food road trip: the french laundry...yes, we finally made it!
Super fine dining is sometimes lost on me, but, when it comes to these types of spots, I'm still game to try them because it is food and I love to eat! The SO is also totally into it and loves the ambiance, molecular gastronomy and pretty plates that many of these restaurants strive for. I can appreciate some of that, though ultimately it does come down to the food. One spot that had been on both of our lists to try was The French Laundry.
It is one of if not the quintessential California restaurant that anyone who is a foodie or loves food supposedly needs to try--something easier said than done. Recently, they closed down to renovate the space by upgrading the kitchen and making future plans to add an inn. With this reno came a new reservation system. I just happened to be online one day when I saw a headline about the new system and I clicked on it to see what it was like. Then, to my surprise, because it had just gone live (like that morning) they actually had spots open! I took this as a sign and texted the SO immediately who said "YES! GET SOMETHING!" And just like that, we had a coveted reservation to check out The French Laundry. (FYI, later that day, every spot was sucked up and it was back to trying to get one exactly six months out from the day you want to go, for the most part.)
Since this was such a big deal for us, we decided to make a whole wine country weekend out of it, thus the previous reviews which have all led up to this. The two of us dressed up more than we've ever been to have our senses hopefully wowed.
Not having been here before, looking at previous pics, seems much of the remake is in an enlarged kitchen area with a giant glass window you can watch the magic through, new building addition which I was told will serve as a private dining room for large parties and outdoor garden area.
I'm guessing the original dining area in the classic building is pretty much the same as before. It has the feel of dining in an old country inn, which is pretty much their thing. As is the coterie of waitstaff that will hustle and bustle about continually as the meal is served. We were ushered in and presented with an initial book of wine to choose from which was overwhelming to say the least. Since it is a chef's menu of about 10 or so courses, I wanted to do a few glasses of wine and fortunately, the sommelier was quite helpful.
I give him props as my taste approval on wine is narrow to say the least and after, yes, trying about six or seven different wines he finally nailed a profile close enough to bring three different glasses of wine over the course of dining. Yeah, I'm picky, whateves, but I like what I like and I figured, they seem to have an ample supply in that wine cellar you can see on the other side of the glass in the dining room, so there must be something in there I'm gonna like.
The menu had set choices for either vegetarian or meat and you could substitute one from the other side if really wanted to or were not into one of the dishes. On the meat side, a couple courses also had some up charge options you could choose. In order to maximize what we got, we alternated choices on the meat menu and turned a nine course tasting menu into like a 15 course one. I mean, these are gonna be small bites right so I need to get my fill right? It is me after all. And poof, we get to kick it all off with some little amuse bouche bonus bites.
Okay, truth be told, when these were delivered to the table I was still deep in the "finding a wine way" and only half heard what they were. The "ice cream cone" was ground salmon and creme fraiche nestled in a black sesame seed cone. Well, you know the whole raw fish and salmon thing I just can't with. It was mostly a two bite thing and I tried some of the cone and creme which crunchy and bright. The SO scarfed the rest and it was a little of everything they like about this kind of upscale dining--strong flavors and pretty packaging.
The other was a tiny tartlette I thought was potato? I sort of came to that conclusion because this one bite treat tasted exactly like a sour cream and onion potato chip I kid you not. Both of us thought that. It didn't have the exact crunch of a chip but it sure did taste like one. I think for that surprise burst of flavor alone I liked it.
First course on the meat menu was all about caviar and since fish eggs don't really rock my world I left the SO to get one of those and I opted for the first one from the vegetable menu.
The garden herb and buttermilk soup was a gelee of green tomatoes with a buttermilk base atop a sweet curry infused olive oil. It was a cold creamy consomme that tasted very green if ever anything could. Kind of reminded me of a couple things I had at Relae. Yes, I from the South but I can't say I've ever been totally down for green tomatoes, fried or otherwise. Plus the slickery texture played a little havoc with my senses. I can say this was the least fave thing I had and at least it was first and out of the way.
The meat option we chose was one of the upgrades. Applewood smoked sablefish with bavarois, pickled pearl onion petals, Royal Kaluga caviar, a rye melba chip and garden nasturtiums. Okay, so the caviar wasn't as fishy salty as some I've had but still. What I really liked was the bavarois, a gel cream and the smoked fish on that rye cracker. I think I took the creamy smokiness of it mixed with the sweetness from the onion. It was kind of a play of lox and bagels but with fresh cream and a better tasting fish.
Did I mention they have their own garden just across the street? Well, they do and seems the garden summer squash salad came from there. Curled zucchini, grilled zucchini, marinated squash blossoms, sliced green olives and a black olive like tapenade smear. It was topped with a Genovese basil panade which is kind of a starchy thickener they've used to create the green triangle of basil you see in the pick above. It was all very fresh tasting like it was just picked from a garden, lightly warmed and served right up. I saw this more as a side dish to a main as opposed to an entree, but you could taste everything that was going on here and it sort of continues the green theme from the soup, though I liked this better.
The other option (an up charge) was the duck foie gras rillette (the round thing) served with poached cherries, celery, toasted oat pieces and yogurt. While foie gras is a little like potted, I'm okay with that as I'm a fan of both. Smooth creamy and rich, the cherries made a nice sweet bite against the salty of the foie gras. I know the celery and oat thingys were there for some needed crunch or texture as it were but the yogurt was just lost on me. Though what it called for was a little bread and voila!!
BREAD! Not big pieces, these were like the mini dollhouse size versions and could right in the palm of your hand. The one of the left was a sesame yeast roll close to French bread that worked for a little smear of the foie gras. The roll on the right was super buttery and light and I could have eaten a dozen of them. Though I kept my gluttony in check and didn't ask for more since we've still got a number of courses to get to.
Next for both of us was the sauteed fillet of Mediterranean turbot with chanterelle mushrooms a la grecque, carmelized pearl onion and artichoke heart barigoule emulsion. That last part is like a fancy term for a buttery cream sauce with thyme, coriander, garlic and other seasonings. On top of the fish itself was a mushroom mouse layer then a thin crispy potato square. Considering turbot is a flat, bottom feeding fish like flounder, they did an amazing job of making it tender, smooth and almost butter like, which we all know just kicked my taste buds into high gear. Almost positive this was sous vide first before the light sautee. I loved the part earthy mix of the mushrooms and that sauce which I could have easily used more bread to sop up without shame. I just wanted it to last longer than the few bites it was. And even with that sauce on it, the potato chip part stayed crisp as you cut into it. All just yum and the next dish continued the sea theme.
Butter (yes! more!) poached Alaskan king crab leg with Armenian cucumber, slow roasted garden beet puree, dill and preserved horseradish. I'm going to say this was a sous vide thing again as it was soft, tender and almost creamy like in its texture, but not so much it was off putting. The light butter sauce on top just added all the salt and flavor the sweet crab needed. Simple and super tasty in two bites. Now, while the other items made for a pretty plate, I was a little lost on how they melded together with the crab. I love roast beets and the puree here was nice, though it along with the cucumber and that horseradish just didn't seem to correlate for me with the crab. Pleasant fresh flavors yes. Did they really go with the buttery crab, not so much so the dish was a bit of a disconnect though I liked the individual pieces, just not all together.
What is that, like nine dishes and we weren't even halfway done. Just writing this up I'm already getting "food drowsy" and you know what that means! I'm saving the rest for my next post! There is still more butter to come because the above surely wasn't enough and there is also dessert, which I got a little extra of since this was a birthday dinner for me. Did I forget to mention that? Well, there it is. I took the SO to Atelier Crenn for theirs and we are at The French Laundry for mine. Living the high life people--at least twice a year that is.