Saturday, March 10, 2007

The French Laundry

I turned 29 earlier this week. Normally, I'd say I feel old, but the day before, I ended up getting carded when I bought a lottery ticket (yes, I occasionally pay the stupid tax). So, now I'm not sure how I feel about turning a year older. Apparently, my appearance is going backwards as my age continues to rise. Since I'm in my last year of my 20s, I figured I had finally reached that point where maybe I look like I am in my 20s, but apparently, I don't even look 18.

Aside from that, I had a very nice birthday. I have been anticipating my birthday because back in January, Mr. Cupcake managed to get reservations for the French Laundry in Yountville, CA. It's been a must visit place for me since we moved out here, and I was ecstatic that Mr. Cupcake made it happen.

Now, if you're not familiar with the French Laundry, it's one of the most widely praised restaurants in the world. It's also a challenge to get a reservation. They take reservations 2 months in advance, however, it's still not easy to do. In fact, there are a number of websites dedicated to the art of getting a reservation.

Anyway, our reservation was set for last Wednesday at 6pm. When we walked in, we were greeted by three people. It was a little overwhelming, but they were courteous, and one of hostesses led us up to our table. We sat in a little room that only had three tables. We were there by ourselves initially which was a little awkward just because we were surrounded by various servers, but we eventually relaxed.

We were then given the the wine list and menu. There were two options for dinner, the chef's tasting menu or a vegetarian tasting menu. Both menus offered 9 courses. Mr. Cupcake and I both went for the chef's menu, but selected different options so we could try everything.

We started off with the first amuse bouche which was a puff pastry with Gruyère cheese. It was warm and nice.

Next up was an ice cream cone. However, the 'ice cream' was actually salmon, and the cone was filled with creme fraiche. I liked the cone, but Mr. Cupcake was not particularly taken with it.

I can't remember if this was the start of course 1 or another amuse, so bear with me. This is their signature oysters and pearls dish. It was two oysters, some type of sturgeon caviar, in a tapioca custard. I'm not really a fan of oysters, and perhaps, I haven't had them properly prepared, but man, these were lovely. I really liked it paired with the tapioca pearls.

This is the first course where Mr. Cupcake and I diverged. I went with the sunchoke salad. It came with a citrus, marcona almonds, and some kind of leaf. Mr. Cupcake took the $30 upgrade for the foie gras, which turned out to be totally worth it. The foie gras was amazing. Now don't get me wrong, I like sunchokes and I thought the salad was good, but the foie gras was perfectly executed. They gave him warm slices of brioche and three types of salts to add to the foie gras. I was definitely jealous and had wished I had ordered the same.

I'm going to say this is course two, though it could be course three, but whatever. I ordered the durant (sp?) fish and Mr. Cupcake had the mackerel. This was another course where he won the battle of the dishes. My fish was good, but the mackerel was so much better. I ordered the durant because the server said it was less fishy. This maybe true, but the mackerel also had ham that definitely offset the fishiness. This fish dish was probably my least favorite of the night.

Course three was lobster with a beet sauce, some kind of leek mash, and a potato disc. This was one of my favorite dishes of the night for a couple of reasons. One, the beet sauce was so subtle. Normally, beets have a very strong flavor, but this was so subtle and it paired well with lobster. Second, the potato disc was deep fried in duck fat. Oh.My.God. This was spectacular. Now, things normally taste good deep fried, but when you add luscious duck fat, it's that much better.

Course four was a rabbit sirloin (I think) with an artichoke and some other stuff. Mr. Cupcake decided to be brave and try the tripe. This was the only battle where my dish won. Tripe is definitely an acquired taste that neither of us have acquired. I mean, it was okay, and really, if you didn't know it was tripe, you'd probably think it was a rubbery pasta. Well, that's what it looked/tasted like. My rabbit was juicy, tender, and lightly fried. I have reservations about eating bunny, but I'd take it over tripe any day. Anyway, the highlight for me was the artichoke fo sho.

Course five, our final savory dish, was lamb with a red pepper sauce. This dish was fantastic in so many ways. The meat was extremely tender and went amazingly well with the red pepper sauce. I think the sauce made the dish for me. I'm not really big on eating lamb either, but this dish was truly a winner.

Speaking of lamb, you should watch this trailer for the movie Black Sheep. It's about genetically modified sheep that eat people. It made me lol a million times over.

Moving on, here we have the cheese course. I don't really remember anything about this dish other than it was not my favorite. Again, I'm not really a fan of cheese.

Course seven was an apple sorbet with a ginger cake. I loved the combination of ginger with the apple. Mr. Cupcake couldn't decide if he liked the ginger cake, but I'm telling you, it was a winner.

Course eight was a pistachio cake with green tea mousse (or maybe the other way around) and a dark chocolate cake with a passion fruit gelee. I loved both cakes. The chocolate was nice and dark and neither were overly sweet. I also liked the passion fruit sauce that was smeared on the plate. Mr. Cupcake isn't a fan of passion fruit, but he's missing out.

Course 9 was a traditional creme brulee for me while Mr. Cupcake had a small cup filled with a Meyer Lemon custard. The creme brulee was lovely. I loved the crunchiness of the shell, but then again, who doesn't? However, Mr. Cupcake's custard was amazing. I am generally so-so about custards, but flavor was light and the texture was rich and creamy. He was nice and let me pick at it even though he preferred it to the creme brulee. Ah, the joys of being the birthday girl.

During our last course, we also received these orange sugar rolls and a bowl of chocolate covered macadamia nuts. The rolls were crispy, but we were so full that between the two of us we only ate one. Mr. Cupcake declared that the chocolate covered macadamia nuts were like eating homemade macadamia M&M's.

And yes, there was more after our last course. They served us homemade chocolates. I only took two which included one with banana cream and another one filled with hazelnut cream. The hazelnut was dreamy while the banana was blah. It didn't even really taste like banana. Actually, I was kinda upset because I thought I had picked caramel when in fact I picked banana. I lamented to Mr. Cupcake how it didn't taste like caramel and he laughed and said that's because it wasn't. It makes sense now. Oh well.

I wish I could have packed in more, but I was done. One of our many servers offered up the bill which was on a laundry ticket. Cute. So how much does a 9 course dinner run at the French Laundry you ask? For us, two chef's tasting menus, two beers, and a $30 supplement for the foie gras was just under $600. I don't really drink (those days are long gone) and Mr. Cupcake decided to forgo wine since he wasn't feeling 100% that night. However, if one does intend to drink, expect the bill to be quite a bit more. One couple sitting next to us brought a bottle wine expecting to pay the $50 corkage fee, but it turned out that since the wine was listed on their 90 page wine list, the restaurant wouldn't serve it. The bottle of wine was listed at $450, so the couple opted to get something else.

Now for the big question: was it worth it? Yes, I believe so. I enjoyed the experience quite a bit, and I'd do it again, though not for a little while. Though it's an excellent excuse to stay the night near Napa. Though, if you're in Yountville, I'd avoid the Maison Fleurie if you want to have a good night's sleep. It was seriously one of the most uncomfortable beds ever.

Oh yeah, and as a parting gift, they gave each of us a packet of cookies for the trip home.

I've finished one bag off already and I'm working on the other. Mr. Cupcake swears he doesn't want them, so I feel it's my duty to finish them off.

Anyway, that was my birthday. Sorry the pictures are crappy, but I didn't want to disturb those around us including the couple that was arguing because the wife was writing checks when there wasn't money in the bank account.


3 comments:

mrcupcake said...

I was telling the mrs about this on the drive home from Napa. It's hard not to compare the French Laundry (TFL) with other fine dining.

In particular, I used to love visiting the Holly Hill Inn (THHI) back when we lived in Kentucky. The caliber of food at the THHI is on par with TFL. Believe it. The price is also substantially less, like 1/4 of TFL. The decor is a little less formal, but is definitely unique and has a cool feel (one room has a mural painted on it, another has a gun hung on the wall). TFL felt a bit stodgy to me ... there were lots of fancy pants staff to refill my water glass after every sip. In comparison, THHI staff have always had the right balance of fine dining formal style and down home Kentucky warmth.

I think I just miss the Holly Hill Inn and I'm looking for The French Laundry to fill the void. Unfortunately, while the food stacks up, it's just not the same.

Butta Buns said...

Happy Belated Birthday! Enjoy the rest of your 20's, because 30 is a bitch. Hahaha, just kidding! One of the many nice things about being Asian on the cusp of the 20/30 line is realizing we could pass for whatever age we want. Uh, not that I'm superficial or anything...

I've always wondered about the French Laundry and am glad to see a real person's take on it. It looks so elegant and classy! Though the bill part scares the pants off me. More than that lamb video. :-)

j9 said...

Oh, cookies at the end! Just like your wedding!