Thursday, August 18, 2011

Postcards from Summer: the French Laundry, Yountville, CA

Oh, the French Laundry.  This is somewhere where I had never dreamt I'd go--it's something of legends and myths, a restaurant that 'normal' people who walk on soil and ground and eat cheap college eats (read: me) can only fantasize about.  And fantasize about it, I have.  "When I finish my dissertation, I'll go," I've repeated to myself, never truly believing that it (or both, really) would happen.

And yet, now--without even coming close to my dissertation getting underway--it has.  The French Laundry!  This is how I ended up there:  My best friend, Jessi, and I have known each other for a long time now, and a few years ago, we finally reached a point where we just couldn't consistently think of anymore good Christmas and birthday presents for each other, since we'd been doing so for years.  So we agreed that instead, we would save up the money we would have spent on presents and treat each other out to a fine meal at the downstairs Chez Panisse restaurant (both being from Berkeley, this seemed like an appropriate choice).  Finally, after a few years of saving, it came time to pool our agreed-upon resources and make that reservation to claim our gift to each other.  Then, I got a phone call one day from Jessi....
"My friend has two extra spots for the French Laundry.  Do you want to go there instead?"
Rule #1 in a food-lover's life: if someone offers you the chance to go to the French Laundry, you don't. say. no.  (Got that? Write it down.)  Despite it being slightly (read: a lot!) overbudget than we'd originally planned, we both jumped at the opportunity, and months later, here we were--headed up to wine country to the legendary restaurant itself, to celebrate the past three Christmases and birthdays that we've saved up.

And let me tell you: the food was deliriously divine.  I think "delicious" is not strong enough a word for how amazing everything was.  In the food, you could tell just how much these chefs respected and celebrated the ingredients--everything was picked and cooked and plated with such care and precision.  It was really true foodie dedication and love.

I did take pictures of the food, but between my poor camera (read: crop-frame and low ISO capabilities) and the low light and my haste to enjoy the food quickly while it was hot, nothing came out very well.  I've gone back and forth all week about whether I wanted to post the photos, but out of respect to how much work the chefs put into the food, I've decided that the photos just would not do them justice, unfortunately.  Instead, I have photos of the beautiful gardens outside the French Laundry, from which they pick many of the vegetables and fruits they use in house (true locavore-ism!).

Look at all those microgreens!  It's a California native's dream.

Here's what I ate that night:

(Amuse bouches: gruyere cheese puffs and 
salmon caviar+red onion creme fraiche+sesame tuile cone)

"Oysters and Pearls"
"Sabayon" for Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters
and White Sturgeon Caviar

Jacobsen's Farm Apple Salad
Baby Beets, Red Walnuts, and Dijon Mustard

Sashimi of Geoduck Clam
Hearts of Palm, Fennel Bulb, Tarragon, 
and Orange-Espelette "Gelee"

Devil's Gulch Ranch Rabbit Sirloin
Medjool Dates, Nantes Carrots, Marcona Almonds, 
Cilantro Shoots, and Madras Curry

Sweet Butter-Poached Maine Lobster Tail
Black Mission Fig, Piedmont Hazelnuts, Scallion Salad,
and Coffee-Chocolate Emulsion

Snake River Farms "Calotte de Boeuf Grillee"
Bone Marrow Pudding, Chanterelle Mushrooms, Marble Potatoes, 
Tokyo Turnips, and "Mignonette Bordelaise"

"Fourme d'Ambert"
Baby Corn, Jingle Bell Peppers, Romaine Lettuce
and Hobbs' Bacon Vinaigrette

Yellow Watermelon Sorbet
Basil-Honey and Saba Vinegar

"Peach Melba"
Sicilian Pistachio "Pain de Genes," Andante Dairy Yogurt,
"Biscotti" and Raspberry Sorbet

(including "Coffee and Donuts": espresso semifreddo and brioche donuts; 
chocolate-covered macadamia nuts; and a box of chocolates of various flavors)

A couple of notes on the food:

1.  I was so excited to see the lobster and chocolate combination on the menu!  Clearly Thomas Keller has been stalking me on Twitter, because I mentioned this combination in a Twitter conversation last year, citing it as the next big sweet-savory combo after the bacon-maple syrup fad passes.  So, ha!  I must have top-notch taste instincts.  (right? riiiiight??? :-P)

2.  The "Oysters and Pearls" was probably one of the best dishes of the night--it's clear why that has stayed unchanged on the menu for decades.  It was reminiscent, for me, of these delicate steamed eggs that my grandfather used to make, except also with tapioca and caviar, both things that I love (as evidenced by my excessive boba drinking and sushi eating).

3.  The best bite of the night was--get this--the turnips that came with the main course!  I'm not kidding.  You will not believe how hands-down amazing these turnips were.  They tasted like the whole world encompassed in one just-soft-enough turnip bite: savory, juicy, umami, all of those wonderful things.  I later asked one of the chefs (when they let us visit the kitchen!) how the turnips were made, and he said they had steamed them, but it must have been a magical steaming method, because I have no idea how they were so, so, so incredibly good.  (The turnips were also grown in the French Laundry gardens.)

Jessi, at the French Laundry entrance

Finally, one of my favorite parts of the night was when we finished eating and got a brief visit to the kitchens and chatted with one of the chefs.  Upon entering the small and amazingly clean kitchen, lo and behold--guess what the chefs were eating as the night wound down at 1am:

In'n'Out burgers.

:-)  Love it.

Have a wonderful weekend!

more Postcards from Summer:


  1. Beautiful place. :-)

  2. What a perfect time to visit, with everything in the garden looking so lush. Isn't it funny how sometimes the most memorable taste of the night is a bite of something you hadn't expected to be mind-blowing? Coffee + Donuts plus a place as beautiful as that? I'll have to get there someday.

  3. What a beautiful postcard and what a fabulous meal.  Have a great weekend, Stephanie!

  4. Yes yes yes!!! They do such wonderful things with their ingredients, it's just mind-blowing. Like those turnips. Turnips?! Who would have thought? Your images of the garden are just stunning, and pity about the photos of the meal. You'll just have to go back for another try ;)

  5. Ooooh! Looks seriously stunning. I went for a crazy fancy meal at Le Pont de Brent with my mum last night to celebrate my degree results and had 14 courses of YUM. Funnily though, like your turnips, it was the mushroom course that totally blew me away. It totally shattered my perception of mushrooms. And I love mushrooms. 

  6. I love seeing summer vacation photos, although it makes me a little jealous since I'm stuck working/volunteering. Two more years until I graduate and then I'll have my summer vacation. Everything is beautiful!

  7. The oysters and pearls was my favorite dish of the night when I visited as well. I was never a huge caviar fan until I put a bite of that dish in my mouth.  So amazing.

    It's funny that you posted your photos of the gardens but not of the menu...I did the exact opposite! I was happy enough with my food photos (considering the dim lighting), but as we visited the garden while the sun was waning, I didn't think my photos did justice to how cute everything was. I think your photos did a nice job of conveying that, though.

  8. nice!  i can't believe you guys saved up for 3 christmases!  and it was still over that?!  it's almost fitting that you didn't post pics inside -- it preserves the mystery that is french laundry. 

  9. There is no better place to travel to is Napa area.  French Laundry is an institution.  I went there when he first opened his restaurant and it was not that difficult to get reservation.  It certainly was a treat.

  10. I would do anything to go there JUST once.


I love hearing from you and reading your comments! Thanks so much for stopping by the blog. Happy feasting!