I know, I'm spoiled. It wasn't my birthday, or anniversary, or really any special occasion. Two months prior to the date of this decadent meal, I simply got a text message from my friend Lindsay:
"French Laundry, June 9th?"
To which I replied:
I had to clear my schedule- there was nothing that was going to hold me back from eating at the French Laundry: a place that everyone asks me about ("is it worth it? For that price I hope they let you take home the china.") and I have to sheepishly admit I've never been. So I even risked not getting cast in a play; I put on my audition sheet that I was not to be bothered on June 9th (which happened to be during tech weekend). But lucky me, I got cast AND got to eat at the French Laundry. Did I mention I'm spoiled. I think I did.
That first picture above is where Felix and I hung out because we arrived a bit early: the French Laundry's private garden. From the menu that changed daily, it seems like a majority of the produce comes from this small plot across the street from the restaurant.
That's the outside of the restaurant. It's so unassuming, we passed it once and had to about face. The front door doesn't face out onto the street- you walk back into a courtyard-
and alert the hostess that your party has arrived. Here is the rest of our party:
You could probably guess that the lady in red is Lindsay- and that's her date, John. Both John and Lindsay had been to the French Laundry once before and were very excited about "taking our French Laundry V-card". Thanks. We were led upstairs and presented with the menu and the wine list. As far as the menu is concerned, there are only two choices: a nine course (um, yeah. it's really around fifteen) chef's tasting menu, or a nine course tasting of vegetables. We all decided to go with the chef's tasting menu. Then John and Lindz had a chance to look at the wine list-
and Felix and I started chatting about In-N-Out (as you do at the French Laundry). But I kept hearing little bits of the wine conversation such as "well in that one, you are going to have more of a taste of tobacco and espresso" and "yes, they'll be a fuller expression in that choice."
A fuller expression of what?
So then, Lindz turns to me:
"Well, Kristen, what do you think?"
Um, excuse me? Was I supposed to be paying attention to that conversation? Uh oh. I decided to use the stalling technique to get more information.
"Well, I heard you say tobacco, and I'm not a big fan of that in my wine."
This was, apparently, the wrong answer. The tobacco wine was the better wine. Wait, isn't this why the sommelier was around anyway- to tell us these things? So the tobacco wine it was. No, don't ask me the actual name of the wine. It's been too long and I decided before I even got to the French Laundry, I would not be that lame food blogger with a notebook. I was going to enjoy the dinner and not worry about the details.
So we ordered the tobacco wine, but decided that first, some champagne would be a nice way to start off the evening.
Then Lindz and John joined our In-N-Out conversation. And we were guiltily caught by our server:
"Oh, don't worry, Thomas Keller absolutely loves In-N-Out."
Well, whether he does or doesn't, that was a nice thing to say to put us at ease so we didn't feel like complete idiots.
And then the food started to arrive (and I'm not going to comment on every picture- sorry!):
That is the "Oysters and Pearls" a Sabayon of Pearl Tapioca with Beau Soleil Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar. This is the signature dish of Thomas Keller. I felt special because I'd already had it at Per Se in New York, and it's quiet good. The sabayon had more of the consistency of a custard - and I thought the dish did a pretty compelling sell of two ingredients I normally don't love: cooked oysters and caviar.
We were informed that this was our first bread service of the night. Two bowl-ish, crock-like things of butter were placed on the table. Our server then started to inform us about the cows that made the butter, where they grazed, if they were in heat or not, and so on. The main difference I could figure out between the two was one was salted, the other, not.
That was my least favorite course of the night. It was a very simple salad of Asian Pear and something that tasted like pickled celery. I have no problem with simple, but I did have a problem with the pickled celery. It wasn't bad- just not that interesting or tasty.
That was one of my favorites of the night. Lobster over what I think was a saffron risotto. I loved how they didn't drench the lobster in butter, or cover it up with too strong of flavors. The raw sliced almonds were perfect, and the richness of the risotto gave all the favoring needed.
I think I enjoyed this pork belly with cherry preserves more than the pork belly I had at Chez Panisse a couple months ago.
What was this? I don't know. Some part of a lamb. I was really glad I had worn a stretchy dress- it was starting to be too much food. Where is dessert?
Oh, all right, we'll have a cheese course first. Especially if you serve it with a slice of caramelized onion.
At this point, the table (read: John, Lindz and myself- Felix wasn't really drinking anything more than a few sips- he was getting over being sick, and he was driving) had been through a bottle of champagne and the tobacco wine. Now, we didn't really need anything else at this point, but Lindz insisted on another bottle of champagne. Because she liked it, that's why. And who am I to argue with that?
Since we had nothing to take pictures of while we waited for dessert to commence, we took pictures of ourselves:
Ok, enough of that. Dessert? I had no idea that a whole other meal was about to start.
That is a passion-fruit sorbet. Palate cleanser.
That's the Summer Berry Pudding sitting in front of me. Phenomenal. Intense berries. The flavor of berries, cubed.
Oh, I think I'm still hungry. Can I have some more dessert?
They brought out different desserts for the women and men. The creme brulee was for Lindz and me, and John and Felix got some sort of custard over apricots (It looks deceivingly plain in the picture, I know). Even though I do like creme brulee- it pretty much tastes the same everywhere, and I was much more into Felix's.
And then house-made chocolates were brought out. Here's a bad picture of them:
Raspberry, banana, peanut-butter...I was completely full, but I didn't want to be rude- so I tried a coffee one. Now, I could have used some real coffee (I was in a lovely state of tipsy-ness), but I think I was in the bathroom when the offer was made.
So, then, my dreams came true. Somebody really needed to pinch me because I thought our server came out and asked:
"Would you like to see the kitchen? You can bring your camera."
Um- did I just die? And go to foodie heaven? (btw- as previously thought, James Beard is not God, it's actually M.F.K Fisher)
And did we go?
So. The big question: was it worth the bill? I think that all depends on how much you like (read: mind) spending money on food. For us, the experience was worth it; I, personally, had been waiting to go for years. For many people who aren't accustomed to spending hundreds on a meal, you might walk out feeling too full of food, and yet, wondering what you really got for your money. Yet, the food and service are exemplary. You can't beat the wine list or their attention to every detail of the meal. I feel fortunate to have been, and to have shared it with such a great group.
The French Laundry
6640 Washington St.