Tag Archives: honeymoon

Honeymoon: Napa Valley, CA – THE French Laundry

14 Aug

And then… we arrived.



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.



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



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



There are 2 tasting menus and only 2.

“Tasting of Vegetables”



and “Chef’s Tasting Menu”



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.



The tables were set beautifully and simply.




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


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)



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



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.



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



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.



…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.



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



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.



Next was Gulf Coast Snapper “Goulash.”


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.



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.



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




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.



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



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



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.



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



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.



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.



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!


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.


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:


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



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


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



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



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



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!)



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!)


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



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)



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



Can’t get fresher than that!


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


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




Honeymoon: Mendocino, CA – Little River Inn

31 Jul

A few weeks before leaving for the honeymoon, we made a last minute change and trimmed the first day from our wine country hotel stay to spend a night between Eureka and Sonoma in Mendocino, CA.  We heard it was a beautiful town and worth a stop.  It was also a bit of an intermediary on the drive from Eureka, so we decided to check it out. Turns out, Mendocino is beautiful. It’s a artsy, hippie town built into the side of the ocean.  We were in town after most of the shops closed, but we could easily see the charm.  We checked out a few restaurants in town, but nothing tickled our fancy, so we went back to our inn and decided to try the restaurant there.

The Little River Inn as a place to stay was quite lovely.  Our room had a great view of the ocean and we enjoyed our adirondack chairs with a bottle of wine later that night.

The restaurant itself was listed as having an ocean view (on a 3rd party website, so not the inn’s fault)… but it didn’t. It looked onto a very nice garden, however.


They pride themselves on being a family run inn and restaurant, with one of the owners cooking in the kitchen.


As soon as we sat down and perused the menu, I informed our waitress that I had an allergy to peppers and was interested in a fish/sea food dish (since we were right on the water). She went to the kitchen and came back to inform me that there were really only 2 fish dishes that I could have: the fish and chips and the pine nut crusted salmon. While not a huge fan of salmon, I had been liking the Pacific Northwest salmons and I LOVE pine nuts, so I opted for that. It also came with spinach puree, parmesan polenta and basil coulis which all sounded great.

A few minutes later, the waitress came out to inform me that the spinach puree actually had some peppers in it, so I changed that to broccolini instead.  She offered “plain?”  And I responded that was fine (but finding it peculiar that she didn’t offer any other way other than “plain.”)

Out came some parker house rolls, which were decent but needed some salt.


Mike and I split the wedge salad, which the restaurant kindly split for us (always tough to cut a wedge at the table to split).  The bacon on this was fantastic and a really nice blue cheese dressing.



Mike got the flat iron steak with green peppercorn Diane sauce, crispy red onions,smashed red potatoes and green beans almondine.  It smelled great and tasted great.  Nice char and the sauce was really good.



But then mine came out…


My pine nut crusted salmon with polenta, spinach puree and basil coulis. Um…

As soon as I looked at it, I asked the waitress what happened. She informed me that there were peppers and paprika in “everything.” I asked her why she didn’t inform me of that before serving it (like she did the spinach) and why she told me at the beginning that this was a safe dish.

Her response: “Well the kitchen didn’t tell me until now.”

So I tried to smile and began to dig in. It was plain (very plain) salmon with plain (very plain) polenta and plain (very plain) broccolini. At least the last one was expected.

I got really angry at this moment. I mean COME ON… a little white wine? A little lemon? Maybe a little SALT? SOMETHING?!?!


And no warning.

This was not okay.

So I called over the waitress and she once again tried to defend herself (and only herself) that she wasn’t told until the end. So I nicely informed her that this dish was listed as a $29 dish, but since I didn’t receive most of the items on the menu, I didn’t expect to pay the full price.  She immediately said she would get a manager.

And then I got red. (Really red… Mike says).

I was mad.

Mistakes happen.


I’d rather they serve me plain things than things with peppers all over them, just as a safety, but this was still completely inappropriate service. If they informed me this is how it would have been served, I would have gotten something else. Anything else.

But then the manager came over and immediately apologized, said there were no excuses at all, and mentioned that when he saw it come out he thought it looked pretty bad as well.  He said he was going to comp the dish entirely and would like to offer us a dessert on the house in the hope that we would try them again.

And you know what… I would.

I was so mad at first but he immediately said all the right things. Mistakes happen, but it’s about how you react to it. And this was the right reaction (if not above and beyond).  I always feel bad when comps happen at restaurants (I know it costs the owners money), but in the end, if mistakes happen, reactions matter.  They matter more than the mistakes. And this mistake was entirely avoidable had someone just informed me ahead of time and given me an option.

As for the dessert, we decided to take it back to our room, which I’m sure led the restaurant to scramble to figure out a way to package their warm Olallieberry Cobbler with ice cream “to go.” But they did so and this was absolutely awesome.  It reminded me of a pop tart but with fresh, rich, layered flavors.

photo (25)


It’s a bit hard to give Little River Inn a fair review, but if I take out the salmon dish all together, everything else was great.  So based on that, and on the fact that the manager went above and beyond when such an egregious mistake was made in the kitchen, I can recommend this restaurant in Mendocino quite highly.

Total Nom Points: 6.5 out of 10

nomscale- 06.5

Honeymoon: Eureka, CA – Carter House Inn

29 Jul

Our drive from Bend, OR to Eureka, CA was one of the longest on the road.  We drove through some beautiful country, however, including Crater Lake (where we saw a lot of wildlife and the absolutely stunning view before it got totally covered by fog), the Red Woods (Stout Grove is amazing and I hugged a whole lot of big trees), stopped at some wineries, and saw an entire herd of elk walk through an RV park!

We had decided to stay in Eureka because it’s the only major city on the map between Crater Lake and Northern California Wine Country/Mendocino (the next step).  We heard Eureka wasn’t much to look at, but I heard that there is a great B&B in town that is a collection of old Victorian houses near the beach, Carter House Inn.

Well… “not much to look at” translated to a city filled with very dirty, very obviously drugged out homeless people wandering the streets.  I think we came at the wrong time on the wrong day, but there was an abandoned building across from the inn where we saw a whole lot of people wander into right around sunset.  It was… concerning… but we tried to put on our NYC brave faces and just kept to the inn (which was absolutely lovely on the inside).

I don’t know if we missed the good part of the town, or if we came at a strange wrong time, or if it really is just that awful. But it was pretty awful.  I actually felt bad for the town. It looks like something that was beautiful at one point, but it just fell into a bad state.  If someone with a bit of money invested in it, I’m sure those old Victorians and the beach would be wonderful.  But that just isn’t the position that Eureka is in these days.

The only highly rated restaurant in Eureka was actually in the inn itself, and after hours on the road, we were perfectly happy to eat at their Restaurant 301.


We had some decent local wine as we perused the menu. I was pretty surprised to see the prices, which seemed awfully high for this beat up town.


And then out came an amuse, which was a puff pastry with mushrooms and caviar.


Not bad.


They had lovely salt on the table, including a nicely flavored pink salt.


There were local oysters on the menu, and when we asked, we were told there were 5 left. So we ordered all of them. Unfortunately, there were 2 of us, and we are both very equitable people so we wound up with 1 left on the table and a stand-off. Our waiter advised we rock-paper-scissor for them and that seemed as equitable as anything, so I threw paper and Mike through rocks and I happily downed the final oyster.


Mike chose the Porcini Fettuccine with Roasted Garlic & Red Pepper, Little River Farms Arugula, Rosemary Cream & Leek.  I couldn’t try it due to the peppers, but Mike said it was just okay.


I went with the Crispy Duck Leg Confit (!) which came with Sweet Potato Ginger Gratin, Braised Napa Cabbage & Natural Jus. This was pretty good. The sweet potato and ginger gratin was actually the highlight.  It had really great flavor.  The confit wasn’t bad.  Decent flavor, but the skin was lacking in crispiness. Which is sad since they actually called it “crispy” in the description.


We were given little truffles at the end which were pretty good.


I don’t know… this meal was just okay.  It seemed like they had some really great ideas but were lacking a wee bit in the execution.  It was certainly overpriced for how good it tasted, though if they could fix the execution and make it as good as it could be, it could have worked. Sadly, it just didn’t this time around.

And the breakfast the next morning was okay.  Nothing overly special and certainly not the “foodie destination” we had read it was.  Not even good enough for me to take a picture of.  So my best advice… find somewhere else, anywhere else to stop besides Eureka, CA.

Total Nom Points: 5.5 out of 10