Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The French Laundry - Yountville

5/5 stars

Not everyday a girl starts her third decade :-)

My husband pretty much summed up our magical experience at the French Laundry in one sentence: "How do I grow carrots that taste like that?"

C'mon! I mean ... a carrot ... a carrot blew us away.


The above was the short review. This is the long one.

So, we arrived dressed to the nines 15 minutes early to our 5:30pm reservation January 27th. We had called 2 months earlier on the dot. It took only about 20 mins to acquire a Monday and a Friday reservation, but we were hoping for a Saturday one. We gave up after over an hour of re-dialing and settled on the Friday reservation.

Before getting out of the car, I screamed a little. I have been planning my 30th birthday at the French Laundry for years now and I couldn't believe it was finally happening.

It was still light out so we were able to walk around the FL garden across the street. I visited the chickens and hoped that I wasn't meeting my dinner. Then, the hubby and I walked across the street to peruse their lovely "backyard." A very polite hostess saw us milling around and came out to tell us that our table would be ready shortly.

A few minutes later, she came back, wished me a happy birthday, and led us to our table by the window. Everyone wished me a happy birthday - even Timothy Hollingsworth (who's a cutie, btw)! He's also cool as a cucumber under what seems like a lot of pressure - being the head chef and all.

Our server's name was Andrew and he was a sweet, charming, down-to-earth gentleman. I adored him because he was easy to talk to. Our sommelier was more business-like, but still nice.

My only moment of overwhelmness / nervousness came from ordering wine. I didn't know how much we wanted to spend, but knew that the hubby and I wanted to share the pairing. Sharing wasn't what we did per se (I realize now that they probably didn't want us sipping from the same glass), but what the sommelier ended up designing for us was perfect. He didn't recommend a glass of wine with each dish and we didn't want to do half-bottles of white and red. We wanted more variety so what he did was:

* glass of bubbly to start (with the gruyere pate chaud and salmon tartare cones)
* hubby and I each had our own glass of DIFFERENT white for our hors d'oeuvres
* hubby and I each had our own glass of the SAME white for our seafood courses
* SAME red for the pork belly
* DIFFERENT red for our meat course
* hubby finished with a glass of dessert wine and I finished with a glass of champagne (my request)

Some of the glasses were full glasses and some of the were half-glasses. To be honest, we couldn't tell the difference. What was miraculous was that our palettes were never exhausted and everything he picked seemed to have been "made for me." I was really worried about that, too, and didn't really get a chance to tell the sommelier what I didn't like, but somehow he nailed it. The bubbly was not too dry and the prettiest color. My Hungarian white was honey on my tongue and the hubby's riesling was one of the best I've ever had. The wine I was most excited about was the red that was served with my "cap of rib-eye." It was so dangerously soft.

So, the FL closed for two weeks in January so the staff could take a break. Right when they opened, I stalked the website every day for menu updates. And every single day, I went, "I hope my menu will be just as good." Well, ladies and gents. My menu kicked all those menus' butts. Again, it was as if it - in all its lobster, pork belly, rib-eye glory - was made just for me.

Everything was delicious, impeccably made works of art, but if I had to rank the dishes:

1. salmon tartare cones
2. pork belly
3. butter poached lobster
4. rib-eye cap
5. donuts and coffee
6. oysters and pearls
7. the 40-million salt that came with the foie gras
8. the assortment of Bouchon bread and unsalted / salted butter
9. the mignardises (highlights: pumpkin-filled chocolate truffle and insanely good chocolate & toffee covered macadamia nuts)
10. pommes anne
11. gruyere pate chaud
12. foie gras - only because I prefer seared
13. scallops - the cod was the better choice

We asked to see the kitchen and one of the oldest staff members (16+ years) obliged. It was fun seeing the pristine kitchen that inspired Pixar's Ratatouille. The staff moved like waves lapping at sand - calm, but with clear purpose.

Even though the cost - though expected - was staggering, we thought the experience was worth it and are already planning a return visit this summer! I mean, if Thomas Keller can do **THAT** with a carrot, what can he do with an heirloom tomato?


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