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The French Laundry 2001 - 2005


Rosie
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On our visit for Lunch at the French Laundry in August, we were seated upstairs in a lovely room with the windows open and a comfortable breeze. We had a group of 6, one of our dining companions is kind of a picky eater and we couldn't all agree on the tasting menu, so we chose to order from the regular menu, which worked out very well because we were able to share an try a greater number of dishes this way.

The amuse of salmon tartare was brought out, and the picky eater among us does not like raw salmon and left it on her plate. It was promptly repalced with another similar looking cone, this one topped with chopped red pepper instead.

For me the highlight of the meal (besides the coffee and doughnuts) was a foie gras ravoli that one of my dining companions ordered, and I was sorry that I only had a small taste, and the lobster.

We had such a good time talking and laughing with our friends, that we did not order much to drink and only had one bottle of wine with our meal. I believe the bill was about $900 for the six of us. I would love to return for another meal there, possibly the tasting menu, but I don't think that the menu varies enough to enjoy this experience more than a few times.

Alan Kwiatek

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As my visit to FL was back in February I don't think I could write out an appropriately detailed review (nor do I need to with the extremely well written ones already on this thread) however I did have one very minor qualm about the service. Our waitress, an attractive young lady possibly from a scandinavian country, had the oddest habit of saying "you're welcome" even before we had said thank you. Thus there was at times a race to say thank you even as she approached the table. A little awkward and truly bizarre. Did anyone else have that experience?

ps Yes the foie supplement is worth it. oh yes.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Maybe it was the rain. Maybe it was us. Maybe it's just not as special anymore. But my third trip to French Laundry was a let-down.

It was pouring out. Torrential. I didn't think it would matter, I thought it might actually add some extra character. But I think it did matter. We (four of us) were seated at the top of the stairs to the right. Just in front of the staff room. Perhaps it was the rain, but it was just dark. It was dark in the room and that seemed to lead to the some of the mood. My earlier trips had been bright sunny afternoons, and fun, friendly lunches. Not today.

As we walked in, my Dad noticed that everyone was very stern. He was right. Not just the customers. But they were, in a word, quiet. The couple next to us at the top of the stairs looked down-right upset. I don't think she smiled once. He didn't seem to speak to her. Other tables were as quiet. My Dad thought that the expense and formality might breed this type of atmosphere, but I certainly didn't remember it from my earlier trips.

And the staff, too, was stern. Not our head waiter, who I remembered from my last trip. But some of the other blue jackets practically frowned at the room when they surveyed it. I was very surprised.

Our head waiter was, I thought, terrific. He was friendly, casual, helpful, and welcoming. He joked, helped with the menu, dealt with our few special requests. The servers were also very good, although there were a bunch of small errors, the types I would never notice if it wasn't FL. They stumbled a bit explaining the dishes, they twice delivered the wrong dishes, but caught themselves quickly. Minor errors. Otherwise, they too were terrific.

Question: What do I do with that flat spoon/knife-like utensil?

The food:

Cauliflower "Panna Cotts" with Bagaduce Oyster Glaze and Iranian Osetra Caviar.

A large white bowl bottomed with cauliflower panna cotta and topped with a healthy quennelle of caviar. I've had this before, and it was very good but didn't wow me this second time. The panna cotta was firmer than I'd remembered, but still smooth and clean tasting. The underlying essence of the cauliflower was subtle and fresh. The caviar, wonderful, bright and explosive without being fishy. I can't say that I was able to distinguish the oyster glaze. But I would have been happier with a ssecond taste of Oysters and Pears.

Moulard Duck "Foie Gras Au Torchon" Jacobsen's Farm Flowering Quince "Relish" Served with Toasted "Brioche". (The menu planner charges by the quotation mark). $20 supplement.

This was excellent. Perhaps the best pate I've had. The pate was smooth, creamy and cool. The flavor was well-rounded, not too strong and almost sweet. The brioche was also excellent, as it had been the first time, but toasted a little too much. Thick and airy, it was a deep golden color, not the bright gold I remembered. But still, for white bread, it was beautiful. I wasn't a fan of the quince relish, but that's just me. Too citrus-y. My Mom doesn't like pate, but she tried this and said it was the best she'd had. Almost good enough to eat.

Salad of Hawaiin Hearts of Palm, Celery Branch, Perioggrod Truffles and Breakfast Radishes.

Mom ordered this and loved it. I loved sitting next to it, smelling the truffles. I tasted at bit and it was a fresh, crunchy salad. With truffles. What not to like?

"Toro" of Spanish Blue-Fin Tuna with Japanese Sweet Rice, Canied Almonds, Marinated English Cucumber and Wasabit Infused Oil. ($15 Supplement.)

Two large squares of pink-marbled sashimi. I'm of mixed mind when it comes to toro. I find that the extra-creaminess of the fat in the flesh is usually accompanied by a loss of flavor. Same here. The fish was cool and fresh and melted in my mouth. But it didn't have much flavor to it. The rice/almond was minced small, like brunoise. Cruncy and flavorful. The dish was topped with the fresh zest of a bright yellow Yuzu (Sp?), an Asian citrus fruit that set out an umbrella of citrus aroma reminding me of the fruits in a Bangkok market. Oddly, I thought the marinated cucumber, sliced thin and served with a hint of wasabi was the strongest part of the dish.

Atlantic Monkfish Tail "Roti Sur le Dos" Autumn Pole Bean "Cassoulet" and Thyme-Infused Exra Virgin Olive Oil.

The folks and sister had this. I didn't taste it, but it was their favorite dish. A jewelery-box sized piece of monkfish, crisp on the outside and moist inside. Seated atop bright firm-fleshed beans.

Peas & Carrots. Three of us substituted the Peas & Carrots based on my recommendation. It was offered on the regular menu, but not the Chef's Tasting menu.

A real disappointment. There was no crepe. I recalled a large, sturdy, perfect crepe wrapped around a surprising portion of butter-poached lobster pieces. The photo in the book shows the same. We got no crepe. Instead, carrot purree on one side. Pea shoots in the center. Two relatively small pieces of lobster on the other. Now, someone at the restaurant may tell me that all portions of the lobster preparation have the same quantity, but I'd be surprised. This seemed to be the lower join of the small claw and a quarter curl of the tail. Sure, it was delicious, but it was two pieces of lobster next to pea shoots next to carrot puree. I tell ya. After my first visit, I thought this was one of the best things I'd ever eaten. I was soooo looking forward to it. Alas. (Yes, when I revied the a la carte menu it described the peas & carrots as "lobster pancake." Don't know what that's supposed to be.)

"Macaroni & Cheese" Sweet Butter Poached Maine Lobster with Mascarpone-Enriched Orzo Pasta and Creamy Lobster Broth.

This looked good. My sister loved it. The lobster was perched atop a dark brothy portion of orzo. Looked good. Looked like something special. Looked better than the Peas & Carrots.

Crispy Eden Farms Berkshire Pork Belly Red Wine Braised Cabbage and Jacobsen's Farm Splendour Apple "Compote".

Another disappointment. I loved the pork belly my first visit. This was pretty similar in preparation, but not nearly as good. Smaller than I remember, it was a brick of braised pork belly with almost and inch of meat topped by crisp fat. But the fat was too crisp -- it did not cut easily like the last. pressing the knife down crushed the flesh beneath. Worse, the flesh was dry. Not terrible, but not at all moist. The small quennelle of braised cabbage was very good, but nothing special. The apple "Compote" was a smooth, creamy apple sauce. Very good on texture, nothing special on taste.

(My sister doesn't eat pork, and she had a half pan-seared quail. She liked it a lot, and the little bit I tasted was very good.)

Elysian Fields Farm "Selle D'Agneau Roti Entier" Chanterelle Mushrooms, Herb Roasted Salsify and Glazed Cippolini Onions.

Finally, a pleasant difference from my earlier visits. I loved this. Three large, thick sliced of lamb loin on top of a woodsy portion of mushrooms. The lamb was not quite seared brown, but the edges were crisp and accentuated by a healthy dose of sea salt. Under the shallow browned edge was a surprisingly uniform bright pink meat. It cut easy, was soft on the tongue and offered only slight resistance to the tooth. The flavor was a wonderful blend of salt, sear, and the sweet gaminess of lamb. I loved it. The chantarelle mushrooms were very small, but a good portion was offered. They had great flavor and the salsify added terrfic crunch. (My Dad doesn't like lamb, so I ate his.)

Pan Roasted Scottish Wood Pigeon "Mille Feuille" of Sweet Potato, Arrowleaf Spinach and "Confit" of Garlic.

Sister doesn't eat red-meat, but she wasn't excited about eating pigeon. We're from NY afterall. Mom wanted it. I hope more out of curiosity and adventure than spite and revenge.

The roasted bird was first brought out in the pan for a viewing. It didn't look good. The skin was dark blue, almost black and topped by blacked herb bits. "That serves two?" sister asked. "It's a tasting menu" I explained for the umpteenth time of the evening.

They brought only only two large slices of breast. I'm not sure it was even the entire breast. No thigh, leg or wing. Odd.

But the breast was half-wonderful, half-empty. Half was bright red rare. The flesh was firm. It tasted like filet. Really. It was great. At the other end, the meat was darker brown, like thigh meat. It didn't have the flavor or intensity of the rarer portion. If it had been uniformly rare, it would have been the best part of the afternoon. I'd never had pigeon before, I look forward to having it again. (I didn't taste the sides, but Mom and Sis ate them all.)

"Tomme de Savoie" "Musquee de Provence" Pumpkin Marmelade, Black Pepper Shortbread and toasted Pumpkin Seed Oil.

The cheese course. I've never had Tomme. It was quite good. Semi-hard, creamy. It had a very interesting flavor, almost sweet and tangy. The pumpkin marmelade didn't do it for me. And for the life of me, there was no black pepper shortbread under my marmelade. I'll bet the bill it just wasn't there. Nor under Mom's or Dad's. Sis had something that could have been the promised small black disk. But not me.

Napa Valley Guava Sorbet with Toasted Coconut "Financier"

Steve Klc has suggested that California restaurants skimp on dessert. Well, I'm no dessert expert, but these were good. The sorbet was bursting with flavor. The financier, a small macaroon-like cake, was outstanding. Moist, chewy, with complex flavor from the coconut. My Mom was blown away. It was all topped by a circle of dehydrated pinapple. Again, this was suprisingly strong flavored and very good. (But not nearly as intersting as the dried apple slice on my first visit.)

Valrhona Chocolate "Velours" with Ginger-Infused Custard and "Creme d'Agrumes"

Another exquisite desert. The "cake" was a three-inch or so high cylinder, coated with bitter chocolate power. Underneath, a smooth chocolate . . . almost like a cream, but not quite a cake. Hidden in the center, a luscious white custard humming with ginger flavor. Why is it that ginger goes so well with savory and sweet? It was topped with a dollop of creme and some gold leaf. Resting on the side were three long, delicate poles of chocolate. This was terrific. But under all of this was a glowing sunlight of orange infused creme anglais. I don't like bitter chocolate, but this was wonderful. I don't know where to begin. It was just great.

The meal was finished with lemongrass infused pot d'creme and vanilla infused creme brulee. And petit fours.

Wine: I asked the Sommolier to help choose a half-bottle of white. I said that I like dry, zippier whites, not oaky or too full. He suggested Domaine de Chevalier 1998 Pessoc-Leognan Blanc. What did I know? I said o.k. I did notice that it was one of the most expensive half-bottles. But since I had no "substantive" reason to question the choice, I felt that I was left with the option of saying, "something cheaper please." I didn't want to say that. It was quite good however.

I brought an '89 Cos D'Estournel. I didn't love this. It had a moist woodsy undertone, but nothing much on top. Nothing special. I also had a '95 haut brion, but the sommolier suggested that it was likely too young. I'll hold on to it for a few years.

My father definitely would not return. He like it well-enough, but no meal to him was worth that money. And, frankly, he can't get past the small portions of a tasting menu. Even though he was stuffed when we were finished (he didn't even eat the pot d'creme or petit fours) I think he doesn't accept the concept of many small portions.

Mom said simply that it was the best meal she'd ever had.

After my first two meals, I left wondering when I could justify another visit. I'm not sure I'd go back again. If I did, I'd make sure I was downstairs. I liked that room better -- it was open and spacious. I did not like the top floor, which was narrow, almost like eating in a hallway. And I didn't like at all watching waiters going in and out of the service room.

Edited by Stone (log)
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Question: What do I do with that flat spoon/knife-like utensil?

It's a sauce spoon, ya use it to shovel the leftover sauce into your face after you've run out of food to mop it up with.

I wonder if the upcoming sabbatical is affecting the morale of the staff... Every time I've been there we've been seated down stairs. In fact it's always been in the same small room to the right as you walk in. Is it reasonable to expect that the French Laundry should ever have an off night, given the effort involved in getting a table and the expense once you get that table? I've never had an off dish there nevermind an off meal but have at just about every other restaurant I've been to more than a couple of times.

Where else did you end up eating while you were up this way?

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the fl serves dinner 7 nights a week and lunch on friday, saturday and sunday. i think at the level of service/quality of food they're trying to get across, that's just too hectic of a schedule. most restaurants at that level are closed at least one night a week (i don't vouch for places like daniel, etc. here in new york where there are plenty of cooks to fill the gaps). my point is, i know what it is like to try and keep up with production levels, etc. and it isn't fun. especially when you know that the restaurant is booked two/three months in advance (there are no slow nights at the fl). unfortunately as someone posted, they're really not allowed to have an "off" night at that level.

a friend of mine has dined at fl on more than one occasion and her most recent meal there was also a disappointment. i can sort of agree with you that the weather and other extenuating circumstances affected the mood/tone of your meal. i'm glad your mother had such a great meal, i could never take my parents out and spend that much money on a meal without them both being completely shocked (unless of course i worked there and got a hefty discount :laugh: ).

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So you are burned out on FL, Stone? That is a shame. The night I was there in September, everyone seemed to be having a good time. My favorite course was the suplemental "Torchon of foie gras"...which was a perfectly compressed piece of unadulterated foie, served with toasted brioche and a delicious plum sauce. It was not pate...are you sure they served you pate?

But I have to laugh because Russ had the exact same reaction your Dad did.

Lobster.

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Do you lay the cutlery bowl up or bowl down?

If so where is the hallmark placed? I assume, of course, that it is solid silver.

I was brought up with the cutlery hollow side up, and the hallmark hidden. I understand some people like to show off with the cutlery the other way up, or cutlery with the hallmark in the bowl.

Are there seperate soup spoons (round) (Victorian I believe) or is it a tablespoon (tradition) or even a desertspoon doing double duty?

Do you lay desert cutlery above the plate, or at side? Naturally with multi-course meals this is not an issue, since the cutlery for more than three courses should never be on the table at any time.

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Since I'm relatively new here, I didn't want to sound like a food snob, but when I

went to S.F. restaurants, it was good, but not outstanding. I think in part due

to the chef's tasting menu. You are full at the end of the meal, but I feel you are

given a piece of food on the plate There should be a spectacular presentation, there is

none. The color of sauces, swirls and designs and dimension. Food as art. There

should be incredible bursts of flavor, there is none. It should be perfectly prepared

for just one piece of food- it isn't. Unusual ingredients, or just meltingly good.

Each bite should be ummmmm. What do you think is the problem? Are they trying

new things and not getting it right? I'm glad you enjoyed the dessert. Sometimes

you go out to eat just for the dessert if it's that good. And when the food doesn't

taste as good, usually its a new chef?

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Since I'm relatively new here, I didn't want to sound like a food snob, but when I

went to S.F. restaurants, it was good, but not outstanding.  I think in part due

to the chef's tasting menu.  You are full at the end of the meal, but I feel you are

given a piece of food on the plate  There should be a spectacular presentation, there is

none.  The color of sauces, swirls and designs and dimension.  Food as art.  There

should be incredible bursts of flavor, there is none.  It should be perfectly prepared

for just one piece of food- it isn't.  Unusual ingredients, or just meltingly good.

Each bite should be ummmmm.  What do you think is the problem?  Are they trying

new things and not getting it right?  I'm glad you enjoyed the dessert.  Sometimes

you go out to eat just for the dessert if it's that good.  And when the food doesn't

taste as good, usually its a new chef?

FL does, without a doubt, do exceptional presentation and taste. I just had a few disappointing dishes and a disappointing ambience. FL doesn't do many swirls and designs in their sauces (like many places do). The main item is usually resting on a puree or small round of sauce. They use many 'sprays' of sea salt or pepper and dots of balsamic. Very minimalist and very nice and very beautiful. Their art is the food.

Pan -- the total bill was $960:

4 x 135 (Chefs Tasting) -- $540

3 Foie Gras Supplements -- 60

1 Sashimi Supplement -- 18

1/2 bottle wine -- 99

Corkage -- 50

Tax & 18% service were included. (They include the tip before the tax. I assume they didn't tax the tip, but I didn't check.)

Mike -- Don't worry.

Wasn't another eGullet person there on Sunday?

Edited by Stone (log)
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Thanks, Stone. I'm not sure if I agree with your father that food can never be worth that amount of money, but I do fully understand why you'd be hesitant to spend that much money on a meal at FL again if you're not finding the place essentially flawless and sublime. I do believe in a sliding scale in judging restaurants, and at that end of the spectrum, it had better be unbelievable. That said, you made your mother's day, and that has to count for a lot.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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OMIGOD. And I thought it was just me!

Our last meal was a service and atmospheric disaster as well. This was extremely disappointing after they won 2003 Beard award for service. Wrong plates were delivered, menu items mispronounced (waiters at the "French" Laundry should know how to pronounce French words), and the overall mood was, in a word--weird.

There was an awkward exchange with the wine guy (the tall blond English chump) when we asked for recommendations, and his response was "they're all great wines." When we asked if they did wine flights to accompany the tasting menu, he tersely said "we don't do that here."

This was long before the impending closure, so I don't know what their excuse was.

I'm really not all that motivated to ever go back. I guess it doesn't matter now that Keller has his own line of china and a restaurant opening in Las Vegas. What a shame.

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I just spoke with a local DC chef buddy of mine who took his dad to a surprise birthday dinner at the FL last friday

He had many good things to say...and a few things that were..ya know..not so great...service was a little stern...

pricy supplements ...but AMAZING FOOD...pretty great service ..a little intimidating maybe ..but no pressure...set him up with wines for each course... a few missed cues with wines timed for the courses...but he was thrilled

He and his dad will never forget this dinner...that tells me this restaurant is still bringing it

listen to Black Sabbath..often

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I was there last night for the first time, so i don't have much to compare it to, but I thought it was excellent - not life transforming, but very good food in a calm atmosphere.

The effect was a cumulative one. Not every dish was perfect or completely to my liking. I didn't "get" the Oysters and Pearls and thought the cheese course was just OK The bread course seemed a little arbitrary and I thought it was strange that it came as the third or fourth course. My wife had not been feelng great when we arrved and with a few "misses" at the beginning we were questioning the evening. This was even after the fantastic Risotto with Shaved White Truffles ($40 supplement !?! but worth it.)

But then in succession came the oblgitory lobster poached in butter wth lobster mushrooms and lobster broth. Then an immenely flavorful Rabbit, Lentil and Fois Gras dish. Then a "Pot au Feu a la Francaise" which was essentialy the best pot roast ever created and the hghlight of the meal for me. Then afer the cheese course came a dessert of Pineapple three ways and a chocolate dessert wth ginger custard. Then a mini creme brulee and lemongrass custard. Wave after wave of great dishes to the point that on the late drive to San Francisco we couldn't stop talking about the meal and dissecting each dish.

The service was a little more formal that i expected, but not arrogant or stuffy. The sommelier did work with me to pair our wines to the menu from teh by the glass menu and the staff was patient when I would ask them to describe more fully certain dishes.

In retrospect I think it is what I had anticipated - likely the best meal I have had, coming close to living up to the expectations I had of it. My wife probably would rank it just below our anniversary dinner at the Inn at Little Washington and a perfect night we had this summer at Babbo, but considering she went into the restaurant not feel well and came out cured it was a pretty good evening.

The thing that I took way from TFL was how they were able to make the main part of each dish the star. At so many places the sauces are what makes the dish what it is. But what I remember 24 hours later are the taste of the beef and the rabbit and the lobster.

And I'm already trying to figure out how to get back this way from DC again soon.

Forgive what are probaby my dozens of typos - I am using the worst piece of crap laptop I have ever seen in my life.

Bill Russell

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Our last meal was a service and atmospheric disaster as well. This was extremely disappointing after they won 2003 Beard award for service. Wrong plates were delivered, menu items mispronounced (waiters at the "French" Laundry should know how to pronounce French words), and the overall mood was, in a word--weird.

Maybe the service was a little off-possibly. I don't see anyway possible that your last meal at the FL was "a service and atmospheric disaster."

TFL is simply to fine an establishment to be described in this way.

What do you mean by "atmospheric disaster" anyway?

Edited by sammy (log)

"These pretzels are making me thirsty." --Kramer

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This is a little late – too many things happening on my return to spend time posting (organizing an event for 4-500 people).

But I was there at FL with Stone (actually not with him, but probably adjacent to him – we were the communicating couple, not the silent ones).

And substantially his review was spot-on. Good, some excellence, but below expectations. It won’t make our top 3 meals of 2003, but is currently in fourth place. And the cost (for two) was more than the combined return flights for 2 from Toronto.

We wanted to try as much as possible, so ordered one Chef’s menu and one ‘Tasting of vegetables’ (also 9 courses) so got to try 18 different preparations. This automatically excluded the Wood pigeon, as it could only be served to two people.

But our strongest memory is of the course we DIDN’T get – and weren’t offered – a white truffle pasta dish that was served to an adjacent table and at least one table downstairs – the wooden presentation box (holding the truffle) was brandished in front of each diner before the huge truffle was removed and grated on the dish. As it was the adjacent table this was hard to miss – and even harder to ignore as the aroma wafted past – destroying (or enhancing, depending on your viewpoint) the dish we were served just ahead. OK. So some of these were regulars (they’d been there the previous week) with first-time guests, so maybe ‘special’ treatment is warranted. But it certainly made us feel like second-class diners as we were not deemed worthy of being offered this dish. In fact the service throughout was certainly distant – going further away than respectful.

Examples: #1 we asked for menu copies to make notes. We were told we couldn’t use the menus presented, but they would bring us some. They only appeared after a second request at the second course – and were identical to the ones that had been removed. #2 We asked if there was an option to have wine servings with each course. The response was that it depended on what we chose. So we chose the set menus and there weren’t wine choices to match those! #3 we had to ask several times for menu explanations when the dish served didn’t match the menu (example when Stone couldn’t find the black pepper shortbread) – nobody pointed this out – we had to ask. Yet the menu was dated that day.

And we loved the fact that sauce spoons were served with every course (OK it was superfluous for several dishes) enabling every morsel to be scraped up.

Stone has expertly described the tasting menu, so I’ll only add any differences I encountered.

First we were served our amuses: a Cornetto each; one with tomato and eggplant caviar (ho-hum) and one with salmon and crème fraiche (very cold, probably straight from fridge)

Cauliflower “Panna Cotta” – we also found the texture very firm, but our caviar didn’t “explode” – we both commented on the lack of texture – but I loved the perfect saltiness.

Moulard Duck “Foie Gras au Torchon”. Huge portion and excellent. I found the Brioche rather underdone but finished it before all the foie gras. A compliment to the service – a second serving of brioche was brought which was perfect (although how did they know I would run out? It takes time to toast the second one – maybe it’s here ‘just in case’). Served with chervil and Maldon sea salt (I think).

Toro – loved this dish. My notes say ‘explodes with flavour’. I also noted the ‘brunoise’ and really liked the sweetness of the candied almonds. And the Yuzu zest was almost overpowering – except it contrasted well with the fattiness of the dish.

“Macaroni and Cheese” – Oh Dear! What a disappointment. The Lobster was overcooked and muscley and the orzo tasted like pasta with cheese and cream added rather than integrated. Served with a parmesan crisp that seemed slightly soggy.

Pork Belly – seems to be this year’s fashionable dish. More subtle flavours than I’ve had elsewhere. Just didn’t zing.

Selle d’Agneau – Lamb is consistently my favourite meat and this was OK but lacked something. Also the temperature was warm, but not hot. Loved the cippolini onions and salsify but our portion of chanterelle mushrooms was almost invisible – perhaps they strayed over to Stone’s table. I even commented at this point that we were well into mushroom season and I was disappointed how few dishes used that fresh local ingredient.

“Tomme de Savoie” – usually one of my all-time favourite cheeses. But I was surprised that it was served warm (interesting presentation though). And the promised Black Pepper Shortbread and Toasted Pumpkin Seed Oil were neither in evidence. But we did get Pumpkin shortbread and pomegranate oil.

Sorbet Course – exactly as Stone described – although we got hints of fresh vanilla as well.

Chocolate “Velours” – similar notes to Stone – except I tasted a hint of orange in the crème rather than ginger. And we had gold leaf on top (perhaps because we ordered more wine).

Our ‘mignardises’ were the same except the crème brulee was disappointing (brulee not really burned, just melted, and no hot/cold contrast).

The vegetarian menu was actually more exciting. Of course, it used fresh local ingredients and I think this is what ultimately made it more satisfying.

Pureé (sic) of Chestnut Soup with Braised celery Branch and Celery Root – strong flavours and great consistency and served very hot. A great antidote to the thunderstorm outside.

Caramelized Brussels Sprouts, Hosui Asian pears, Glazed Tokyo Turnips and Whole Grain Mustard sauce – a brave dish; Brussels sprouts and turnips! The sweetness of the pears was the most notable feature of this dish. But the textures were all similar.

Slow Baked Heirloom Beets, Garden Lettuces and Red Beet “Essence” – visually stunning and just as tasty – except for the “essence” which was actually a gelée.

Roasted Jacobsen’s Farm Butternut Squash with Sautéed Swiss Chard and Toasted Italian Pine Nuts – another excellent dish with the squash presented as ‘gnocchi’ (but some comment between us as to whether ‘Jacobsen’s Farm’ squash could be identified separately in a blind squash tasting).

Rue-Scented Walla Walla Onions, Navel Orange “Suprêmes”, Marinated Sweet peppers and Niçoise Olive Vinaigrette – some interesting flavours but seemed more of a mélange of ingredients rather than matching flavours. I found the olive dominated everything.

“Carnaroli Risotto Biologico” Shaved Périgord Truffles and Truffle “Emulsion” – simply perfection. Perfect in every way. And the sauce spoon was essential for this dish.

“Montbriac” Belgian Endive “Marmelade”, Sultanas and Napa Valley “Verjus Gastrique” – this was a blue cheese course, but fairly mild. Excellent flavour combination.

Maui Pineapple Sorbet with Banana Bread and Chocolate Pudding – the banana bread was actually a muffin and the other two ingredients were large quenelles. Again, not quite sure why these ingredients were matched – the textures and colours were interesting but the flavours seemed distinct and separate.

“Dégustation de Fenouil” Toasted fennel Sablé, Fennel “Marmelade” and Fennel Sorbet with a Citrus-Baby Fennel Salad and Piquillo Pepper “Coulis” – here the flavours did match well – a very interesting combination of temperatures, textures and sweetnesses. Excellent dish.

So, all-in-all a pretty good meal – but it doesn’t blow one’s socks off. And another misstep – the check was missing three glasses of wine, which we pointed out and that cost us an additional $80 (yes, for 2 glasses of Billecart-Salmon champagne and a 2000 Wehlenen Sonnenuhr Auslese from a middling producer).

Overall a very good to excellent meal – but at these prices we do expect more. And the two half bottles of wine, recommended by the Sommelier were very safe choices (a 2001 Chassagne-Montrachet and a 1997 Brunello) – despite our pointing out that we were fairly adventurous in our wine tastes. Of course, given a limited selection of half bottles and multiple courses these may indeed have been the best options. But everywhere else on our trip the Sommeliers managed to pair wines very well – we got the impression that at the French Laundry it was ‘easier’ to just give us a red and a white.

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The White Truffle course was on the ala carte menu -- at a $100 supplement.

Regarding the brioche -- The first time I had it, the brioche came out very late, for both me and the table next to us. This time it was on time. And each time they were ready with the extra slices. Free refills of bread is the sign of a top-notch joint.

I wish I knew then what a sauce spoon was for. But I used a little ingenuity, and my fork/finger combo did quite well.

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Don't know how I missed the white truffle course - thought I'd reviewed the whole menu. Although maybe I have a built-in $100 filter!

And I was also kicking myself for not thinking of asking for additional/replacement dishes. Just didn't cross my mind. Now perhaps if a server had mentioned that it was possible to add/substitute...... but that would have required superior service!

And, as for the quiet respectful atmosphere - wasn't it you who told us not to make too much noise or dance on tables. Maybe everybody there read your advice. :cool:

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hmm, must have been quite a egullet weekend last weekend. i was there saturday night. and i've got to say that while i can allow the possibility that imperfect or unimpressive meals exist at teh french laundry, it is strictly as an article of faith. i've been eating there 2 or 3 times a year for 10 years now and every meal has been superb. some have been better in different ways, some more subtle, some more surprising, but none of them have been anything less than among the very best meals i've ever eaten.

what really impressed me this weekend, though, was dinner the night before at bouchon. we got in late, it was rainy, we had no reservations, and it was the closest place to where we were staying. we got the last two seats at the bar and had an absolute feast. it's a great looking room, great energy, good casual service. and, to my mind, an incredible bargain. we had a half-dozen oysters, a half-dozen cold shrimp, an order of their brandade beignets (brandade deep-fried and served on slices of oven-roasted tomatoes), an order of pigs feet, boned, formed into a cylindar and crisped on one side, served with sauce gribiche (very close to the paquettes served at the big place). an order of salmon rillets (like a smoked salmon mousse with diced raw salmon inside). an order of profiteroles. to drink: a glass of chablis and then of sancerre for me and a glass of champagne and a cup of coffee for my wife. total bill: $125.

what made it even more pleasureable was that while dinner at the french laundry is always a big occasion, these guys had no idea who i was or that i was friends with the owner. they just do everything right by nature.

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