One of the most well known restaurants in California (if not the United States), I secured a seat at this restaurant after going through their uh… fun reservation system (oh god, that day isn’t free anymore!? Quick, on to the next one… what do you mean that’s already taken!?). Anywho, the French Laundry does not seem short for business.
I have never been here before so I cannot compare how they taste with the previous kitchen prior to their million dollar renovation, but I am happy to give this place a shot. Excuse the photos as I usually try to bring an actual camera for these type of places but simply forgot (aka… I was running late).
An interesting little plaque.
I went with the Chef’s Tasting rather than the Vegetarian option. Note, I’m honestly not much of a drinker so I didn’t go for any of the alcoholic pairings. Though to my chagrin, I do believe they offer a non-alcoholic pairing at possibly no cost ( http://foodtalkcentral.com/t/the-french-laundry/8014 ) . Alas, I had tap water.
Note, the French Laundry has additional items on the menu they deem a “supplement”, which I thought initially was an additional dish. Unfortunately, its more of a substitution of a dish. I wasn’t a huge fan of this system, and slightly appalled at the ever growing cost of this meal.
Sitting down, we started off the meal with one of their signature items–the tuna tartare with creme fraiche. The shape of this dish is an allusion to an ice cream cone and it is quite whimsical in that sense. I thought it tasted quite nice, the flavors of the creme fraiche was quite pronounced.
If you noticed these two little cracker things earlier, these are our second portion of the amuse bouche. Essentially another playful nod, this time a Ritz cracker, these crackers had a caramelized red onion filling. A flaky texture with savory/cheesy notes on the outside, with a great sweet caramelized onion flavor inside.
One of the classic French Laundry dishes, Oysters and Pearls. Per the menu, the Oysters and Pearls are a “Sabayon” of pearl tapioca with island creek oysters and regiis ova caviar. I wasn’t exactly sure where to begin with this dish, but I essentially took a small sampling here and there of each part, before combining things together. I started with a sampling of the caviar and the brininess of the stuff is quite apparent; a fun texture as well as it just pops in the mouth. Following that, the oysters had this creaminess with a distinct ocean taste. The tapioca were suspended within the savory and rich sabayon, with the slight chewiness of the tapioca providing some extra mouthfeel. Combining all those items into one bite pretty much brought you towards the ocean side–this is a fantastic dish.
Next up was the Garden Romano Bean Salad. I’m pretty sure these vegetables were picked right across from the French Laundry (they have a neat little garden, additional pictures at the end). The confit tomato was delicious with a nice tanginess. The romano beans underneath were crisp, and the hummus below had a frighteningly smooth consistency. The dish was tasty, but I wasn’t particularly enamored by it.
A somewhat oddly shaped croissant. Nice and flakey with flecks of salt on top. I wanted to go to the Bouchon bakery after my meal, but sadly it already closed.
Anywho, onto the next item, the slow cooked filet of wild Scottish sea trout! The peekytoe crab on top and the garden turnip relish sandwich the soft, presumably low temperature cooked sea trout. The peekytoe crab has a soft, delicate flavor (I think the dungeness crabs have a better sweetness). The sea trout’s texture is more akin to Mi-Cuit style, I prefer more traditional cooked texture, but the taste reminded me of a subtle salmon. The tanginess of the bernaise mousseline and the garden turnip relish had a great synergy with the fish and crab (… actually kinda reminds me of tartar sauce…).
Up next was the Monterey Bay Abalone Poelee with a marinated cherry tomato, creamed arrowleaf spinach puree, and Hobbs’ bacon emulsion. The abalone was actually quite soft as I expected a little more chew (personal preference), but otherwise cooked quite well. The bacon emulsion provided a more savory note with the abalone. The puree had a great spinach flavor and was extremely smooth, while the bacon slice itself was extremely crisp. Tomato was at peak ripeness and thusly quite sweet and juicy.
Following our abalone was the “Bread and Butter” course. I really enjoyed this item, as the dried tomato baguette was delightfully crunchy on the outside and soft yet chewy inside with definite notes of tomatoes.
I really would have liked to see if a tomato bread existed in Bouchon’s offering of the day… alas. The burrata was quite good, a little pliable on the exterior but soft within. Honestly eating it reminds me of well… a pizza haha.
Going past the seafood dishes, we arrived towards our heartier courses. This one is the Wolfe Ranch White Quail. If you look at the pictures and notice the odd brownish dust on top of the quail, that is actually shaved smoked foie gras. The skin was quite crisp, while the meat was very juicy. I enjoy the texture of the quail as well, seems more dense than your traditional chicken, but more flavorful. The foie gras on top pretty much gave it an extra rich flavor boost and for me, it didn’t seem to have that livery note, so that was great. The peach chunk is a little too small for my appetite (I was tempted to ask for the whole fruit…) but extremely sweet! The corn salad was equally sweet but in a more savory combo while the pistachio jus seemed to combine the essence of pistachios and quail together. Excellent, probably my favorite course.
The only supplement I chose for the meal was the charcoal grilled Japanese Wagyu. Though to be honest, I’m not quite certain about the direct menu translation. There’s a relatively tasty sausage with the meal (though I cannot really discern the difference between this and a kielbasa from Costco…). The sauce covering the steak was delicious and savory with a slight tang, while the steak had a great beefy taste with excellent marbling (that you can barely tell from my photo, alas). The crisp was crunchy, and I’m thinking that’s the pommes aux raifort (so… horseradish?). Gives a nice texture change up to the dish. The potatoes underneath the steak were rich and creamy. Pretty much this dish seems to be a play on a backyard grilling.
This is the Gougère with Andante Dairy “Etude” and Australian Black Winter Truffle “Fondue”. Eating this was a delight-- light and airy, yet still filling with the cheese and truffle fondue.
With that, we begin to end our meal with the dessert courses:
Starting it off, we had literally butter ice cream (isn’t ice cream pretty much… well… butter, just cold with small crystals?) with a little crepe-like crisp and a mm… its not really a fermented blackberry, but seemed to be infused with a hint of wine (I honestly forgot even when I asked about it). The ice cream was rich and smooth with buttery overtones that mixed quite well with the sweet and slightly acidic berry. The little crepe was a nice touch, giving this an overall breakfast feeling in dessert form.
Fresh, hot, fluffy doughnuts with a light dusting of granulated sugar.
Those donuts went great with their “coffee” which turns out to be a cappuccino semifredo. The hot and cold contrast was delightful.
Following up the coffee and doughnuts was this… chocolate thing. I was feeling pretty stuffed at this point, and never really quite cared for chocolate so this was my least favorite of the desserts. Thin strips of chocolate surround the gooey chocolate blob (alright, I think it might be a ganache) with a chocolate mousse interior. Bits of popcorn surround the dish with olive oil surrounding the blob gives it a different texture. Overall, rich and chocolaty.
Lastly for the full feature courses, a four-way strawberry dessert course. Going clockwise from the top is the strawberry short-cake in the back, a jelly/gel strawberry, fresh strawberries from across the street, and pretty much strawberry-creme in a tube. My favorite out of all the desserts, the strawberries were fresh, sweet with a hint of tartness. All the variations built upon the fruit foundation and I found it delicious.
With this a little chocolate bowl, there were three types of treats. The first is the chocolate macarons where the outer cookie layer was pretty soft and fluffy with a smooth middle filling. Very chocolaty, but light. The things underneath the macarons were caramelized raspberry mm… taffy of sorts. I actually quite liked that one, with bright raspberry flavors in a chewy form. Lastly, we have the chocolate-covered macadamia nuts; lightly dusted cocoa on the exterior with a rich nutty interior.
A nice cup of earl grey as I powered through the desserts.
Lastly, the tray of truffles. Little did I know you can actually request for a to-go box for them, so I just picked one.
I grabbed the passion fruit truffle and it was basically the essence of passion fruit distilled into a little nugget with hints of chocolate enveloping the bite. Quite excellent to end our meal.
Yikes! Welp time to dine on instant ramen soon…
A brief look into their splendid kitchen. On a random note, we actually saw Thomas Keller and I got to shake his hand (Woo!). He just arrived back at TFL after starting up his new restaurant in Miami. I took a very dark picture with him, and well lets just say that’s never going anywhere…
Just a little walk across the restaurant in their garden.
I actually have no idea if you’re really allowed to wander around the place, but uh… no one said anything so I think it was just fine… Anywho, pretty neat to see that they have a dedicated area for fresh vegetables and fruits for some dishes.
And finally a little treat for me, their short bread cookies in a tiny tin. How did they taste? An excellent buttery note, with a crisp bite that goes great with tea and coffee.
Overall, The French Laundry is an excellent restaurant. If I wasn’t bored enough to stare at other people’s reviews I might have been even more pleased (note to self, don’t be nosy). The food was excellent, the service was excellent, but for me, I don’t think it had that Wow Factor I was expecting (This is likely being a little over hyped and I think I was trying to compare some dishes to Alinea 1.0). I found the allusions to classical American treats to be fun but mmm maybe I never really grew up eating that many of those snacks so I wasn’t that appreciative of that combination. Price wise, I’m not a big fan of how the supplements were charged, I rather expect those items to be part of the course or at the very least a substitution of sorts. I guess the last question to answer would be if I’d go back if I had to pay? And I’m really leaning towards no. I think I’d rather try all the other places in Yountville/Napa rather than revisit the French Laundry. However, is it worth going if you haven’t been? Yes, I’d say so. Their take on oysters and pearls were delicious (I was really hoping that In Situ would do that rather than their duck breast…) and maybe if you’re sorta into culinary history, its a great place to experience.