No, I did not go to the French Laundry last night. But I guess that's obvious by the date on the menu.
Lately I've been trying to make reservations for another night at this food paradise.
However, if you are familiar with their reservation policy you know it's easier said than done.
The restaurant takes reservations sixty days in advance. They start accepting calls at 10 a.m. and usually sell out in 15 minutes. From what I understand, reservations are taken first from anyone waiting in line outside (honoring relationships with locals), then they accept the phone reservations.
Since there are only 17 tables, it's slim pickins' on any given day.
I'm still amazed the Wild Boar was able to get a table for six on his first attempt, several years ago. Luck I guess.
It was for my Birthday, and as a surprise, the Wild Boar "somehow" commandeered these reservations with only one busy signal and then success.
I can't even tell you how ecstatic I was. The perfect gift for a confessed food glutton like myself.
The crazy thing, and I don't know if it's different now; you can't call and confirm these reservations once you have them.
The restaurant gives you another number where you can leave a message but no one ever calls you back. I'm not sure what you would have to say to get a call back. Apparently, this restaurant is just too exclusive to deal with you until you are sitting in their dining room.
We pulled up, parking across the street from the once real laundry building turned restaurant extraordinaire. Many chefs in their crisp white uniforms were in the garden harvesting vegetables for the night's meal. It was surreal and movie-like.
My heart was racing.
Walking into the place two months after the original reservation was made, you have no idea if they still have record of it. Has it been deleted? Or maybe you imagined getting reservations in the first place. What if they wrote you in on a different day?
It's stressful because when you enter this serene, stone, building; it's very quiet. The type of quiet that makes you sweat. The walls are stark white. Behind a large counter are two staff members in blue suits who just stare at you until you introduce yourself.
It's as if, they don't believe you have a reservation either. You give them your name and cross your fingers, praying you are on the list.
Thank God we were.
We were led upstairs, it was early, 5:30 PM. I remember feeling slightly disappointed our reservation was so "pre-party hour" but in retrospect, thank goodness they were. (We didn't finish dinner until 11:30 PM. And yes we were eating the whole time.)
What strikes me as funny is how we knew the portions at the French Laundry were very, very small. We imagined happily eating our 7 tablespoons of food and generously thanking the staff for letting us enter Thomas Keller's Temple of Food. We would stop at Sizzler for all-you-can-eat-shrimp before going back to the hotel.
Not a chance.
We chose to have the "10 Course Prix Fixe" meal. They did offer a five course as well, but give me a break, why on earth would you do that? You're at the French Laundry...you have no idea if you'll ever come back!
Also, in addition to what was on the menu, there were several courses served that were not listed. The food did not stop coming.
As soon as we were seated, the mood suddenly changed. The staff was completely accommodating and the sommelier extremely helpful and knowledgeable. You could chat loudly and no one seemed to mind. It is a very formal environment but also very relaxing.
Course after course, specially designed Limoges China, unique to every dish, was placed in front of us with all types of serving ware we had never seen before.
I'm not kidding, I had never laid eyes on half the tools used to eat these masterpieces. However, the atmosphere is such you do not feel embarrassed to inquire what to do with them. It was entertaining to see what would arrive next.
Every offering was more incredible than the one previous.
The flavors were concentrated and melded together perfectly. We were stuffed, beyond belief.
Our theory of starving at the French Laundry was put to shame. With every course we had different wine; some full bottles, some half-bottles some only by the glass but all paired perfectly with each food selection.
I'm going to post the menu that night, it changes slightly daily and always seasonally. If anything, it's a good read for entertainment. I'm not sure where you would ever get any of the ingredients for most of these dishes.
Of course we started with the famous Salmon Coronets which are not on the menu. Yes, they were as perfect as they look. When does one not need an ice cream cone of salmon? I can no longer think of a time.
So here we go...the menu....
"Oysters And Pearls"
"Sabayon" of Pearl Tapioca with Beau Soleil Oysters and Iranian Osetra Caviar
Salad of Big Island Hearts of Peach Palm, Marinated Pearl Onions, Breakfast Radish, Cutting Celery Salad and Perigord Truffle Vinaigrette
or (this was the only choice)
"Torchon" of Moulard Duck "Foie Gras", Baked French Butter Pears and Toasted "Brioche"
"Mo'I", Sautéed Filet of Hawaiian Threadfish, Pickled Jerusalem Artichokes, Glazed Baby Bok Choy and Piquillo Pepper "Gastrique"
Sweet Butter Poached Maine Lobster, Caramelized Fennel Bulb, Crystallized Fennel "Chip" and Sauce "Noilly Prat"
Slow Braised Breast of Marcho Farms Veal "Farci Aux Champigons Des Bois", Anson Mills White Polenta "Croûtons" and Veal "Jus"
Pan Roasted Medallion of Elysian Fields Farm Rib-Eye of Lamb, Melted Garden Eggplant, Vine Ripen Tomato "Stew" and Italian Basil-Infused Extra Virgin Olive Oil
"Abbaye De Citeux" Slow poached Royal Blenheim Apricots, "Tartlette" and Apricot-Black Pepper "Gastrique"
Gravenstein Apple Sorbet "Avec Son Gelee" and "Creme Fraiche"
Valrhona "Manjari Chocolate Box" with Tahitian Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
Holy cow, right? There were also two other courses not mentioned on the menu. It was unbelievable.
Not to mention it was my Birthday. The biggest tip I can share with you is to make sure you tell the French Laundry it is your Birthday even if it's not. There are perks.
At one point, between courses, our waiter came walking towards me with the famous "Coffee & Doughnuts" dessert adorned with a candle.
I seriously had a tear in my eye when I saw it. I had desperately wanted to try this dish since seeing it in the French Laundry Cookbook (page 261).
This dish is Thomas Keller's Cinnamon-Sugar Doughnuts with a Cappuccino Semifreddo. The trick is, the semifreddo, a partially frozen mousse, is cold beneath the hot, frothy steamed milk. Brilliant is all I can say. But again this was in addition to the menu and all the extras as well. I thought I was going to explode.
Whatever of the "Mignardises" are not consumed are wrapped up in a beautiful box and sent home with you. You honestly feel you will never eat again.
During the course of the meal you are able to leave your table and stroll in the candlelit garden with your wine. This helps digestion I suppose.
The bill came with 4 bars of this chocolate stamped with the French Laundry's logo, the clothespin. These bars are quite large and are wrapped in cellophane with French Laundry ribbon.
Yes, I saved one...I will not eat it. I'm actually not sure if everyone gets this or if they gave it to me because it was my Birthday. Does anyone know?
What I also loved (and have kept) is this very large Laundry ticket you are given as your bill.
It's adorable. I have smudged out many of the numbers because we just don't need to go there!
It was a lot but so worth it. It is definitely one of those life experiences great to have in the memory bank.
It was the perfect evening.
Thanks Wild Boar, Dan, Lisa, Sean and Sandy for celebrating with me, almost four years ago.
What a night.