Here's a recent Sunday afternoon at 'The Laundry, shared with special friends, Samgiovese and his lovely wife, Ms. Giovese. With all of the fine dining I have been subjecting myself to these past few years, it was easy to brush of The French Laundry as probably
being remarkably similar to meals I had experienced at places like The Dining Room at the Ritz, Manresa, or Coi. But what I was not expecting was the shear perfection that occurred. Meaning, while I can often find some level of criticism *somewhere* in a meal, on this occasion, there was nothing wrong; no where, in no dish, in no level of service. It was, quite simply, perfect -- and not in a cold, austere, unfeeling manner (as some have complained on various sites). There has been mention of a lack of soul but in many cases, the dishes had chi
and then some. There is thought and consideration in those ingredients which complement each other and heighten their subtleties. It was expensive, yes. And it was worth every bloody cent...1999 Schramsberg, "J. Schram" Napa Valley
was served as we sat down to the afternoon adventure. And an amuse of Gougeres
were the first delectable bites offered; small, chestnut-sized, and surprisingly the inside was warm and gooey. Next to arrive (also no pic), was the inimitable Salmon Cornets
; amazingly fresh and bright with the sparkling wine.
The first of our courses was Cauliflower "Panna Cotta" with Beau Soleil Oyster Glaze and Sterling White Sturgeon Caviar
. Creamy and elegant, the saltiness of the caviar provided the best possible complement to the subtle caviar.
In preparation for the next several courses, a beautiful salt tray was offered. I know I can't remember all of them specifically, but was especially enamored with the red one which (if memory serves) occurred when the water is poured over red clay. The one in the center box was Japanese from a 10,000 elevation mountain, and the black volcanic is -- I believe -- prehistoric. There were also two fleur de sel
We knew a foie course was coming as we were served NV Alois Kracher, Beerenauslese Cuvée
from Austria. What a stunning wine! So accustomed to overly sweet Beerenauslese, this had an unctuous quality with depth and character which worked so well with the foie - moreso than a Sauternes would. The foie? Moulard Duck "Foie Gras Au Torchon" with Sunchokes, Pomegranate Kernels, Marinated Beet "Ribs" and Sicilian Pistachio Purée
Served with freshly toasted brioche toast, we played with sprinkling various salts on the creamy foie and played with the occasional addition of pistachio purée. It was during this course that I the realization of the perfection of this restaurant came to light; halfway through, with still a half-slice of brioche left along with half of my foie terrine, warm toast was offered as I was instructed that it tastes better with warm toast even though I obviously still had enough left. 2005 Domaine du Pegau, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Blanc
- we spoke about our wine offerings and let the sommelier choose where to go with a mild bit of guidance. Mostly, I wanted to steer away from buttery Chards and almost anything Californian. I get enough of that and cherish the occasional old world wines which cross my path. This wine was a great offering of minerality and flintiness
I was going to turn down bread, not wanting to get too full on incidentals. However, two butters were offered and how could one turn down the opportunity for a comparison? One was a locally-churned butter from Petaluma and the other from Vermont. The Petaluma butter was sprinkled with fleur de sel
and was much preferred by your's truly.2001 Rudi Pichler, "Terrassen" Riesling, Smaragd, Austria
Then the waiter arrived with a cigar humidor and three separate plates of risotto, gnocchi, and pasta. With a grandiose flourish, the humidor was opened to reveal two of the single largest white truffles I have ever seen. These are BILLIARD BALL-sized white truffles. I have now been ruined for truffles from anywhere else, I'm sure. There is little doubt in my mind that when the best truffles are found, undoubtedly they are going to be offered to the best restaurants in the world and I was simply fortunate to be dining at that restaurant on the occasion when such a truffle was available. Here, after the truffle was sliced on our respective three dishes, a beurre noisette was dribbled on top. We shared all three dishes and for me, the tagliatelle was the clear favorite.Truffles on Risotto:Truffles on Tagliatelle:Truffles on Gnocchi:2001 Henri Gouge, Nuits St. Georges, FranceExtra Virgin Olive Oil-Poached Fillet of St. Peter's Fish with Braised Cardoons, "Piperade," Young Parsley, and Nicoise Olive Emulsion
. I have made olive oil-poached fish and tasted various offerings in restaurants, but never before has the purest essence of the highest quality olive oil been to prevalent in such perfectly flaky, moist fish. The nicoise olive emulsion offered up a different, complex olive flavor to contrast with the oil essence. Sweet Butter-Poached Maine Lobster Tail with Caramelized Pearl Onions, Melted Swiss Chard, Scallion Filaments, and Maple-Sherry Vinegar Sauce
. My initial taste of this dish was that it was too salty. I believe Ms. G thought so as well, but as we took second and third bites, whatever saltiness appeared in the first taste disappeared as the sweetness of the lobster along with the maple component countered and balanced it all out.2004 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, FranceFour Story Hill Farm Milk-Fed "Poularde" Mendocino Coast Cepe Mushrooms, Hearts of Romaine Lettuce, and Juniper Balsamic "Jus"
. A masterful composition, the chicken was moist and extremely elegant, heightened to a slightly gamey quality with the addition of the juniper ingredient, the mushrooms providing a substantive, earthy quality.Elysian Fields Farm Lamb Rib-Eye with Savoy Cabbage, Salsify, Glazed Sweet Carrots, "Petit Salé" and Grain Mustard Sauce
. It becomes hard to describe continual perfection. Here were a few bites of lamb so unctuous and rich, it seemed to be the epitome of what lamb can be."Epoisse" - "Degustation" of New Crop Potatoes and "Sauce Périgourdine"
. While not a great photo, this cheese offering was so remarkably special versus a classical offering of simple slices from a cart. Paper thin layers of potato hid the melted goodness underneath. Persian Lime Sorbet
- to cleanse the palate.
Three Wines to pair with our desserts, 1983 Warre's Port, 1997 Domain Fontauil, Rivesaltes Amore, France, and NV Vineyard 29 "Aida" Late Harvest Zinfandel, Napa Valley
. Of the three, we all enjoyed the Vineyard 29 most and one I will definitely try to research."Feijoa Sorbet with Maui Pineapple Relish and Angel Cake"S'Mores" - Cashnew Nut "Parfait," Caramel "Délice" and "Sauce a la Guimauve FlambéeMilk Chocolate and Peanut Butter "Crémeaux" with Gros Michel Banana Sorbet, Salted Spanish Peanuts, and Toscano Black Chocolate Sauce"Charlotte Aux Poires et aux Dates" with Bartlett Pear Sorbet, "Japonais," Candied Hazelnuts, and Pear CoulisCoffee and Donuts
- Again, I was so excited by the prospect of fried dough, I could hardly contain myself and no picture was taken. And what fried dough... so good they sent some home with me and I got to enjoy some the next day. The "coffee" was a heady, thick espresso pot de creme
.Coffee with Miniature Creme BruléeMignardise
, Caramel-coated Macadamia nuts and black olive-studded miniature breads.
In the final round, with all the sweets, I realize how much I prefer to finish up with a cheese course and only a mignardise as a sweet bite. While all the desserts were perfectly wonderful, they were not especially memorable now, a day-and-a-half later. I am still recalling the truffles, and the lamb, and the chicken, and the foie... But I could care less about the desserts. Of course, the fact that I had some of those donuts for breakfast didn't hurt.
Edited by Carolyn Tillie, 19 November 2007 - 11:46 PM.