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La Toque


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Has anyone been? Reviews. Years ago my wife told me he was considered one of  top chefs in LA. Now he's in Napa.

GraceAnn Walden of the SF Chronicle had some VERY good things to say about La Toque on the Ronn Owens Show a couple of weeks back. My wife & I are going on April 20, and I'd be happy to report back.

"A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti."

- Dr. Hannibal Lecter

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Great to hear. I worked at a place many moons ago where he was the chef for a private

room. He seemed like a very sensitive, gentle person. I recall he had a place in LA a while back, alas LA is not ready for great dining in certain ways. The customer base here with money demands novelty and hype more than great food. It seems easier to pander to glamour than substance unfortunately. I am constantly shocked at how many investors/owners don't really care about great food. (I'm recalling the incident with Bastide. I don't want to take anything away from Lefebvre but the owner really has enough money to open another place for his new experimental chef and he have what was touted as LA best French restaurant in tact. I'm also thinking of a few other incidences).

I'm eagerly waiting for your report. Thank you.

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My wife and I ate there at the end of January on a Sunday evening. We ate at French Laundry the night before.

La Toque was a fantastic experince. Ken Frank's preparations were outstanding.

A few dishes stood out.

Chestnut and Chantrelle Bisque with Truffled Creme Fraiche- This was to die for.

Monkfish Scallopine with Brussels Sprouts Petals, Butternut Squash and Brown Butter- The fish melted in your mouth with an explosion of flavor.

Pan-Roasted Hawaiian Onaga with Red Wine Beet Sauce- Perfection or at least close to it..

American Kobe Beef with red onion marmelade and Cabernet Foie Gras Sauce- WOW!!! is all we could say after tasting this dish.

The service was outstanding, the decor is very cozy with the fireplace. (Ask if you can reserve one of the two 2-toppers that are by the fireplace).

When I got home from the weekend, I immediately ordered Ken Frank's La Toque cookbook and wrote him an email thanking him for such a great meal and asking for the recipe for the kobe beef dish. He responded with a very nice note and the recipe. I have since made the dish it turned out just as we remembered it. Very nice guy.

My wife thought La Toque was a much better experience than TFL in terms of service and decor and liked her food much better than TFL. Although I am a huge TFL fan, La Toque beat TFL that weekend.

Have fun!

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When I got home from the weekend, I immediately ordered Ken Frank's La Toque cookbook and wrote him an email thanking him for such a great meal and asking for the recipe for the kobe beef dish. He responded with a very nice note and the recipe. I have since made the dish it turned out just as we remembered it. Very nice guy.

Love it! Soooo talented, incredibly focused on cooking. That's how I remember him. I'll bet he spends alot of hands one time in his restaurant, working on the line, rather than putting his name and reputation on something only to put someone else on the line. And he responded to you email, when at some places you it's hard to even talk to the front desk for a reservation.

May I ask what the bill was? We are planning to go up north soon.

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I could not agree more. My wife have visited our share of Michelin 3 star restaurants in France and La Toque literally "blew us away". In addition to seeing him working away in the kitchen and taking time out to email me, a true and fine character.

I must add that when we were leaving TFL on Saturday evening/Sunday morning, we peaked into the prep kitchen from the outside of the restaurant and Thomas was in there working away very dilgently and focussed at 12:45am. However, trying to email him would be next to impossible. :wink:

Incredible bargain considering the hands on talent behind the dishes.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Ken Frank has carved out an interesting niche for himself in the Napa Valley dining scene. Although we’ve lived in Yountville on a part time basis for over two years, we hadn't gotten a chance to try La Toque until just recently. I had read some very complimentary posts here about it, and heard GraceAnn Walden of the San Francisco Chronicle say it was “better than the French Laundry”, so we were looking forward to trying the restaurant with great anticipation.

Our experience was very pleasant, but I would have to put it into the “good, not great” category. This dining experience was a rarity for us, as the wines actually outshone the food.

Let me begin by saying the room is lovely and intimate, with a large fireplace on one wall, and an ambiance that speaks to casual elegance. This is highlighted by the casual, washed wood open beam ceiling juxtaposed against the formal trappings of a fine, white tablecloth establishment.


We arrived on time for our 5:45 reservation, and were seated promptly in the dining room. La Toque offers one prix fixe option: a five course tasting menu. When we dined, there were two options for courses one, two, three and five, and three options for the fourth course. There is also an optional cheese course offered between the fourth and fifth courses, at a cost of $7 per serving. The tasting menu is $98 per person, and each course and option may be paired with a wine chosen specifically for that dish for $62 per person.

The wine list at La Toque is quite extensive, and features many higher-priced and sought after local wines. Because of the variety of flavors presented in the chef’s menu, we paired wines, as did most everyone else in the dining room.

After ordering our meal and a starting glass of champagne (Roederer Estate Brut, NV, $16 per glass), we were presented with two amuse bouches. The first was a pork rillette

with cornichon.


This was a very tasty single bite, which paired quite nicely with the champagne.

The second amuse bouche was a salt cod and potato fritter with garlic aioli.


I have had another version of this at a South Bay fine dining establishment, and prefer that version, as the cod flavor in this one seemed to overpower anything else the chef was attempting to accomplish with the dish. Again, a single bite.

We both chose the Artichoke, Fennel, Piquillo Pepper and Dungeness Crab Salad with Sauce Verte for our first course.


This was paired with a 2002 Mas de Daumas Gassac Blanc, Vin de Pays de L’Herault from the Languedoc region. This is a blend mostly made from Viognier. The honey, apricot flavors of the wine and the nice spark of acid really made the crab stand out. The dish was tasty, but I felt quite unremarkable. The star of the hour was the wine.

We parted company at the second course, with my wife choosing the Dutch White Asparagus with Hollandaise, paired with a 2003 Lucia Chardonnay from Santa Lucia Highlands,


and me choosing the Northern Halibut with Carrot and Epices Douces. This was paired with a 2001 Scheerer Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, Fort Ross Vineyard.


The sommelier explained that the Lucia had full malolactic which would compliment the richness of the hollandaise, but the sauce on the halibut had vanilla in it, so he chose the Scheerer for its more Burgundian style. Both wines paired fabulously with the food, and we were informed that Jeff Pisoni , Gary Pisoni’s son is the winemaker at Lucia. There must be something in the Pisoni genes, because this wine was fabulous.

The third course was an easy choice, as it was dictated by the wine paired with the dish, and not the dish itself. The Liberty Farm Duck Breast with Braised Endive and Sherry was paired with a 2002 Merry Edwards Meredith Estate Pinot Noir.


We have been Merry Edwards fans for about five years, but had not had an opportunity to sample her Meredith Estate vintage.

This course was the only low point of the evening, as it proved to be quite tough, and we were given knives slightly sharper than butter knives to use. Upon mentioning that the “duck was fighting back”, we were immediately given steak knives, which fared much better. It was interesting looking around the dining room, for everyone that had the duck was having the same problem. The kitchen should have noticed the quality of the meat, as it was presented sliced, and at least made sure that the patrons were presented with the proper utensils.

Aside from the chewiness of the meat, the flavor was very good, and the Pinot Noir was ethereal. Merry certainly deserves her designation as Chronicle Winemaker of the Year.

Our fourth course was the Veal Tenderloin with Blond Morels, Fava Beans and Soft Polenta, paired with a 2002 CJ Napa Valley Cabernet.


This course, along with its pairing, was the high point of the evening. The veal was done medium rare, and quite juicy. The subtleness of the morels and fava beans complimented the delicate flavor of the meat. Expecting a quite tight, tannic wine, we were pleasantly surprised, then totally blown away by the smooth, rich absolutely delicious CJ Cabernet. This wine is made by Philippe and Cherie Melka of St. Helena. We had not heard of them before, but in doing some research, find they are quite well-known in the Valley.

The fifth course was a Bittersweet Chocolate Caramel Tart,


which we paired with an optional glass of Yalumba Museum Muscat from Victoria, Australia. The tart was quite rich, with a hard chocolate shell encasing the creamy caramel inside. It worked quite well with the Muscat.

The bill is presented on a hand-calligraphied check, somewhat reminiscent of the tab offered at the French Laundry.


The total bill, including tax and mandatory 18% gratuity, came to just under $500.

I mentioned earlier that Ken Frank seems to have carved out a niche here in the Valley. I think his food and the restaurant are very approachable, whereas some people visiting might be put off by the reputation and menu at the French Laundry. I would put La Toque on a par with Domaine Chandon or Auberge du Soleil. I really wanted to love it, and it was a very nice fine dining experience. I fail to see, however, how a well known and respected food critic could say it is better than the French Laundry. Granted, it is an easier table to get, and the wine list and wine pairings are truly outstanding and world class. There just didn’t seem to be the “pushing the envelope” I have come to expect when patronizing an establishment such as this, and paying these prices.

We will return as the seasons change to see what other dishes Chef Frank comes up with.

Edited by samgiovese (log)

"A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti."

- Dr. Hannibal Lecter

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Wow. Great review, Sam. I'm still blown away by the amount on the cheque...

And that Cod Fritter -- would it have faired better with with, oh, let's say.... Truffle Honey????? <grin>

Fascinating. Absolutely fascinating.

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In his early career, Frank's trademark dish was his rösti with caviar – is this still on the menu?

Not the night we were there. There were a total of 9 savory and 2 sweet courses offered.

"A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti."

- Dr. Hannibal Lecter

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I haven't been in several years so don't feel qualified to weigh-in on the food but I will never forget when we arrived. There was a very unassuming, gentle-looking soul standing just outside of the front door, talking to a yellow tabby cat. My first thought was "dishwasher getting a breath of fresh air," and he bent down to stroke the cat and talked to it as I approached. I made a comment about it, being a cat person. He stood up, put out his hand and introduced himself about the same time I caught his name on the left breast of his chef's coat.

A couple of years later when he received an award I sent him a congratulatory email and received a prompt, humble thank you for taking the time to write and remembering the meal I had there.

In contrast with the brouhaha going on in Chicago and the chest-beating surrounding it, Chef Frank is a refreshingly real, sensitive, gentle man. I will return.

Judy Jones aka "moosnsqrl"

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.

M.F.K. Fisher

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My wife and I ate there at the end of January on a Sunday evening. We ate at French Laundry the night before...

...My wife thought La Toque was a much better experience than TFL in terms of service and decor and liked her food much better than TFL.  Although I am a huge TFL fan, La Toque beat TFL that weekend.

Back in March 2001 we too had dinner at TFL the night before La Toque. Unfortunately for us La Toque was having an awful evening.

We arrived 10 minutes before our reserved time and waited for an hour in the bar for our table to be readied. During that time we could see the chef through the window to the kitchen rather harshly disciplining the staff. After being seated the waiter approached us, took a deep breath and began his spiel. All evening long we felt uncomfortable, like we were intruding on something. The timing of serving the dishes was off, the waiters appeared to be operating the FOH without purpose or direction, dishes were coming to us without our table being cleared from the previous course, and the food just wasn't that great... It was obvious that the BOH and FOH were both in the weeds.

By the third or fourth course we both felt like we couldn't wait to get out of there, it was that uncomfortable. I looked at my girlfriend, shrugged my shoulders and whispered, "I don't get it." She didn't either but knew I what I meant.

As we were given our fifth course the people at table next to us had finished and left. The next time our waiter came by he apologized for how things were going and said that wine writer Hugh Johnson was sitting at that table next to us (with four other guests). This was his explanation for the way things were going. Service improved a little bit afterwards. The photo shows his table after he left. I think we counted 29 wine glasses, about half of which were cleared by the time I took this photo.


After the dinner my girlfriend and I discussed what happened and came to the conclusion that the restaurant just isn't up to the standard we expected, and if you're a destination restaurant it shouldn't matter who the guest is.

It's possible they can deliver the goods, and based on what has been said here, it looks like they can. But for $450 I'd rather not give them a second chance and risk going there the same night that some other famous person is there. The French Laundry far exceeded La Toque. My 2¢. :smile:


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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  • 2 months later...

Okay, it’s time to eat some crow (well, not literally).

After my post, Ken Frank, the chef at La Toque, contacted me about our experience. We exchanged a few e-mails and he suggested that if I’m ever in the neighborhood to try them again. Everyone can have an off night. So after my girlfriend and I made plans to tour Napa at the end of June I sent him an e-mail and he arranged for us to have dinner at La Toque on June 29 at 6 P.M.

That day we walked in and Julia (FOH manager) was there to greet us. I introduced myself and she kindly smiled and said, “Oh yes, we’ve been expecting you.” It was at this point that I had an image of being slapped across the side of my face with a slab of meat, :smile: but she and everyone else throughout the evening was very gracious.

We were one of the first seatings that evening and as we walked into the dining room she asked us if we wanted our usual table. I said sure, and sure enough, she walked us right to the same table we had back on March 30, 2001. To me it's a great forecast when a restaurant not only maintains a database, but also knows how to use it to interact with their guests.

Here is the six-course menu from our evening:


Here are three shots of the dining room. It’s really quite beautiful.




We each had a glass of Louis Roederer N.V. champagne and were presented with our first amuse: Pickled Japanese vegetables


It was a nice opener to the evening. It had the tang of a rice wine vinaigrette and the earthiness of black sesame seeds. It was at this point that I realized a major faux pas in my preparation for the evening; I forgot to bring a pen and paper to jot down our notes. I was wearing a new suit and I usually just keep a pen and notepad in it so I don’t have to remember to bring them. Arg!

The second amuse was a Pea purée, fiddlehead fern, and white asparagus. I’m finding lately that I really like puréed peas. The creamy texture and the seamingly concentrated flavor that appears can transcend a dish. There's so much you can sneak into it to elevate the palate. The seasoning for this dish was right on the mark.


Then came the first course, Seared Artisan Foie Gras and Broiled Black Mission Figs with Toasted Brioche and Sweet Corn and Maine Lobster “Chowda”. Both of these dishes were fantastic. The foie just melted away in my mouth and the lobster had that slow-cooked texture that is so smooth. And the corn in this dish was very sweet and tender.


The foie was served with a glass of 1999 Chateau Rieussec Sauternes. As always it was a great match.

The lobster, with chanterelle mushrooms, was served with 2002 Saddleback Cellars Pinot Blanc, Oakville.

The second course was Local Sand Dab with Pine Nuts, Sultanas, Sunchokes, and Brown Butter and Soft Shell Crab Sautéed with Roasted Red Pepper and Garlic. As the photos show, we started into this without taking the photos first. You know you’re enjoying dinner when the taste buds come before photos. I’m not much of a fish person, but I dug into this and before I knew it there was nothing but the bones left on the plate. The soft shell crab had a light, delicate crunch on the shell and an intense taste.


The sand dab was served with a 2001 Long Chardonnay Estate, Napa Valley.

The crab was served with 2002 Chablis, Grand Regnard Burgundy, France

Next came Ravioli with Braised Berkshire Pork Shanks, Fava Beans, and Truffled Pig Jus and Liberty Farms Duck Breast with Cherries Stewed in Red Wine. I had the ravioli that was filled with tender braised shanks. I love the meaty creamy texture of fava beans and their nutty flavor held up well in this dish. The pig jus was earthy, and wasn’t covered up by the truffle aromatics. It’s an interesting concept, which got me to thinking. Why isn’t pig stock more popular? Anyway, this was a great combination of ingredients.

The duck was a perfect match for the wine. I’m not sure what wine was used in the dish, but it matched the Miner’s Family Pinot Noir in a way so seldom seen. Each bite of the dish elevated the wine, and each sip of wine elevated the dish. It was like your taste buds were walking up an endless ladder with each sip or bite taking you up to the next step. I think this is only the third time in my life I’ve experienced this kind of matching. Incredible.


The ravioli was served with 2002 Peay Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast.

The duck breast was served with 2003 Miner Family Pinot Noir Rosella's Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands. We were so taken with this wine that the next day when we were at Dean and Deluca on CA 29 in St. Helena we searched and found it.($52) Only 500 cases were produced, and it’s aged 15 months in 75 percent new French oak. http://www.minerwines.com

When we mentioned to the sommelier how impressed we were with the wine he returned a few minutes later with a map of Napa valley with some 75 wineries, their location, and phone number. The other side had a similar map but listed wine shops, lodging, and other restaurants.

For the entrée we chose Veal Tenderloin with Morel Spinach Flan and Fresh Alaskan Morels and Bacon Studded Monkfish with Pearl Onions and Red Wine. As much as I love monkfish, I love morels more. The tenderloin was tender and meaty, and the flan added a nice texture foil to the veal and the other morels in the dish. Contrasting textures with complementing flavors.

The monkfish and bacon was a great combination. The bacon was larded into the monkfish. The bacon was a thick cut and had a nice aromatic not-in-your-face smokiness to it. I’m guessing that it was made on premises.


The veal was served with 2001 Paradigm Merlot Estate, Oakville. Another good pairing.

The monkfish was served with 2002 Showket Sangiovese, Oakville. It had notes of strawberry, cranberry and lavender. It’s heavier than the Italian equivalents that I’ve had; it’s a hearty wine that didn’t take a back seat to the richness in the dish. It is blended with 3 percent Cabernet Franc and 1 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. This was another one we made a mental note to remember and also found it at Dean and Deluca. ($34) http://www.showketvineyards.com

Chef Frank came to our to table and asked how everything was going. All I could say was it was fantastic! We had a short conversation about the restaurant and the food he was presenting tonight. The menu changes weekly and this was the first night for this menu. My impression is also that he is a real, sensitive, and gentle man. He then asked us what cheeses we would like for our next course and said bleu and goat. I should have asked for small portions. :smile:


The cheese course was a combination of two bleu cheeses, two goat cheeses, almonds, caramel, figs, and baby nectarines. The saltiness of the cheeses punctuated the end of the savory dishes and the sweetness of the fruit and sauce got us ready for dessert.

For dessert Kriste started with a cappuccino.


She had a Peach Galette with Marionberries and “Noyau” Ice Cream. Unfortunately a photo is not available as it was gone before I realized it. I guess it was good. :biggrin:

I had a Chocolate Hazelnut “Mille Feuille”. This was decadent. Delicate chocolate leaf sheets sandwiched by chocolate hazelnut Bavarian cream à la Napoleon. It was paired with a Yalumba Museum Muscat Victoria, Australia. I don’t know what it is about Australian Muscats and chocolate, but to me there is no better combination for dessert.


The service through out the evening was top notch and as professional as any I’ve experienced. The sommelier knew his wines. Everyone was gracious and probably well aware of my previous post; yet in my observation we were treated no differently from the other guests with the exception of Chef Frank coming to our table (and he stopped at other tables on his way back into the kitchen). The restaurant was on the mark as other posters have noted here. I want to thank Chef Frank and his staff for a wonderful experience and we will definitely return in the future.


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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wow!! sounds like you had a wonderful experience!! thank you for sharing!

if you ever want a tour of Miner, shoot me a pm... great folks up there & of course, great vino ;)

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How big was that spoon? And how do you eat it?

It's a traditional Chinese soup spoon. It holds about one tablespoon. Just pick it up and insert into mouth. :laugh:


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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  • 2 weeks later...

My husband and I were there for Valentine's Day last year. The food was wonderful! It's a little pricey, $90 per person, but worth it. Other than the 5 courses we had, there was also an amuse bouche and a cookie platter that arrived after dessert.

Wine is the most expensive there. Most bottles are in the hundred range with quite a few in the thousand range and even some in the ten-thousand range. We were big on drinking that night so we just got 2 glasses, which came to almost $100. I was wondering why so many people brought their own wine and pay cockage. I understood when I saw the bill....

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