food road trip: the french laundry...finishing up my second load (of food)!
Welcome back to fine dining time! And what better way to kick it off than with a little (literally) bread and butter. That's right, how can you not like a place that has bread and butter as one of its actual courses. But it isn't just any bread and butter as this is The French Laundry after all.
It's a Hobbs Shore's bacon and onion brioche with Diane St. Clair's Animal Farm butter. Ah, George Orwell would be so proud. Buttery layers of bread with flecks of bacon and then even more butter on the side to add to it? Seriously, have we met? Anyone who knows or reads me could just look at this picture and say "oh yeah, you really enjoyed that didn't you?" Why yes, very much, thank you. And can you follow up something like this, with mac and cheese of course.
But not just any mac and cheese, it is hand cut macaroni, chicken wing confit, romaine lettuce, parmigiano reggiano and Australian black winter truffles shaved copiously on top. I was surprised how much of the truffle they shaved, it pretty much covered the top of the dish, though I had to push some aside to get a pic, duh. The earthy dark flavor does help cut some richness from the cream and cheese nicely. Though while I liked the taste, there wasn't much texture, even with those few breadcrumbs there and the sauce itself was a bit on the thin side for me. Usually I enjoy my cheese sauce thicker for this classic homestyle dish. That being said, I still ate it all.
Previously we had the rabbit foie gras and now it's back with some straight up rabbit meat wrapped in bacon and covered in thyme au jus. Everything is better with bacon right? Sure, though I think the rabbit here would be just as good without it. The rabbit was perfectly cooked and tender with enough salt in the jus along with the barest hint of minty-ish thyme. Add in part of the sliced plum and the salty sweet was a right note.
Beyond that, it came with creamed corn and some watercress gnocchi, those tube things that look like asparagus. Really, it started to feel like we had moved in to homestyle plate mode where the bread course acted as a bridge between the surf and turf. Not a bad thing as they have done a superb job with elevating some basics.
Now we've got braised and charcoal grilled Japanese Wagyu short rib with carrots, spinach and a couple types of mushroom sauce in creamy, au jus and chunky! Yeah, here's your earthy meaty fix with some tender, juicy and almost melt in your mouth beef. With the way the courses had been going, I half expected some unique variation of a baked potato or something, but they stuck to having the meat shine and the mushroom give it a kick.
Then it was herb-roasted lamb with broccoli floret, glazed potato, sunflower sprouts and caper brown butter jus. And speak of the potato, it came with the lamb--surprise! Pretty sure there ws some sous vide going on here (or possibly with the beef too) but that just made the meat so tender you could cut it with a butter knife, or like butter--just so much butter!! Oh fine dining, why do the pieces have to be so petite. And why was that wayward lamb piece off to the side like an iceberg that had broken off? And did they mean to have the au jus curl up in to what looks like a snake with an open mouth trying to devour the lamb as some commentary or was that just coincidence? So many questions I didn't ponder as I consumed this dish.
And why not follow up lots of meat with some fried cheese to ease one into the dessert courses (yes, I said courses). Really, it is a airy cheese puff filled with gruyere, covered in grated walnuts sitting on a cream and olive oil base. This was served warm and was super rich and creamy. Fortunately it was only about two bites, which was fine for what was to come.
Keep in mind, this was my birthday dinner, which they knew before we arrived because yes, I told them.
Thus, just before the regular dessert course, they trotted out this cake and real flowers for me to blow out a candle and what not. I was actually all like, "I get this whole cake?" and "This is great!" until they took the cake away to slice a piece for me and one for the SO and well, that was it. Turns out I didn't get the whole cake, not even a piece to take home. Have to say I was kind of bummed about that. It was like a Viennese layer cake with thin layers of cake alternating with chocolate mousse and a couple different types of cream filling. Honestly, a bigger hunk of this and I would have been totes fine with it all.
But they seem to really pile it on at the end with a host of sweets brought all at once. A ball of chocolate, a caramel, a macaron, some doughnuts with a coffee cup of espresso semifreddo, some ice cream and a berry mousse thing. Usually you have to choose which dessert you want to try, here, you get them all. Was it too much? I'm probably not the person to ask as I'd choose to try every dessert on menus if I could. Though, outside of the whole play on coffee and donuts thing, they were all kind of different and didn't necessarily go with each other. In hindsight, it does seem odd to get so much when all the course up till now were so specific.
Not to say it wasn't all tasty, it most definitely was and if you weren't full with the small bites before this, you probably would be when you were done. Plus, we had that extra slice of bday cake, which actually was my favorite of all these. Still there was more.
They close out the meal with a mignardises--tiny bite sized sweets or petit fours that signal the end of a French dinner. Here it was a collection of chocolates with flavors like peanut butter and jelly, s'mores, matcha and hazelnut. Then, as a gift, they present you with some house made chocolate bars and tins of shortbread cookies to take home. It's like gorging on everything in Wonka's wonderland then going into shock from all the sugar or the bill, which they bring at the same time.
Yes, the bill! It is a prix fixe menu, but between the course upgrades we did along with the wine pairings it is an expensive dinner. Though, surprisingly not that much more than Atelier Crenn was, at least in the grand scheme of things. But comparing them both isn't really fair as each chef is trying to convey something totally different through their food and presentation. But if I had to choose between them, I'd take The French Laundry for the more pedestrian reason that I found the food to be more accessible and tasty.
They are not trying to wow you with foams and essences, nor be some cutting edge molecular dining experience. It's like simple dishes and ingredients served up to let their individual flavors shine. Sort of French countryside fare squeezed through the whole local organic California milieu to create plates that are appealing to many for their simpleness. That's just a lot of words for I really enjoyed this meal. A lovely fine dining experience without all the stuffy fussiness and food that tasted as good as it looked. It is definitely not something one can do on a regular basis (unless your wallet and waistline can handle it) but if you are looking for a special occasion spot or an upscale dining experience where the food won't turn you off in its pretentiousness, then The French Laundry well worth the trip to Yountville. If you are able to snag a reservation of course.