry”

  1. Roberta Salierno August 14, 2013 at 8:21 pm #

    Very enjoyable review of a landmark restaurant. It is wonderful to cross something like this off your bucket list. Burnt honey ice cream–must find!

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