So a few weeks ago this happened….
For those of you who are not a total chef stalker, this is Chef Thomas Keller and it was taken at The French Laundry. The French Laundry has been a HUGE (HUGE) bucket list item for me since college. This episode of a Cook’s Tour with Anthony Bourdain sealed the deal for me.
Of course The French Laundry shows up on a ton of best of lists, and is considered one of the top restaurants in the United States. It is a true foodie destination and something I’ve talked about wanting to do for over 10 years. When we got the reservation I couldn’t even believe it. I was so anxious, because I’ve been wanting to do this for so long. I know some of you reading this won’t get it, and that is ok. To you it is just food, it’s just a dinner. To me it’s an experience, a dream, and something every single time I’ve read/watched a show about it I’ve said “OMG I want to go there”. It’s the experience not just the meal. It’s getting to finally know for yourself if this is the best meal you will ever have.
The French Laundry is notorious for being very hard to get in to. You need to know someone or you get lucky. We got lucky. P just happened to check OpenTable while we were talking about it on Friday night, and they had three reservations open for that coming Thursday. We jumped at the opportunity and made it happen. Yes, we drove 9+ hours to go to dinner.
I’ll share next Thursday where we stayed and what else we did on the trip. This post is dedicated solely to TFL (THE FRENCH LAUNDRY) 🙂 My pictures are not great – the lighting was poor, and while I wanted to document it, my main focus was to enjoy the experience. I debated sharing each dish, but thought why not. I 100% knew I wanted to blog about this, as it is huge to me, even if I only shared a picture of the sign 🙂 For much more flattering pictures of a TFL meal, check out Esther’s post on their trip to The French Laundry.
Our reservation was at 9:00 on Thursday night. We drove in that day, and basically went straight to dinner. I had not eaten since around 11:00 that day so I was fairly hungry, though my nerves made me a little less so than normal I think. The building itself is very unassuming especially at night. We walked into the reception area, and did wait a minute or so for someone to show up to the front. We did catch a glimpse of the chef as he was coming out of the kitchen, so we knew we were there on a particularly good night.
We got a great seat, on the first floor, right next to the fireplace. The interior was cozy, to me it had almost a ski lodge feel, lots of wood, golden lighting, plus the fireplace. You have more of a concierge than waitress. I don’t think she served us food at all, but she explained things to us, took our orders, poured wine, and brought the bill. I kind of thought of her as our guide through our meal. The menu does change daily, however Keller has a few staples that I think must always be served. I mean at least they showed up on A Cook’s Tour in 2002 and on our table in November 2015. You have two choices the Chef’s Tasting Menu or The Tasting of Vegetable Menu (ie all vegetarian), P and I both got the Chef’s Tasting Menu. For some of the courses for an additional fee, you can substitute the standard dish with a different dish that is listed. There were three courses with substitutions offered and we tried two. So let’s get started…
The salmon cone (salmon cornets), started our meal and was also the starter in A Cook’s Tour.
Along with the salmon cone were gruyère gougères. Both a great start to our meal.
Oysters and Pearls, which is another “signature” French Laundry dish. Another dish that showed up on A Cook’s Tour. This was sabayon of pearl tapioca with Island Creek oysters and white sturgeon caviar. It was basically like a butter pudding with caviar and oysters. I loved this dish, though I liked the caviar on the dish more than the oysters. The oysters were a bit more fishy than salty for my taste, but it wasn’t bad, it just could have been better if the oysters were more on the briny side. The caviar was super nice and salty though. This was one supplement course that we did not try.
Hawaiian Hearts of Peach Palm with Hadley Orchards medjool dates, marcona almonds, thompson grapes, and garden sorrel. This was the worst course, it made no sense to me. It was very bland and just weird. I still don’t know what the white disks were. This dish 100% failed for me. Luckily we only had one to share and this course offered a supplement.
The supplement Elevages Perigord Moulard Duck Foie Gras Rillette with sour apple marmalade, apple cider gelee, cauliflower florets and pea tendrils. Which was fantastic! Loved it. The foie gras came with the variety of salts, which was so fun and good. We of course, did not pass up trying every one of them and put salt on our bread and butter for tasting:) I’m pretty sure the waiter was a bit shocked at the amount of salt we used. I’m sure he thought, “do you want some foie gras with your salt?”
Slow Cooked Pacific Sea Bream with yellow lipstick peppers, cerignola olives, cutting celery and saffron vierge. This dish was not a winner for me either. I liked the fish, but the olives in the dish were completely overwhelming. If you could get a bite without an olive then it was much more well balanced, since there was also olive in the fish. Nicely cooked but unbalanced.
Caesar Salad with sweet butter poached Maine lobster, caramelized romaine lettuce, sweet garlic melba and greek bottarga emulsion. This dish was really interesting and would have been better if my lobster had been cooked a bit more, it was definitely a bit undercooked. P’s piece was cooked better.
Pork and Beans with all day braised Salmon Creek Farms pork belly, cassoulet of Rancho Gordo pole beans, garden collard greens and whole grain mustard. This dish was great, I loved the beans.
Of course it was a bit overshadowed with the supplement dish of this course. The supplement dish offered was Carnaroli Risotto Biologico with parmigiano reggiano, browned butter and shaved white truffles from Alba. OMG this dish was amazing, that is the only word for it. Buttery, earthy, salty, warm, goodness!! Look at all those truffles!! Which were shaved table side.
Charcoal Grilled Snake River Farms Calotte De Boeuf of dry aged brisket, yukon gold potato confit, caramelized garden onions, scallion salad, and sauce bordelaise. This dish was melt in your mouth, but extremely rich. I think I was getting food fatigue at this point. I was even pacing myself, with eating only about half my prior courses, and was feeling stuffed. P was basically eating one and a half plates 🙂
Andante Dairy Acapella with french prune pudding, pickled ruby beets, english walnuts, and wild arugula. This was the cheese course, and the cheese was very good. I didn’t get a whole lot of flavor from the pudding.
Finally we finished with a full table of desserts. They just kept on coming. My favorite was the passionfruit one with a basil oil and some other stuff. It was yummy!! All of it was good. I did ask for our macaroons, house-made chocolates, and cocoa macadamia nuts to be wrapped up. I figured we would save what we could as we were not going to finish our dessert assortment. In addition to our goodies they also gave us two boxes of shortbread cookies in souvenir tins. All of it was pretty amazing.
After three hours of gorging ourselves we were ready for bed! It was a very memorable night. I was ecstatic that I got to meet the chef on top of it all. Our waitress did ask if I would like to meet the chef and she did ask if I wanted a picture. P took the picture 🙂 Chef Keller was very friendly and it was a highlight of the evening. He recommended the Addison here in San Diego, so we know where I’m requesting my birthday dinner this next year 🙂 I did not find the experience overly stuffy or formal, as one might think. It was a great night.
Most people ask when hearing about such an extravagant dinner, “was it worth it?”. Which is an impossible question – for me, “yes”, for you, “I don’t know”. P and I always say when asked that questions about prior dinners, “for us, yes, it was an experience”. We still talk about our dinners from our honeymoon that was over two-years ago. I will say, this was not overall the best dinner I’ve ever had. I was more wowed on the food alone from our dinner at De Vitrine in Ghent…I know right?!!? De Vitrine was just a hands down amazing, amazing meal. Many of the ingredients were super simple, no truffles, caviar, etc but it was all executed at such a level that I will never forget it. However, that does not mean I regret going to the French Laundry or I didn’t enjoy our experience there. I’m am unbelievably happy I got the opportunity to sit down and enjoy that meal on a random Thursday night. I will never forget the first time I got to eat half a truffle!! It is something that we will talk about for years to come and other meals will be measured against.
As a side note, we were given the menus from our dinner, otherwise there would been a whole lot less of a description for each dish 🙂
Would you jump at the chance to eat at the French Laundry (or have you)? What is the most memorable meal you have ever had?