March 29th, 2011

French Laundry, Yountville CA

I have been dreaming about French Laundry forever. It is one of the few 3 star Michelin restaurants in the country (97 worldwide, 7 in the US). I finally made it there during my recent trip to visit Mj and Brian in their new digs in San Francisco.


There is no ala carte menu; your choices are between the Chef’s Tasting Menu, or the Tasting of Vegetables. Both are 9 courses and cost $270 per person. There are some choices within courses, and with Mj and Brian by my side, we were able to try them all.


There were many extras, but sadly I’ve waited too long to write about them that the details have leaked out of my brain. Luckily, I have the menu so I can at least write about the nine courses of the meal. I invite Mj and Brian and comment on anything I missed or anything they thought was noteworthy.


First course: Mj and I had the famous “Oysters and Pearls” This dish was all about texture; the silkiness of the poached oysters against the tapioca and the brininess of the caviars matching the sea of the oysters. It wasn’t the revelation for me that people have made it out to be, but it was still quite good. Brian had a Dungeness crab with caviar and an Asian pear gelee. It was cool and refreshing, but the oysters were better.


Second course: Mj had a salad of confit marble potatoes. It was the disappointment of the evening. Brian and I paid the extra $30 supplement for the foie gras au torchon. It was delicious, but my foie gras at Craftsteak last year was better.


Third course: I had the Monkfish and it was excellent, but the golf ball sized nugget of Brussels sprouts was one of my favorite bites of the night. The other option was frog legs; they weren’t very memorable, as I don’t remember anything about them, nor other order them.


Fourth course: No choice here – it was a butter poached Maine lobster. Delicious? Yes. But better than sitting on the dock at Five Islands with steamed lobster and drawn butter? Not a chance.


Fifth course: Mj and Brian had the pork belly. I remember nothing about it. I had tripe which had a phenomenally tender texture. The 100 year aged balsamic vinegar was like nothing I’ve ever tasted.


Sixth course: We all had the “calotte de boeuf grille” which is the rib-eye cap. It was a small serving, but this might have been the single best bite of beef I have ever had – and that is saying a lot.


Seventh course: The cheese course was a ossau iraty, a French sheep’s milk cheese.


Eighth course: Mango sorbet. I think this is supposed to serve as a palate cleaner-type course, but with all the accoutrements it got a little busy.


Ninth course: Dessert! I had the chocolate dessert, Brian had a lemongrass one. Both were underwhelming. Luckily, Mj was allow to order the chocolate soufflé from the vegetable menu and dessert also came with a dozen chocolate truffles as well as an espresso pot de crème which was outstanding and short bread cookies to take home.


The service was exquisite. I had called ahead to let them know that Mj was expecting so that they could modify their menu accordingly. They went above and beyond and provided us with complimentary non-alcoholic beverages for all to go with the menu. The breads were also delicious; we went to Bouchon Bakery the next day to have more of Keller’s breads.


So, all in all the meal for three including tax and tip was a hair above a grand. That’s a lot of money to spend on a single meal. Was it worth it? I’m not sure. I’m glad I did it once and had the experience, but I don’t forsee a repeat trip in my future. I think 10 years ago I would have been blown away by the meal, but I’ve done a lot of eating and traveling and I know that the best meals aren’t always served on fine china and linens.