The French Laundry

Thursday, May 12, 2011
The French Laundry Garden

The French Laundry Garden

Today marks a milestone for Lick My Spoon. It’s my 300th post! Yep, this very post…numero 3-0-0. I thought a fitting way to celebrate this momentous occasion would be to tell you about another momentous occasion that happened a little over a year ago: The French Laundry. Without an ounce of exaggeration, it was a meal of a lifetime. A five-hour, seventeen-course, ten-wine immaculate dining experience.

The French Laundry

The French Laundry, 02 April 2010

Now, I realize this post is a little late. Sorry about that (especially to everyone who has been waiting for-ev-er for this), but it was one of those epic posts that I kept guiltily putting off because the heft and magnificence of the entire thing was just too overwhelming. How could I even do this meal justice? Because, well, it was more than just a meal. Thomas Keller has created something truly magical here. He has created a world where every detail has been thought of to the fullest extent for one purpose: Your Pleasure.

The French Laundry Garden

winners!

To set the scene, Hua and I came upon this coveted reservation and religious dining experience courtesy of a very special and dear friend (hooray, Felix-friend!) who gifted this to us as the Best Wedding Present ever. Even better than getting to go to The French Laundry, we got to share the experience with Felix and Connie, who flew out from NY for a weekend of nonstop fun and food. Champs they were.

After an appetite-inducing morning run and strategically timed light lunch, we arrived in Yountville, which was charming as ever. It had just rained earlier that day and all of wine country smelled fresh and clean. The sun broke through the clouds just in time for our 6 o’clock reservation, and as we giddily crossed the garden courtyard, I was dangerously close to breaking into a skip.

The French Laundry courtyard

For being lauded as one of the best restaurants in the world, you’d maybe expect something a bit more ostentatious, but actually, the restaurant is easy to miss along the quiet winding road. With rustic stone walls, lush foliage, and a heavy wooden door painted a fetching cerulean hue, it could easily be mistaken for a quaint bed and breakfast dropped in from some French countryside.

As we entered the restaurant, I felt like we were stepping into a cathedral. A cool hush surrounded us, but it was a kinetic kind of quiet, filled with clean and confident movements.

The French Laundry dining room

We were graciously greeted and led to our table, inside a pretty little nook off the main dining room, and then the feast and merriment began!

The French Laundry salmon cornets

SALMON CORNETSSalmon Tartare, Red Onion Crème Fraiche and Chives

The first amuse bouche was TK’s signature Salmon Cornets, adorable mini crispy, buttery cones filled with salmon tartare and sweet red onion crème fraiche, all tucked inside a perfectly folded napkin. Whoever makes those is for sure a master origami maker by now.

The French Laundry gougeres

GOUGÉRES

For our second amuse, we were presented with petite Gougéres – light as air with molten gruyére inside. A cheesy poof in one hand, champagne in the other? Bliss.

The French Laundry carrot soup

And then a brigade of servers descended upon us for our first course. Inside my bowl was an artful arrangement of Madras curry panna cotta with tiny cubes of carrots, toasted cashews, and cilantro around it. On cue, each of our servers poured over a foamy, creamy cloud of sweet Carrot Soup. I loved the showmanship of it – it was like, “Hey, we want you to see how pretty we made this for you before we cover it all up.” Also, you’ve heard of warmed plates? Well at The French Laundry, they also have warmed soup spoons. #TFLWholeNotherLevel

The French Laundry oysters and pearls

Ah, the famous Oysters and Pearls! Perhaps the sexiest dish ever invented. The texture is unreal. Velvety and rich. Paired with silky oysters and the salty sea burst of fine caviar…pure decadence. You just feel sexy and rich eating this. I also loved that this little well of luxuriousness came nestled on top of three massive plates. How grand. And, the utensil of choice? Tiny doll spoons made from mother of pearl. Oh yes, only the finest mother of pearl is worthy of transporting these oysters and pearls to your lips. We adored this dish, which was illustrated by the complete silence that fell over the table as we savored each bite—silence that was only punctuated by a number of “Wow”s uttered and Hua asking our server for a whole bowl of the stuff.

The French Laundry Dungeness crab

Next, succulent Dungeness Crab meat served with a bite-sized crispy roll of fragrant green garlic and Brie wrapped in the most delicate sheet of pastry that shattered with a bite. The dish was topped with a spoonful of the most intensely tomato-y tomato compote I’ve ever had. A dollop of horseradish crème fraiche gave it some bite.

The French Laundry big fin squid

BIGFIN SQUIDBroccolini, Water Chestnuts, Pixie Mandarins and Kanzuri

Our next sampling from the sea was a bite of Bigfin Squid, served with broccolini, a scattering of crunchy water chestnuts that had been brunoised to confetti size, and segments of mandarins glazed in kanzuri, a Japanese chili paste made with yuzu.

The French Laundry hen egg custard

HEN EGG CUSTARDwith a Ragout of Périgord Truffles

This was my *favorite* dish of the evening. Another classic Keller creation, the Hen Egg Custard was like a crème brûlée of white and black truffles. Inside a perfectly cut egg shell was white truffle oil-infused custard with a ragout of black Périgord truffles layered on top. The crowning touch was a breathtakingly delicate garnish – a potato “chip” sliced so thin that two slices compressed together still managed to be translucent (yes, that chip is made with two potato slices and a strand of chive sandwiched between). Talk about precision.

For truffle freaks, this jewel of a dish is the ultimate. The aroma alone made me dizzy with pleasure. I wanted to take a nosedive into my wee little beautiful egg. The cream of the custard made the pungent truffles bloom and the veal stock in the ragout had been reduced and intensified to a syrup of umami richness.

The French Laundry hen egg custard

For the record, there was unabashed scraping of the bottom of the eggshell

While all the wine pairings throughout the meal were exceptional, this one really blew us away. Head Sommelier Dennis Kelly paired this dish with an exquisite Madeira (D’Oliveira, Verdelho, “Reserva,” Madeira 1973). The caramel, coffee, almond toffee notes in the wine really brought out the best in the woodsy, earthy truffles. We enthusiastically told Dennis, ”You nailed it.” To which he excitedly replied, “I know. Thank you.” This little exchange actually sums up the vibe of the whole place pretty well. Everyone there knows how ridiculously awesome they are. They strive for perfection in every detail. But, it is presented completely without pretension, and with the utmost graciousness and pride in providing the best experience possible for you.

D'Oliveira, Verdelho, "Reserva," Madeira 1973We inquired more about the wine and learned that the Madeira was aged 34 years in conditions recreated to mimic how the wine was treated as it made the journey from Portugal to the Americas in the 1700s. As the ships sailed across the equator, the wine would develop its flavor inside the sun-warmed barrels. Cool, huh?

The burnt sugar flavor of the Madeira was a great play on the whole crème brûlée concept. It was all so brilliant. The chef was luring me in not only with seductive flavors, he was playing to my mind as well. It was like an inside joke thrown out there, and if you got it, you would appreciate the thought behind the dish as much as the physical tasting of the food. A kind of meta-dining if you will.

Ok, I’ll stop waxing poetic about this egg dish…we have many more courses to go! (But really, I loved it. I loved it so.)

The French Laundry roasted white asparagus salad

SALAD OF ROASTED WHITE ASPARAGUS Compressed Silverado Trail Strawberries, Mache and Hazelnut Mousseline

Following that richness, we had a little something fresh. A few bites of Roasted White Asparagus accompanied by ripe strawberries, a sprig of mache, and hazelnut mousse.

The French Laundry foie gras

And then it was back to richness :) Bring on the foie! The decadent Foie Gras au Torchon was sublime. The flavor was pure. The texture was like cool, sweet butter. It was adorned with baby fennel, apricots, almonds, and a streak of aged balsamic, and served with a warm slice of grilled panettone speckled with plump raisins. Also brought to the table was a most impressive tray of salts.

The French Laundry salts

The wooden box in the center contains Japanese sea salt from the Inland Sea. In the upper right corner is flaky French fleur de sel, and below it is sel gris from Brittany. On the left side, we have Hawaiian black lava sea salt, Hawaiian red clay sea salt, and see that small round container in the middle? Well that is 40-million-year-old fine Jurassic pink salt from copper mines in Montana. Yeah, I just said Jurassic.

The French Laundry poached atlantic halibut

Our first fish course was a tender Poached Atlantic Halibut with a coat of shad roe sauce, served with buttery potato purée, plump English peas, smoked Cipollini onions, and baby radish on the side. The vegetables stole the show – those sweet peas were like little pearls of spring.

The French Laundry sea scallop poelee

Following that was a pan-fried Sea Scallop with an Egg Yolk Pudding. The scallop was huge, smooth and quivering inside, with a crisp golden sear outside. The yolk was something special. It was essentially an egg yolk confit, cooked slowly in oil at a low temperature until it was the texture of soft pudding. Egg yolk pudding-sauce, people! Incredible. This dish was really fun to eat. Accoutrements included some lobster meat and bits of calf sweetbread in a red wine Bordelaise sauce, and grated back truffle.

The French Laundry gnocchi with truffles

The truffle train continued with Gnocchi obscenely covered in Black Truffles. I’ve never consumed so much truffle in one sitting. It was glorious.

The French Laundry truffle bearer

This fellow became one of our favorite people to see in the room. Inside that beautiful lacquered box he’s carrying are whole nuggets of truffles. When the truffle bearer enters the room, that means your server is about to make it rain! Win.

The French Laundry pekin duck

Next came a crispy-skinned, juicy Pekin Duck with celery from the garden across the street, tangy rhubarb, pistachios and green peppercorn sauce. I was reaching capacity at this point (and rethinking that second slice of panettone I had with my foie gras…which come to think of it, was totally worth the stomach space).

The French Laundry rouelle de tete de cochon

Rouelle de Tête de Cochon is a fancy French way of saying pig’s head shaped in round puck form. It was encrusted in crispy panko breadcrumbs and topped with morels, turnips, and pickled ramps. The lighty, lemony sorrel sauce was a nice balance to the rich meat.

The French Laundry lamb rib-eye

I have to admit that I was only able to take a bite of this final meat course. If only I had a second stomach to do this meal justice. Hua, on the other hand, benefitted from my shortcomings and dispatched of both our Lamb Rib-Eyes. Beast. The lamb was gorgeously cooked, encrusted with parsley and garlic, and served with stewed beans, tomato confit, and thyme-scented lamb jus (drizzled a la Jackson Pollock).

The French Laundry Tomme Crayeuse

Tomme Crayeuse is a cheese from the Savoie region of France along the Swiss-Italian Alps. It’s a semisoft raw cow’s milk cheese that is creamy under the rind, with a touch of chalkiness in the center (“crayeuse” means “chalky” in French). The cheese was served with a crescent of pain perdu (French toast) and roasted beets.

The French Laundry Steel-cut Oat Sherbet

STEEL-CUT OAT SHERBETGranola, Compressed Granny Smith Apple and Rum Raisin Coulis

Now for dessert! First, a palate cleanser of Steel-cut Oat Sherbet. Clean and refreshing, with a bit of crunchy granola, die-sized cubes of tart Granny Smith apple, and a rum raisin coulis.

The French Laundry peanut butter bavarois

We graduated to a Peanut Butter Bavarian Cream with a bottom crust of buttery burnt sugar crunchies, garnished with a hazelnut chocolate truffle “surprise” and a chocolate florentine-like hat balanced on top.

Served alongside the bavarois was a spoonful of Gros Michel Banana Sorbet. Leave it to The French Laundry to sniff out a local fruit supplier of rare fancypants bananas.

The French Laundry Savarin au Citron

The Savarin Au Citron was an airy sponge cake encircled with little brilliant gems of orange and grapefruit segments. A canelle of ice cream made from wholesome Straus cream and a drizzle of fruity olive oil finished it off.

The French Laundry honey cream tartlette

HONEY CREAM TARTLETTE

And one more off-menu sweet treat for good measure – we received a Honey Cream Tartlette in a shortbread crust (thin as can be), with a raisin-y syrup on the bottom, and garnished with pistachios.

The French Laundry Mignardises

MIGNARDISES

Our Mignardises included Chocolate Truffles (Hazelnut Praline, Thai Coffee, Peanut Butter, Banana, Meyer Lemon, and Salted Caramel), and Chocolate Covered Macadamia Nuts.

French Laundry Shortbread Cookies

SHORTBREAD COOKIES

And, this lovely parting gift of Shortbread Cookies, because they know that you will be in French Laundry Withdrawal the next day (which by the way, is a documented affliction – I may or may not have shed a single tear in a fit of melancholy.)

The French Laundry kitchen

Sous Chef Walter Abrams in The French Laundry kitchen(BTW, he is now the chef de cuisine at Spruce)

After our epic meal, we were treated to a tour of the kitchen. It was shiny, bright, and immaculate. On one of the walls hung a monitor with a direct feed into the kitchen of Per Se.

The French Laundry Kitchen

TK is watching

And above the door, hung this mantra:

The French Laundry, It's all about finesse

It’s all about finesse.

Fi-nesse (fÉ™’nes) noun: Refinement and delicacy of performance, execution, or artisanship.

Months later, when I met Thomas Keller, he signed my menu from this evening with the words: “It’s all about finesse.

That commitment to finesse was present throughout our entire time at The French Laundry. The food was exquisite. Each dish was created and presented with artistry. Every detail was expressed with intention, both in the kitchen and in the dining room.

The service was flawless – like a beautiful dance with servers waltzing gracefully through the dining room, two by two. The vibe was a balance of formality and sincerity. Our servers started out a bit serious, but we quickly broke them down with our insane pumped up-ness. They got excited because we were excited. And really, after 20 rounds of dish drop-offs, pick-ups, water refills…you kind of get to know a person.

It was all just very thoughtful. Oh, you’re feeling a little chilly? Let me offer you a pashmina. Wait, you’re coming up the stairs to use the bathroom? Well, I’m already half-way down, but I’m going to turn around, go back up the stairs, and open the bathroom door for you! Because you are important to us and we would like to make you feel special.

The French Laundry kitchen

five stars

The precision and attention to detail was unreal, borderline OCD. For example, I noticed that every time a plate was set down, my silverware was adjusted so that it lay perfectly perpendicular. Was I imagining this? Only one way to find out. I tested my theory. I subtly knocked my fork off-kilter. Again and again. (I’m sure my server thought I had motor skill control issues.) Each time, without fail, it was reset just so! Amazing! I mean, they train people to do this, purely for the aesthetics.

Nothing is overlooked. Even something as simple as your water glass is a work of art. I’m not exaggerating, they were really cool. They looked like those flimsy plastic cups you get on an airplane, except they’re made of thin thin glass! Completely impractical, but so inexplicably fun to drink from.

As a diner, you are made to feel as if all of this beauty and luxury and extravagance exist purely for your ultimate sensory pleasure. I will treasure this evening for the rest of my life, even more so because I was able to share it with people I love, who appreciated it as much as I did. In the end, that is what a great meal is about. Yes, the food—really great food—but also Laughter, Joy, Pleasure, Celebration…Love.

The French Laundry Garden

“When you acknowledge, as you must, that there is no such thing as perfect food, only the idea of it, then the real purpose of striving toward perfection becomes clear: To make people happy, that is what cooking is all about.”
– Thomas Keller

Stumble It!
Posted by Stephanie at 10:51 pm

43 Responses to “The French Laundry”

  1. Happy 300th!! What a meal!! Those gougeres are gorgeous!

  2. Connie says:

    STEPH!! This post is perfection!  I know you were nervous about the build up- but it explains everything so well!  Congrats on the 300th post!!

  3. Congratulations on your 300th post! Yes, this post was a lot of work and epic – great photos of a great experience. My husband and I, through 8 hours of phone calling, were able to experience the French Laundry with another couple to celebrate an anniversary (not saying how many). We were only able to get lunch reservations, but that worked out great because it gave us time to recover. We did the biggest tasting menu – wanting to experience as much as we could. It took us over an hour just to choose our wines but the sommelier just kept working with our friend until he was happy. We shut the lunch service down – stayed for every last sip and bite we could possibly take in. It was fantastic and if I could afford to, I would do it again. I wish I was a food blogger back then and had pictures. I remember one dish combined cauliflower and caviar – who would think? – and it was amazing!

    What a great wedding gift! Thanks for sharing your experience.

    • Stephanie says:

      Thanks so much, Beth! wow 8 hours of phone calling? that is commitment :) i’m so glad my recap reminded you of your own French Laundry experience — hope you could relive that special meal a bit

  4. Tamara says:

    The French Laundry looks amazing and the food looks amazing! I’m sitting here drooling and wishing I could visit there. Congrats on the 300th post!

  5. Jun Belen says:

    WOW!! 300 posts?… congratulations! What a spectacular meal. Someday, I’ll get to feast in the French Laundry but for now I’d have to settle with ogling at your photographs. Beautiful!

  6. Hutchie says:

    HOLY COW. I am speechless. That just took me like an hour to read too, but it was amazing. I’m so happy you were able to experience the French Laundry and then share every part of it with us! Beautiful photos and the writing, of course, phenomenal. Congrats on your 300th post too! XOXO Missing you and Mr. Hua in San Francisco!! 

    • Stephanie says:

      Haha, well thank you for devoting an hour of your work day to reading this, Hutch :) I’m so glad I was able to transport you there! missss you and the crew! xxoo

  7. Jessica says:

    I’m in love with this post… !!! What an amazing experience :) I didn’t they had their own garden??!! Sick. Congrats on your 300th post! Keep them coming!

    • Stephanie says:

      Jess!! Thanks, lady! It was incredible, I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to experience it in all its glory. And YES, the garden is SICK.  It is beautiful, and literally across the street from the restaurant.  We actually saw a few guys in chef’s white picking fresh herbs and veggies before service. So cool :)

  8. You may have waited to write/put-up this “epic” post, but it was well worth the wait. (Should I mention I didn’t know I was waiting? ;-) ) There are meals and then there are experiences. It’s a phenomenal thing to enjoy food this way with the ones you love. Thank you for sharing the experience with us.

  9. 5 hours and 17 courses. Unheard of! The most awesome thing (well, one of the most awesome) is the cellophane-packed batch of cookies to go. You gotta love that.

    • Stephanie says:

      omg, it was ri.dic.u.lous. By far, the most i’ve ever consumed in one sitting…and that is a lot considering how much this girl can pack it down ;) The cookies were such a nice touch. That T-Kells, class act all the way.

  10. MikeVFMK says:

    Considering that I live in Toronto, a dining experience at The French Laundry is a pipe dream away. But through these images I was able to experience what all the fuss was about. Sublime. Thank you.

  11. Your experience at the French Laundry is a virtual mirror of our experience at Per Se. Truly amazing that they can execute night after night with such a high level of precision.

    • Stephanie says:

      I’ve wondered if Per Se was much different! I hear they do a few of the same signature dishes…although I can imagine the setting is much different, with PS taking advantage of the glamour/glitz of Columbus Circle and TFL really playing on the country feel. Love that both create such a distinct sense of place.

  12. Lee Ann Brewter says:

    First let me say…Congrats on your 300th!!!! Yay! Secondly..holyyyyyy cow..that is a lot of course to take down, i mean i know they are like little samples but it could fill you up pretty fast.Good job as always on the post and the pics. I always feel like i’m there with you through your writing and your awesome pics! Love it!

  13. Kasey says:

    Awesome writeup, Stephanie! We went to the French Laundry for our 1st wedding anniversary and I have to agree with you – it was unreal. I still think about those oysters and pearls…

  14. Gintare says:

    Amaaaaaaaazing, Stephanie! The tastiest and most gourmet post I have ever read! :). Could not agree with Thomas Keller more – striving for perfection is what makes cooking perfect :). Thank you for sharing!

  15. Marie says:

    OMG looked amazing! What a wonderful and thoughtful wedding gift =)

  16. Jonny says:

    congratulations on post #300! That’s quite the milestone and what better way to celebrate? We are still getting over our French Laundry experience and it’ll be three years ago in September, so I can fully appreciate your rapture, and suggest, that perhaps the memories get better with time. In fact, as a souvenir, we framed our $1300 bill, so we don’t forget how freaking awesome it was!

    • Stephanie says:

      Thanks so much, Jonny! I have a feeling it’ll be 30 years later and we’ll still be looking back on this meal with huge smiles on our faces :) Awesome that you framed the bill! We framed the menu.

  17. That really was the best wedding present ever. We’re getting married in the late summer and requesting honeymoon registry donations.  A gal can only handle so many bath towels, but never enough of great food & adventure! The truffle creme brûlée dish sounds deliciously unreal. When we ate at Alinea in Chicago, truffle was another big theme. Why is fancy food so fun? 

    • Stephanie says:

      Ooh congrats! We didn’t have a traditional registry either — we already have more stuff than we have space for! Alinea is totally on my hit list!! What was your favorite dish there?

  18. Elsie Hui says:

    thanks for your review! :) I think I will have to try it, as I’ve heard of many good things about French Laundry! I’ll try it next time I’m in town.. just never knew what to expect! Great blog posts you have!! I’ll try to follow in your foot steps! Here’s my blog post at Elsie Hui

  19. Foodtopii says:

    Simply mind-blowing. I have heard only the best things about French Laundry but have not had the luxury of trying it myself. 5 hours and 17-courses? Sign me up for this little piece of heaven!

  20. [...] new year?As you ponder, let’s take a trip down memory lane. Presenting 2011′s tastiest moments:1. The French LaundryHen Egg Custard at French LaundryA meal of a lifetime. Five hours, seventeen courses, ten wines, [...]

  21. Wow! This was amazing! I’d love to travel to France someday, and I can’t imagine eating and savoring all of that food. This is one of my goals in life, to eat a 17 course meal in France!

  22. Congratulations on 3-0-0!!!! Really enjoyed your article and your pictures were sublime.

  23. [...] Naxos, SicilyThis past weekend, my dear Felix Friend and ConCon tied the knot! (Remember them from The French Laundry?) The wedding was gorgeous and bonkers fun—just like the love birds themselves. I’ll let the [...]

Leave a Reply