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The French Laundry 2001 - 2005


Rosie
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Lizziee,

Sorry for not responding earlier. English not being my native language makes it rather slow and slightly difficult to go in details (in writing at least) but:

We went to the FL with our kids (7 &11) both are mid-eastern fellows that before that went to some 2-3 Michelin stars establishments in Europe behaved and ate well (so did the adults, in most cases...)

I asked the question primarily because in previous times we had problem here and there with getting into some places in the US (R & S hotels and restaurants if I remember correctly).

We were very happy to be treated at a 3 star level with our kids. We shared 2 menus, (one with the extra foie dish). One kid got his own delicious Pasta and we all receives the Amuses (Cornets of Atlantic Salmon Tartar , Potato Blini, cauliflower panna cotta) but paid only for the 2 menus and the dish which we felt was more than fair. Our waiter was ever so helpful. The food was first rate, the best I had in the US so far.

We were lucky to get places due to the fact that 2 years ago we made a "Thomas Keller" meal in Israel, with some friends, according to the FL book. we took pictures of the meal and sent it to TK. he answered and said that we should also try the restaurant, it took us some time but he remembered and 8 weeks or so before last August we knew there was a good reason to visit Napa valley.

By the way ,we had another great dinner (with reserving the table an hour before) we at Bistro Jeanty. Perfection of classic French dishes as if we were in Europe.

"Eat every meal as if it's your first and last on earth" (Conrad Rosenblatt 1935)

http://foodha.blogli.co.il/

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Boaziko,

I am so glad that your experience at FL was as good as you expected. Sometimes, I think that Thomas Keller is unfairly maligned as so many people consider it to be one of the best restaurants in the U.S. and anything short of perfection engenders a lot of negativity. Added to this, the difficulty in getting reservations creates even more hostility and resentment.

By the way, your English is perfect.

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  • 4 weeks later...

There has been a lot of discussion about Thomas Keller losing his edge and that the French Laundry is not as good as it was in the past.

We just returned from the Napa Valley where we enjoyed 2 meals at the French Laundry. I can, without reservation, say that Thomas Keller is delivering wonderful, exceptional meals. What distinguishes a French Laundry meal is the way Keller and his team use only the highest quality ingredients, some unique. Preparation is consistently perfect. I rarely see mistakes, bobbles or errors in Keller's cuisine that I find quite frequently in the cuisine of other chefs in the U.S. Keller is one of a few American based chefs that I find consistently excellent--every course, every meal. This is based on dining at The French Laundry between 7 to 10 times a year for the past 4 years.

I did notice that Thomas prefers to serve his food tepid, not hot. This may be off-putting to some, but, for me, I find that I can "taste" the flavors much more intensely at this temperature. It is the same as when you are served a white burgundy that is so cold that the flavor disappears.

Our first meal was on December 29. Please note, as frequent guests we are treated to a "tasting" that might not be offered to other diners. We sometimes receive two different preparations of a dish for one course. We chose to each consume 50% of each dish by passing the dishes in the middle of the course. This is not required, but we enjoy having double the number of taste experiences.

1. Cornets of Atlantic Salmon Tartar with red onion creme fraiche (This is always the first taste.)

2. Soup

Butternut Squash with 3 small round grilled shitake mushrooms and a red pepper tapenade

Puree of chestnuts with whole glazed chestnuts - this was rich, intense and just perfect

3. Caviar

a. Signature Dish of Oysters and Pearls - "Sabayon" of pearl tapioca with Malpeque oysters and osetra caviar

b. Another signature dish of cauliflower panna cotta topped with osetra caviar

Thomas is now using American osetra from Sacramento Valley (Tsar Nicholas) as the Russian caviar has been so inconsistent in quality. Keller will not, as a matter of principle, purchase Iranian Caviar. The French Laundry purchases 5 kilos of caviar a week!

4. Smoked Salmon sliced into long, thin strips presented on celery gelee (named celery Victor) with daikon. This dish had a palate cleansing feel to it.

5. Eggs - two more signature dishes

a. White truffle custard with ragout of Perigord truffles with veal stock presented in a hallowed out egg

b. Coddled hen egg with perigord truffle beurre noisette

6. - Hearts of Palm

a. Hearts of Palm cut to resemble linguine with sherry mignonette and shaved black truffles

b. Hearts of Palm cut to resemble a tartar with black truffle coulis

These 2 dishes sound like they won't work, but they did. Again, the subtle blending of flavors, the unexpected addition of luxurious black truffles to the simple hearts of palm was "one heck of a salad."

7. Pasta

a. House made tagliatelle with black truffles

b Carnaroli risotto with black truffles

In both dishes, our server kept shaving the black truffle until we stopped him. I kept thinking, "There goes the profit."

The pasta course was straight-forward so that the flavor of the black truffle was dominant. The tagliatelle was just perfect. Sorry, for the over-use of the word perfect.

At this point, we took a much needed break and walked outside to the garden. From the garden, you can see into the kitchen; it is like watching a ballet - no hectic scrambling, just a controlled, intensely concentrated effort to produce the best by an "army" of cooks.

8. Fish

Shank of Cod with cocoa beans ragout with another very, very generous shaving of black truffles, done tableside. I never thought I would say this, but I was beginning to get over truffled.

9. Lobster

Lobster fricassee with globe artichokes, roma tomatoes in a spicy lobster broth. Tableside our server added a few drops of Permefiglia olive oil to the dish. This was a sensational dish - perfectly tender cooked lobster in a light, full-flavored, well-balanced broth. Normally, having lobster at this point in a meal puts me over the top, but this was so delicate and light that I didn't have that stuffed feeling at all.

10. Foie Gras

Whole roasted Moulard duck foie gras with spiced bread crumbs, slices of Bosc pears and clove gastric. The bread crumb added the crunch to the dish and the clove gastric was a masterful seasoning.

We were getting full and asked our server what Thomas had in mind for the next courses. He was going to do 2 meat courses, but we decided to pare it down to one.

11. Lamb

Elysian Farms Lamb with salsify, morels, chanterelles and dusted with mushroom powder.

12. Cheese

A quenelle of Vacheron with prune confit. Our server formed the Vacheron quenelle table side, mentioning that he had practiced making the perfect quenelle by forming quenelles at home with peanut butter.

A note on FL personnel. They are committed professionals. Servers, expediters, runners, management staff are all excellent. They are not stuffy or pretentious. Over the years we have seen the few snooty ones, or the ones who are less than customer centered go their way. It took 30+ interviews to find sommelier Bobby Stuckey. He is leaving soon to do his own thing. You can be sure his replacement will be one of the outstanding wine people in the U.S., who also has "floor presence" and real skill with customers. At The French Laundry they are very conscious of the client and his or her feelings about every part of the food and wine experience.

13. Dessert

We decided to forego the multi-course grand dessert presentation and just had chocolate truffles.

Wines:

Laurent Perrier Grand Siecle - NV

Keith Fergel, the Asst. Sommelier pointed out that this is something fairly new from Laurent Perrier. They figure that a NV, Cuvee does well for Krug. It was excellent.

2000 Bourgogne Comte de Vogue

Fabulous. Comte de Vogue is known for his Reds. This was a real treat. Quite expensive for a "Bourgogne" $150, but worth it. There is a Musigny Blanc that is very, very expensive, but supposedly wonderful...perhaps?

78 L'Angelus St Emilion

We are normally Burgundy drinkers at The French Laundry, but Keith suggested this wonderful St. Emilion. It was slightly aged, with deep flavor and a beautiful finish.

Service was exceptional. This was a perfect meal from beginning to end.

In an earlier thread, someone had asked if children were welcome at French Laundry. On this first night, a four year old was sitting at the round table in the middle of the room. Both my husband and I were not exactly thrilled to see a 4 year old at 8:00 pm at the French Laundry. Let me say, the staff was wonderful to him. He sat for 4 hours, ate with gusto, was well-behaved and a remarkable child. When his Dad asked him what were his favorite dishes, at the end of the meal - his answer - ice cream, caviar, lamb.

We know that New Years Eve is amateur night, but figured that French Laundry would be able to handle it. The staff again was superb, but I can't say the same for the customers. I wish the four year old had come back for a second dinner. One couple, in particular, was memorable: she was in blue jeans and he spent a great deal of time talking on his cell phone. Another disgusting customer faux pas - 2 no shows - one table of 4 and one table of 6. Let me add that the French Laundry did not take money in advance or a credit card guarantee - the no shows represented no revenue.

New Years Eve

1. Salmon Cornet

2. Gougere

3. Custard infused with applewood smoked bacon and chives topped with a quenelle of osetra caviar

4. White truffle custard with ragout of Perigord truffles with veal stock presented in a hallowed out egg.

5. Grilled globe artichoke salad, oven roasted roma tomato, nicoise olives, Jacobsen's Fram crosnes and a Bagna Cauda sauce. The crosnes look like white caterpillars or rattlesnake tails that are crunchy in taste, something like jicama.

6.

Russet potato gnocchi, roasted chestnuts, white truffle butter and shaved white truffles from Alba. Again, our server kept shaving and shaving and shaving! The gnocchi were as light as a soufflé and the chestnuts added perfect texture plus wonderful flavor.

Risotto with white truffles and white truffle butter

7. Salt crusted dourade with mounted baby leeks with a red wine sauce.

8. Pan roasted Maine sea scallop with matsutake mushrooms, celery root puree and matsutake mushroom emulsion

My husband doesn't like scallops and Thomas made a salmon dish for him.

9. "Blanquette" of Monkfish tail, walla walla shallot marmelade and shaved white truffles from Alba.

10. "Canard a L'Orange" Whole roasted moulard duck foie gras with orange braised duck leg and confit of navel orange. The foie gras looked liked a petit filet, about 2 x 2 x 2 and was cooked with a slight crunch on the outside, but moist and rare inside.

11. "Beef x 2"

Grilled "Calotte" and poached rib-eye of prime beef, "tortelloni" of roasted root vegetables and oxtail consomme

12. A quenelle of Vacheron with black currant bread pudding and garden greens. The pudding was a postage stamp layer of 3-4 pieces of bread less than 1/8" thick studded with the black currants.

13. Meyer lemon sorbet with persimmon pudding muffin.

14. A rich, decadent chocolate dessert - "Velours de Chocolat et Noisette"

Wines:

1995 Billecarte Salmon Cuvee Elisabeth

This was one of two pours included in the $ 275 dinner price fixe menu. The other was Dom Perignon '95. The Billecarte is a real favorite--beautiful blush color, fine bubbles and a crisp bite to the taste.

1996 Chassagne Montrachet, Les Champgaines 1er Cru, Michel Niellon

A little bit of age on this very well made Chassagne. Smooth, light on the palate, beautiful clean finish--what chardonnay grapes should taste like.

1995 Cote Rotie, Jasmin (the last vintage the Dad made before he died)

A very Burgundian style. Bobby recommended it as an alternative to our Burgundy preferences to go with the meat course. It was superbly clean wine with a beautiful fresh nose and full body.

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Thanks for the detailed notes, lizziee. Your meals sound wonderfully composed and presented.

May I ask if the French Laundry provides a detailed menu / description or did you have to seek the information? The specific details of your report suggest FL honors its diners and suppliers with this recognition.

Thanks again...

Apparently it's easier still to dictate the conversation and in effect, kill the conversation.

rancho gordo

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Rail Paul,

The first night, we had no menu and Thomas just cooks. When a dish is presented, they tell you exactly what you are eating. When I had questions about an ingredient, our server went to the kitchen for the specifics.

The second night, we received a printed menu. Thomas is very committed to his suppliers and always mentions the source of his ingredients.

The bottom line - yes a composed, presented, well-executed meal.

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Wonderful report, lizziee.

Again, as always, those egg dishes get me.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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Lizziee -- I am somewhat perplexed at the recommendation of the 1978 Angelus, are you sure that it wasn't the much superior 1988. Up until 1985, Angelus was making their wines in vats rather than oak casks and the wines were very short lived. I checked the review in my most recent Robert Parker Bordeaux book, and he indicated that he last tasted the wine in 1983, felt that it was already in decline, and gave it a score of 75. It would probably score much lower today. Did the wine have a hard brown edge? Out of curiosity I checked through a couple of data bases of recent auction prices, but could not find any sales, which is not surprising.

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Thanks for the wonderful report on your meals, liziee. They sound as if they were exceptional. Two questions:

-The red onion creme fraiche with the Atlantic Salmon Tartar: does the red onion stay with you, or has it been given some treatment as to neutralize its strong residual presence?

-Did you make your reservations the same way as the less frequent patrons? Were reservations for New Year's Eve handled the same as all other reservations at the restaurant?

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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"I am somewhat perplexed at the recommendation of the 1978 Angelus, are you sure that it wasn't the much superior 1988." (Marcus)

Marcus, I am not the wine expert in our family. My husband is much more knowledgeable than I am so my comments are based on discussions with him. It was the 1978. French Laundry is currently on vacation. I'll have to wait a couple of weeks and ask Bobby or Keith about the provenance of the wine.

"Did the wine have a hard brown edge?" (Marcus)

The wine was young, clean ruby, wonderful bouquet and fine finish...perfectly aged (moderately) Bordeaux.

The red onion creme fraiche with the Atlantic Salmon Tartar: does the red onion stay with you, or has it been given some treatment as to neutralize its strong residual presence? (Robert)

Robert, There is just a hint of red onion in the red onion creme fraiche. The recipe is in the French Laundry cookbook and the ratio is 1/2 cup creme fraiche to 1 tablespoon of red onions. I have made this recipe many times and there is not an overpowering presence of onion.

"Did you make your reservations the same way as the less frequent patrons? Were reservations for New Year's Eve handled the same as all other reservations at the restaurant?" (Robert)

New Year's Eve reservations were handled the same way as for regular reservations. In fact, most of the patrons for New Year's were first time customers; we were one of the few repeats.

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The red onion creme fraiche with the Atlantic Salmon Tartar: does the red onion stay with you, or has it been given some treatment as to neutralize its strong residual presence? (Robert)

Robert, There is just a hint of red onion in the red onion creme fraiche. The recipe is in the French Laundry cookbook and the ratio is 1/2 cup creme fraiche to 1 tablespoon of red onions. I have made this recipe many times and there is not an overpowering presence of onion.

Place the onions in a strainer and run water through it. Blot the onions dry. This diminishes the sulfur atoms. :smile:

Drink!

I refuse to spend my life worrying about what I eat. There is no pleasure worth forgoing just for an extra three years in the geriatric ward. --John Mortimera

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May I ask if the French Laundry provides a detailed menu / description or did you have to seek the information? The specific details of your report suggest FL honors its diners and suppliers with this recognition.

If you go to Pbase and scroll to the bottom you'll see three menus and a receipt from my three trips there.

Yes, the suppliers are mentioned on the menu. I also take notes about what I'm eating, what sensations I get, and I even take photos of the dishes. I'm sure it's a bit weird for other patrons to observe this, but when you pay close to $600 for dinner for two :blink: , you want to remember what you paid for.

Drink!

I refuse to spend my life worrying about what I eat. There is no pleasure worth forgoing just for an extra three years in the geriatric ward. --John Mortimera

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I'm so jealous! I am going to try to get a reservation to eat at the French Laundry in March because they're CLOSED right now! :(

I'm going to Calistoga this weekend for my birthday, I have a gift certificate for the French Laundry and I can't go!!! wahhhhh!

So we'll try to go for my hubby's bday instead...i can't wait!!

Once I go, there will be a full report on FoodPorn.com :biggrin:

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Regarding making FL reservations: You have to call exactly two months to the day of your reservation. So if you want to eat on March 15, you have to call January 15.

The thing I've always wanted to ask when making a reservation, and I always forget, is: What do they do for April 29, April 30, and August 31? There is no February 29 (except in leap years), there is no February 30, and there is no June 31.

Drink!

I refuse to spend my life worrying about what I eat. There is no pleasure worth forgoing just for an extra three years in the geriatric ward. --John Mortimera

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  • 3 weeks later...
so is it hard to get there?  are there airports near by?  ideally, i'd like to fly in, eat, and fly out. 

mike

The airport are you departing from will dictate the type of plane you're flying. Napa and Sonoma have small airports suitable for Cessnas. Otherwise, Oakland or Sacramento for comercial flights. As sam_harmon says, Sacramento is the better of the two traffic-wise.

How do you plan on getting from the airport to the restaurant? Car rental? Cab? Limo? Build in some wait time to your schedule.

If you arrive in Sacramento, you should plan on arriving no later than 3pm if your reservations are at 6pm. Plan on staying at the restaurant until 10-10:30pm. I wouldn't schedule a return flight until after 1am--which might be difficult if it's commercial.

If your reservations are 7pm or later, you should look at spending the night; otherwise, you'll be spending all that time looking at your watch and tapping your foot trying to hurry the dinner along rather than enjoying the experience.

Or, you can try the lunch service on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. You should have no problem with flights then.

Edited by Really Nice! (log)

Drink!

I refuse to spend my life worrying about what I eat. There is no pleasure worth forgoing just for an extra three years in the geriatric ward. --John Mortimera

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