It’s hard to give justice when describing a meal at The French Laundry. I have waited to eat at this restaurant for at least six years, and I know for many people that is not a long time but it seemed like an eternity for me. So when my friend Leigha called me while I was in New York and told me she had somehow managed to snag a reservation there, I immediately booked my flight for Napa Valley.
As many of you know, The French Laundry is unquestionably one of the best restaurants in the U.S. and some would argue in the world. This is a dining experience of a lifetime and I can see why they have sustained their reputation that they have today.
Even though I had food poisoning, I was determined to go and with the help of my friend Jackie Blanchard (previous cook at The French Laundry, now Sous Chef of Restaurant August in New Orleans) we were wined and dined like rockstars.
I bought The French Laundry cookbook about four years ago and have read it cover to cover, as most young aspiring chefs have. So when they presented us with canapés and dishes from the cookbook, it was like seeing a celebrity. It was honestly one of the most surreal experiences in my culinary life.
To start, we began with cornettos filled with salmon tartare. The cornetto was crisp and much more delicate than expected. Served with crème fraiche and the slight bite of chives.
Butternut squash porridge with black truffles. It was rich, indulgent, and a good reminder of why so many people love The Laundry. The free-flowing use of truffles.
The next dish was probably the most memorable and surreal dish they served, it made me giddy like a child on Christmas Eve. I have read and studied this dish more than one hundred times. And now it was sitting in front of me glistening in the soft light. Two precious oysters and a shimmering quenelle of caviar. This dish is the definition of extravagance.
Following the indulgence was a nice refreshing change. Korean clam served raw with permission and compressed cucumber and radish.
Refreshing followed by decadence. Egg custard with black truffle ragout and potato chive chip. Another signature dish and every bit as good as it sounds. Leigha’s custard was smooth and creamy, mine fell short however and was slightly overcooked. The truffle ragout was savory and rich and the chip is simply beautiful.
Then came the offal! Calves brain with mustard aioli and frisée. I love brain. I know most people are repulsed by it but there is something delicious about the gelatinous consistency that just melts in your mouth.
Hearts of palm with cashews. This was my least favorite course. I do think it’s a rarity to enjoy fresh hearts of palm because most people don’t get the opportunity to enjoy it. However, I didn’t think there was much depth to the dish.
The exploitation of truffles. This was one of the best things I have ever eaten. Period. Fresh tagliatelle with white truffle foam and shaved black truffles tableside. How can you not love when someone shaves fresh black truffles over your pasta?
After my heart had melted from the over indulgence of truffle, we were presented with a filet of turbot and were informed that the chef would be carving it inside the kitchen. It was accompanied by a rich Bordelaise sauce and crispy skin. I wish they would have served a larger piece of the crunchy skin.
Boudin Blanc. However this boudin blanc was made with scallops. Served with beets, crispy potatoes and onion.
The foie gras course was the most anticipated course of the evening. It was presented with six different kinds of salt ranging from the classic fleur de sel to red Hawaiian sea salt. The foie gras was garnished with orange, poached cranberries, and chestnut purée. As I’ve stated before, I love a good homemade brioche. This brioche was utterly irresistible. It melted in your mouth and was delicate and light. I could have eaten 5 more pieces.
The only meat we were served was veal tenderloin garnished with a curry flavored sauce and cauliflower. It was definitely delicious but I wish we had been served more than one meat course (coming from the girl that had food poisoning throughout the entire meal).
Pictures of my half-eaten cheese course that consisted of Stilton, candied walnuts, and blood sorrel. Though it’s hard to mess up Stilton cheese I found this course to be the least inspiring or innovative. I am a firm believer in the classic but this one felt slightly less contemporary.
Our dessert amuse was their version of a “dark and stormy.” Though I found it to be refreshing, Leigha was not a fan.
Did I mention we had the wine pairing (hence the progression of blurry photography)? Our chocolate course had some chiles and limes. Forgettable or maybe it was the booze?
Lastly we were served a Bakewell tart adorned with pomegranates and a quenelle of crème fraiche. The pomegranates gave a nice crunch and acidity to the rich tart.
I would say the pastry side of the meal was the weakest aspect. Even though, I have many criticisms it was still one of the best meals of my life. I believe if you are a chef (and in my case an aspiring chef) you always have to think about what you would do differently. You have to ask yourself, “How could I make this better? What didn’t I like about this dish? What did I like? Why?” I am never trying to be harsh when I review restaurants but I try to have a critical eye. It’s important to constantly be questioning what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. This can be said not only in the culinary world but in other professions as well. You should always be striving to make it better, to improve and grow. I believe that’s why The French Laundry is so successful. They’re always looking for new ways to improve and learn.
I can’t wait to go back to The French Laundry. And next time I won’t have a bottle of Pepto Bismal in my tote.