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Finally, The French Laundry

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The house that Keller built

I clearly remember my first trip to Napa Valley in 1998 because I was using up my employee benefits of “Hyatt nights” in the California area. I was on my second job in my hotel career at the Hyatt West Hollywood and part of my package included 12 nights at any Hyatt within the continental United States. I had chosen the Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel and Spa nearby because at that time it was the closest Hyatt to the Napa Valley.

I had visited both the Robert Mondavi and Beringer wineries; the former being more of an educational tour to the newbie wine drinker who was taught how to swirl and spit while the latter being more friendly and fun where guests were encouraged to enjoy drinking the wine. After a day of wine-tasting, my friend and I drove to nearby Calistoga to try a mineral mud bath. At the time I had not yet eaten at any Michelin-star restaurants not did I know any chefs by name. My palate was just beginning its adventure for the taste of the luxe.

The next time I wanted to visit Napa, I had tried to get a reservation at the most exclusive table in town – The French Laundry – simply by calling their receptionist exactly two months ahead. After being put on hold for over an hour, I was then told that reservations for that day were unavailable and I promised myself I would make it there one day.

Last year, on a trip to San Francisco in October, the only restaurant that was really on my itinerary was again, The French Laundry. I said this half-jokingly knowing that to get a reservation was like winning the lottery.

But guess what? By a twist of fate my handsome date for the evening was able to finagle a dinner reservation for the two of us! What an amazing dream come true. Thomas Keller changes his menu daily and with each meal comes a booklet about the purveyors he carefully selects for ingredients in crafting each dish: the fishermen, gardeners, farmers and foragers whose work contributes to each dining experience. Delicate black pearls from Petrossian Caviar, New York; the creamiest butter from Animal Farm in Orwell, Vermont; viscose extra virgin olive oil from Armando Manni EVO, Italy; and even Equator Coffee from nearby Marin County. You can taste every flavor and nuance in each ingredient as it should be.

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I’d like to share with you the Chef’s Tasting Menu was served to us on October 14, 2014 – a most beautiful, exquisite and unforgettable meal from beginning to end, where I felt a little silly wanting to take pictures  because I wanted to just enjoy the experience so much. I stole these shots quickly and with the subdued lighting inside and shooting by candlelight, I apologize if my photos are not as bright as I would like them.

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To start was an amuse bouche of sesame tuille cornets filled with salmon tartare and red onion creme fraiche followed by Gougeres puffs filled with Gruyere cream cheese. These had the perfect combo of texture and flavor, first crispy and tart followed by soft and creamy.

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Oysters and Pearls; Royal Ossetra Caviar

Though all the courses were delicious, our favorite by far were the first appetizers served. On the left above is the signature Thomas Keller dish, Oysters and Pearls, a rich sabayon of pearl tapioca with Island Creek oysters and white sturgeon caviar. On the right is a deliciously creamy truffled egg custard served in a perfectly precision-cut egg with a potato chip. I was scraping the bottom of the eggshell looking for more!

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Next served was a dish of slow roasted French Laundry garden beets with philo gold apple gelee, crispy parsnips, English walnuts and aged basalmic vinegar. This was a preview of the vegetarian tasting menu that Keller offered and one could imagine these vegetables plucked from the garden just hours before. After this dish came sautéed fillet of Pacific yellowtail served with a smoked mackerel beignet, charred eggplant béchamel, preserved Meyer lemon and spiced tomato conserve.

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Here we have Georges Bank sea scallop poelee with caramelized young fennel, satsuma mandarins, macarona almond cream and Sauce Nouilly Prat followed by Wolfe Ranch white quail with glazed garden turnips, spice poached French prunes, piedmont hazelnuts, watercress and Sauce Perigourdine. I forgot to take a photo of the charcoal grilled Snake River Farms Calotte de Boeuf served with wilted arrow leaf spinach, matsutake mushrooms in a sauce Bordelaise which was absolutely amazing and cooked medium rare to perfection.

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This is dish on the left is like a deep fried French toast and on the right is Tomme d’Abondance of young onions, Hopper Creek quince puree and whole grain mustard.

Then finally to end this meal, an assortment of four desserts was served that included a delicious chocolate mousse on a Valrhona chocolate cake, chilled semi-freddo in a cup, freshly made cinnamon doughnuts, pumpkin macarons, chocolate and sea salt covered macadamia nuts and your choice of fine petit fours. Gosh, we were stuffed! To top it off they gave us a little tin of butter cookies to take home with us.

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Would I come back and do it again? Absolutely! It definitely should be on the bucket list of any foodie. But there are also many more restaurants I’d like to try in the Napa Valley area, good value for money without the stress of a reservation or wait list.

The French Laundry

6640 Washington St, Yountville, CA

For reservations, call +1 707-944-2380

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The Author

Vicki
Vicki
"For mine is a generation that circles the globe and searches for something we haven't tried before. So never refuse an invitation, never resist the unfamiliar, never fail to be polite and never outstay your welcome.” - Alex Garland


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We are two friends who were former magazine editors. Having moved onto other things, we both realized that the creative flow the publishing world used to offer us was missing from our lives. Armed with a common love of travel to the exotic and familiar, a penchant for the bohemian, an obsession with food and a lust for writing, we decided to collaborate our unique and fashionable journeys through life together in one passion project.

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