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Barbara Moss

The French Laundry 2006 -

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I've got a buddy at school that's going to be serving his internship there. He had his choice between there and Charlie Trotters, but because his wife is going to be having their second child around that time - he wanted to be closer to home so he took TFL internship instead.

I for one am jealous, though I'm doing mine at a great place here in Portland. Carlyle's, Chef Jake Martin is one talented Chef for sure.

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What's the conventional wisdom these days on scoring lunch reservations? I was lucky enough to grab one on OpenTable for 2, but the way things are working out, it might be easier for us to go later in the summer (we'll be in the area for a couple of months) instead of when the reservation is for. But if I cancel this res and then never get another one, I will be pretty cheesed off.

There are 14 tables and they don't turn at lunch, correct? One seating for each table?


Cooking and writing and writing about cooking at the SIMMER blog

Pop culture commentary at Intrepid Media

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Thanks for the quick response. I called them yesterday when the phone line opened and didn't get through for the first hour and a half, then found out July and August lunches are definitely fully booked at this point, so we're sticking with what we've got.

Very, very excited!


Cooking and writing and writing about cooking at the SIMMER blog

Pop culture commentary at Intrepid Media

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Hey guys,

I was recently in Per Se where I had a dinner roll that I just cannot get off my mind

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Does anyone know if this is in the french laundry cookbook, or if theres an online source where i can get a recipe?

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Hey guys,

I was recently in Per Se where I had a dinner roll that I just cannot get off my mind

Does anyone know if this is in the french laundry cookbook, or if theres an online source where i can get a recipe?

They call it a "parkerhouse" roll, which I'm sure there are plenty of recipes for on the internet. Just look for the recipe with the most butter I'm guessing :-).

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Two Meals – Chez Panisse and The French Laundry – Berkeley and Yountville, California

Although New York often thinks of herself as the origin of all things, such hubris ignores the reality that Gotham’s skill is as arbiter: to pick and choose among the worthy green shoots and then convince herself that they were to be found in New York all along. All the arts know this trick: Manhattan always trumps regional genius in its own imagination.

Nowhere is this more true than in gastroland: Nuevo-Caribbean cuisine from mango Miami, molecular cuisine from Barcelona and Chicago, New Orleans haute-cajun, and the list continues. But perhaps when the final history of cuisine is Kindled no patch of land will deserve more credit for culinary innovations than the Bay Area, the engine of American gastronomic theory and practice.

In a recent trip to San Francisco, I dined at two canonical restaurants: Chez Panisse (for the third time) and the French Laundry (as a FL virgin, but having eaten at Per Se three times). I also had a fine meal at Restaurant Gary Danko, but as Danko is “only” a fine rendition of well-established national trends in modern American cuisine I won’t discuss Chef D’s efforts.

Diners have their own emotional equations. A lover of the Chez Panisse might sniff at the French Laundry and the reverse. I lay my cards on the table. I have long respected Chez Panisse but never loved her (not in 1985, not in 1995, and not in 2009). Yes, I celebrate CP’s importance in birthing restaurants that I love. I recognize CP’s importance as a social movement in changing (for the better, mostly) how Americans think about food production and dining including by White House compost pile, but I have never had a “wow” moment. Leaving CP I have felt, “Gosh, this is flawless; where can I find a really good taco”? In contrast, Per Se and, now, French Laundry are me. I am in love. And if only they would use fewer quotation marks on their menu, saving gallons of imported ink, I would lack quibbles.

Despite the fact that Chez Panisse famously developed from the hippy-dippy movements of the 1960s, Panisse seems less Aquarian than Calvinist. Stripped down, lean, and clean; like dining in a Presbyterian chapel. Throwing out the capital-G gourmet frou-frou is valid to a point: it is about the food. But it is also about the show, about the excess, about the awakenings, about the ability to astonish. In Keller’s haute-farmhouse there is magic afoot.

Chez Panisse changes the menu each night. This is an impressive feat. Applause. But since diners do not eat there every night, they take their chances. Some dishes click loudly; others more softly; and few are discordant. These constantly shifting, micro-seasonal menus mean that chefs cannot perfect dishes over time, and they cannot routinely present their brilliancies. Even a chef like Alice Waters and her cooks aren’t geniuses every evening. Even Einstein needs a break. As a result provenance and produce replace art. So it was on the evening of August 11, 2009. A review from August 12th, much less December 12th could be quite different. Dinners differ by day of the week, just like New York Times crosswords – Monday is simple, Friday and Saturday more extensive. CP can duck criticism because the failed dish may never be seen again. (Playwright Suzi-Lori Parks attempted to write and then have theaters produce a play for each day of the year. Not surprisingly some were clunkers for which audiences laid down their cash).

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On Tuesday August 11th, we began with a chilled tomato and cucumber soup with avocado. It was an August 11th soup. Not exactly gazpacho in that the ingredients were present for our gaze: showing off a garden-fresh ideology. This was as delightful as any a cold vegetable soup that I have tasted. It was plated to remind the diner of just how fortunate they were to be served this kind of produce. Fundamentally it was not so very different from a soup that I might have made if I had such a network of gifted farmers.

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The second course was a local petrale sole à la ciboulette (chives). What simple perfection! Sauteed, lightly battered, a mild lemon sauce, sprinked with chives. What is not to like? This is the kind of dish that is Chez Panisse to the core. How hard can it be to cook sole – but flawless? Despite (or because of?) its Puritanism, its lack of show, it was the high point of the night.

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The next dish, however, revealed CP’s limits. I admit that the main courses on Monday, Thursday, and Friday sounded enticing, but this was Tuesday: Spit-roasted Becker Lane Ranch pork loin with fresh summer shell beans and chanterelle mushrooms. I have never had a poorly made dish on Shattuck Avenue and this was no exception. However, despite the quality of the pork and beans (not deconstructed, but simply shared), it had no depth of flavor (although the onion rings certainly were applause-worthy). It lacked savory memory.

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Dessert was Middleton Gardens raspberry ice cream crêpes. They were as advertised if you treat the excellent peaches and blackberries as lagniappe. At Chez Panisse, the ingredients are generous. Think of a raspberry crepe, and then think of a raspberry crepe with perfect fruit. That is Chez Panisse.

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The idea of Chez Panisse is transformative, but unlike the greatest meals in my life, the food isn’t. Still, we must consider price. Turning to The French Laundry and its fireworks means traversing from a $75 prix fixe without service to one set at $240 (service included). For two icons in these days of economic meltdown, that is not a difference to be ignored. Berkeley profs can afford Chez P.

But forget cost if you can. Eat until the trust fund is no more. While Chez Panisse advertises the idea of local dining, on the following night (August 12th for the record) I tried to discern differences between French Laundry’s menu and that of Per Se. Different spaces but similar vision. While the ingredients – particularly the produce – are likely to be differently sourced and each restaurant has its own chef de cuisine (Timothy Hollingsworth at FL and Jonathan Benno at PS, although the restaurants are in continual video communication), similarities outweigh differences, beginning with Keller’s signature “Oysters and Pearls” – a “Sabayon” of pearl tapioca with Island Creek oysters and white sturgeon caviar. The dish is as definitive as ever: the great post-modern classic. (Amuses were an ethereal Gruyere gougere and a cornet of Scotch salmon, spring onion crème fraiche and a nicely spicy black pepper tuile.)

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The menu at French Laundry is largely fixed, although diners choose between the Chef’s Tasting Menu and the Tasting of Vegetables (neither vegetarian nor kosher, as FL announces Lobster Bouillon and Ibérico Ham on this menu). Within the nine-course menu, diners can choose from a pair of selections for four courses (and can choose the occasion course from the other menu).

The first post-O&P course was an astonishing salad of compressed melon (a dish selected from the vegetable tasting menu) with Niçoise olives, charred scallions, arugula and verbena “aigre-doux” (sour/sweet). Of all of the skills of Keller’s minions, the composition of the dishes is unique. It is not that Keller produces the most beautiful plates or the most architectural, but his are the plates in which the placement of ingredients reveals exquisite sensitivity towards the inventive power of shape.

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My companion selected a degustation of French Laundry garden potatoes with Australian black truffles, picked pearl onions, celery branch, nasturtium and crème fraiche. While the presentation was deliberately minimalist, one could not fault the Panisse-like quality of ingredients while also recognizing a distinct combination of tastes.

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The first fish course was a flavor-confection centered around Chesapeake Bay soft-shell crabs with marinated eggplant, pleasantly bitterly pungent red radishes, navel orange pips, mizuna, and miso vinaigrette. I was entranced by this careful composition. This was another favorite dish in a list of favorites. There is a sculptural intensity that characterizes Chef Keller’s presentations, but also an intensity of flavor: a wisdom that recognized that crab, radish, oranges, and eggplant might make for a perfect Wednesday evening.

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The other fish dish, sautéed fillet of Columbia River sturgeon with “pain de Campagne,” toybox tomatoes, little gem lettuces, Spanish capers, and “bottarga di muggine,” reveled a fillet a little more cooked than perhaps it ought and with a somewhat minimalist background. I found this the least compelling plate of the night. It didn’t sing or zing.

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Maine lobster tail “pochée au beurre doux” with mission figs, Cipollini onions, scallions, and chocolate-coffee sauce was heroic with the unlikely but stirring partnership of buttery lobster and choco-coffee. Consuming this shellfish reminded me of watching Hamlet performed in rap: we know the traditional text and can enjoy how modernity plays tribute to tradition.

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We had two choices for the first meat course: Salmon Creek Farms Pork Belly with Savoy spinach, chick (or chic!) peas, spicy paprika, and Meyer lemon condiment worked hard to please. My photo does not do the dish justice, but this was the night’s least photogenic plate. Still, the richly tart lemon made for a very nice counterpoint to the fatty, deep pork. A very satisfying dish, even if short of astonishing.

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The second option was preferable: a gemlike combination of “épaule (shoulder) de lapin farcie aux ris de veau with Jacobsen’s Farm Pears, hazelnuts, watercress and summer truffles. A brief editorial: Why provenance the pears? Does knowing that they were reared by some farmer in the dell’s orchard improve my pleasure? True, all pears, even American ones, are not created equal, but wouldn’t the variety of pear be more important than their human parent. End of rant. And back to this treasured dish with its wonderful August truffle and oh-so-sweetbreads. With its novel utensil this was the dish most reminiscent of Alinea, but wherever FL’s inspiration, it was inspired.

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The menu’s centerpiece was Snake River Farms “Calotte de Boeuf (an often ignored cut of beef surrounding the ribeye) Grillée” with globe artichokes, Nantes carrots, garlic “croquante,” parsley shoots and sauce barigoule, a sauce traditionally napping artichokes, a nod to classical cuisine. This was not an exotic adventure, but a dish with enormous integrity. Not as simple in presentation as dishes at Chez Panisse, it evinced equal respect for produce. Minimalist, each bit was revealing. Of all the courses in this evening of pleasures the honest grilled beef demonstrated the long and warm shadow of Alice Waters. Without her brave fight, the French Laundry could never be.

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Our cheese course was “Tomme du Berger” (a soft, nutty, “fragrant” cheese) with hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, sweet peppers, haricots verts, and arugula. It was an ideal follow-up to the beef. This was another quiet, intense course that bowed to the integrity of the ingredients. One does not need a plate of cheeses to conclude: cheese matters.

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Honeydew melon sorbet with compressed red and yellow sorbet and basil “nuage” (a “cloud” or light foam) reprised the early melon dish. It was a very pleasant palate cleanser.

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For dessert my companion ordered the “Ballon de Chocolate Fumé” with smoked black tea, vanilla ice cream and tonka bean caramel. He was presented with a chocolatty bocce ball. My small taste suggested a Cadillac of sundaes.

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I decided upon lemon verbena “vacherin” (a meringue base) with Tellicherry pepper panna cotta, lemon verbena sherbet, and chilled Silverado Trail strawberry consommé. This composition was another favorite with clever shapes, vivid colors, surprising textures, and sensuous tastes. This sweet revealed a complexity that announced that whatever the debt of Chef Keller to Chef Waters, his cuisine is more challenging and remarkable in its visionary potential. Keller’s vacherin was a splendid closing to edge me into the cool, still, verdant, small-town Yountville night.

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Service at both restaurants was warm in a way that only Californians have perfected.

Eating at Chez Panisse and French Laundry back-to-back is a one-two punch that might only be matched by consecutive meals at L’Arpege and El Bulli – but these Californians sit just across the bay. Cali rulz.

Chez Panisse

1517 Shattuck Avenue

Berkeley, CA

510-548-5525

http://www.chezpanisse.com

The French Laundry

6640 Washington Street

Yountville, CA

707-944-2380

http://www.frenchlaundry.com

Vealcheeks

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I'm trying desperately to get a reservation, but so far no luck.

We're travelling to the US in late November/early December, and there is only a window of around 5 days or so in which we could make it to Yountville. I've had no success trying to secure a reservation for the first four of those days, so fingers crossed that the fifth day (Wednesday the 2nd of December) works out for us. A big problem is that 10am Californian time is the middle of the night Western Australian time, but tonight I'll stay up to call them.

Fingers crossed!

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So my girlfriend Sarah and I spent five days calling the reservation line before we finally got through and booked a table for two. Two weeks ago we flew out to San Francisco for some vacation, culminating with a night at The French Laundry.

Thank you so much for your great account of your meal. In November I'll be dining at the French Laundry for the first time, and I'm so excited.

One thing I'm a bit worried about is the wine. I don't know how to say "please choose wines for me but I am not a wealthy man so please tone things down a bit".

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I just realised that the previous post in this thread was by me, anxious about getting a reservation.

After several nights of trying (10AM US Pacific time is 1AM where I live), I finally got a table for two for dinner in late November.

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2) I notice the price is supposed to include service charge. Do we still leave a tip? If so, would it be the standard 20%?

Can anyone confirm that it will be OK to not tip above the included service charge?

Tipping in America scares the hell out of me, it's not a custom I'm familiar with at all. My inaugural trip to the States last year was filled with anxiety about who to tip, when and how much. Restaurants were fairly easy (20% of the pre-tax total) but apart from that it felt like a minefield.

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I know my husband left a tip on top of the service charge, we were thrilled with the service and wanted to do so.

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I know my husband left a tip on top of the service charge, we were thrilled with the service and wanted to do so.

We tipped at Per Se. Not a huge amount, but we wanted to show some appreciation for the incredible service. To be honest, I'm not sure there's any amount that would reflect how good it was.

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... One thing I'm a bit worried about is the wine. I don't know how to say "please choose wines for me but I am not a wealthy man so please tone things down a bit".

Nothing to worry about: That situation is routine at restaurants with good wine departments, and if the personnel are good, they will accommodate not only your specified budget, but your tastes too. At a restaurant with first-rate sommeliers, a customer who likes wine but knows little about the different labels (or the labels on that restaurant's list) can describe their tastes and price range, and the somm's will satisfy both. This is precisely what they train for, and it's a point of professional pride to satisfy such requests. FL's wine dept. is known for such service, as mentioned elsewhere including Earlier Here, and I've witnessed it there (disclaimer: I haven't been there in a few years).

To complicate :wink: your tipping concern, an old and still gracious US custom at restaurants with unusual wine service is to add something extra, maybe a few percent but whatever is comfortable, for the wine dept., and it doesn't hurt to mention this when settling the bill, so the dept. gets the feedback (and the gratuity, though they'll likely get something anyway). Actually, US tipping practice is essentially like European customs except that in Europe, a basic service charge is added to the bill by the restaurant, and the customer may add more at their discretion. In the US it's usually left to you to add all of it. (Though some restaurants now add it automatically, expecially for large parties -- in which case they'll make that clear). Keep in mind that this is the main source of pay for the servers.

Classic basic US tipping addition is 15% added to the bill, more or less according to your satisfaction level. In very fine restaurants it's informally customary to leave a bit more such as 18-20, or even more, if the experience was excellent. (Then again, in Some Big Cities everyone expects to be showered with money, and some servers may sneer at even 20%. I remember nearly 30 years ago on business in midtown Manhattan at a big hotel, if someone ordered a hamburger for room delivery, it started out expensive, say $10 -- thirty years ago! -- then a couple of those numerous NYC hotel taxes were added, and a "delivery charge" -- which, you were carefully informed, did not include a tip for the delivery person; thus occurred the $25 hamburger. But Yountville (nor most of California) is nothing like that. Nor (in case anyone hasn't mentioned this) is it pronounced "YOWNT-vill" -- it's "YONT-vill," after the founding Yount family, who are still around (I know one of them); though there's a school of thought that this should remain unemphasized, to facilitate spotting out-of-towners. As in Oregon when visitors pronounce it like Polygon, or NYC when they say "Avenue of the Americas" because it's on the street signs -- etc.

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2) I notice the price is supposed to include service charge. Do we still leave a tip? If so, would it be the standard 20%?

Can anyone confirm that it will be OK to not tip above the included service charge?

If we left a tip beyond the 20% service charge it was not large. To me, the point of the service charge is to remove the guessing. I would certainly not tip 20% on top of their included 20%, though of course that choice is up to you.

As for wine, give the somm guidelines -- do you want two bottles over the course of the meal? two half-bottles? just champagne? -- and they will do right by you. They have a lot of half-bottles on the list if I remember right.

With our first few courses we had the Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel, which I highly, highly recommend -- it was amazing with the food. I don't remember the cost specifically but we spent about $200 on wine total for two glasses (champagne) and two half-bottles (the Tablas Creek, which is white, and a red I can't recall).

If you are in Yountville more than one night I also think Ad Hoc is the bee's knees. Not open on Tuesday or Wednesday but every other night they serve four courses for $50. Also a Keller restaurant, much more casual, nowhere else like it.


Cooking and writing and writing about cooking at the SIMMER blog

Pop culture commentary at Intrepid Media

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Thanks for all your help!

Yes, we're in Yountville for two nights. I think we will try to get to Ad Hoc on our second night.

Should be a good trip, we're going to The Bazaar by Jose Andres in LA, Chez Panisse, TFL and possibly Ad Hoc plus a bunch of places in SF (Nopa, Flour + Water, etc). I'd like to go to Manresa but I can't afford another expensive degustation on top of TFL and The Bazaar.

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Thanks for all your help!

Yes, we're in Yountville for two nights. I think we will try to get to Ad Hoc on our second night.

Should be a good trip, we're going to The Bazaar by Jose Andres in LA, Chez Panisse, TFL and possibly Ad Hoc plus a bunch of places in SF (Nopa, Flour + Water, etc). I'd like to go to Manresa but I can't afford another expensive degustation on top of TFL and The Bazaar.

You won't be disappointed if you hit Ubuntu in Napa. It is on my Top Five in the country (moreso than TFL and Manresa right now). Tell us where you are planning to eat in SF?

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You won't be disappointed if you hit Ubuntu in Napa. It is on my Top Five in the country (moreso than TFL and Manresa right now). Tell us where you are planning to eat in SF?

Unfortunately I won't be able to afford Ubuntu, or Manresa most likely.

I want to eat at Nopa and Flour+Water in SF, but beyond that I will struggle to afford anywhere that isn't at the very cheap end of the spectrum.

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You won't be disappointed if you hit Ubuntu in Napa. It is on my Top Five in the country (moreso than TFL and Manresa right now). Tell us where you are planning to eat in SF?

Unfortunately I won't be able to afford Ubuntu, or Manresa most likely.

I want to eat at Nopa and Flour+Water in SF, but beyond that I will struggle to afford anywhere that isn't at the very cheap end of the spectrum.

Go to Ubuntu for lunch. I'd go there over Ad Hoc...

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So, my friend wanted to arrange a dinner for his wife at the French Laundry, but they could only snag a table for three and they were kind enough to ask me to come along. Lucky!

To get it out of the way - let's just acknowledge that the price of dinner is very steep. The tastings are set at $240 (which includes tax and tips) - but with supplements and wine - you can easily double that. For that kind of money - you get Thomas Keller's absolute vision of perfection. And it was perfect - not a single misstep in food or service all evening. The service is remarkable - they can adjust very quickly to what kind of table you are. We were excited about the food and wanted to really enjoy ourselves - and I think we were a good table to serve. There was no up selling pressure at all. No flights of wine to kill your budget - the sommollier was approable and friendly - but obviously extremely knowledgable.

My meal consisted of:

- Salmon Cornets

- Oysters and Pearls

- Foie Terrine

- Stripped bass en persillade

- Sea Scallop Poelee

- Cuisse de Poularde avec Mousse de Kanzuri

- Grilled Sirloin of Shiga Kuroge Beef

- Tete de Moine cheese with hen of the woods mushrooms

- Barlett pear sorbet

- 'Coffee and donuts'

- Opera Cake

Flickr pictures here: FL Dinner Pictures

Plus we took home FL shortbread and chocolates - which were insanely good.

What can I say - the food was sublime. Everything worked together - and there was nothing superflous. As a Chinese food person - I am used to food that is cooked together to bring out and meld flavours. Here - the food is cooked and composed separately - yet coalesce together into a greater whole. Though the cooking is at the opposite end of Chez Pannise in terms of technique - the same respect for quality ingredients and integrity of flavours was paramount. Foams and gels were incorporated in subtle and smart ways. Every single component of the each dish was perfect and worked with every other component on the dish. And yet - there was no wacky fireworks or ego on the plate - it was all about the food and simple pleasure.

The first thing that arrives to the table is the famous Salmon cone. How good could it be, right? Fucking awesome - the cone was incredibly buttery with black sesame seeds to give the whole thing bass notes. The horseradish cream was light and luxurious with just the right sharp hit of horse radish - and the salmon tartar tasted like it was chopped last minute - fresh and still 'whole'. I thought, if this was the opening salvo - then the rest of the evening was going to be spectacular. And it was.

I started the evening thinking that this would be a once in a lifetime meal - enjoy the experience and move on. But this is one of those rare places that, despite the prices, I could imagine going to again and again. I think my kidney could fetch a decent dollar on the black market - very much unstressed by alcohol, and as a bonus, cradled in enough fat that you could make delicous french fries with them.


Edited by canucklehead (log)

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I think my kidney could fetch a decent dollar on the black market - very much unstressed by alcohol, and as a bonus, cradled in enough fat that you could make delicous french fries with them.

:laugh:


Edited by Kouign Aman (log)

"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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I enjoyed a fabulous meal at the FL this past week. I hate to be picky and know that when expectations are set so high, they are almost impossible to meet. My only quibbles actually have nothing to do with the food which was amazing as expected. The hostess did not offer to take my coat when we entered the restaurant or before we were led upstairs to our table. Only when I took it off and essentially handed it to her did she take it. We also did not receive menus to take home with us. Is this something that perhaps only Per Se does? I was sort of expecting one as I also wanted the list of wine pairings but then forgot as we were leaving and only remembered when we were already a few miles away.

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I hope this is not an overly newbie or outright rude question, but how does one get VIP treatment? (Party of two)

I'll admit to snatching on a little sentence in the NYTimes (http://newyork.grubstreet.com/2009/07/toughest_reservations.html) about how industry "insiders" have pull, including writers.

Does my position as a 5 year 'veteran' restaurant critic for the largest print publication in a metro area of 1 million give me any clout or just some muffled giggles and a few rolled eyes, to boot? :sad:

Just want to know my realistic chances... thanks!

That all being said, I am really, really excited for my meal this Friday!


"You can't taste the beauty and energy of the Earth in a Twinkie." - Astrid Alauda

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Food Lovers' Guide to Santa Fe, Albuquerque & Taos: OMG I wrote a book. Woo!

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