Lush Life

To be a lush chef, does not mean to drink in excess - this can result in scary fires and bad dishes. A lush chef is one who enjoys gourmet cooking/baking, often with fresh ingredients and the smart use of one's home bar. If there happens to be half a bottle of beer, a glass of wine, or a sip of brandy left over...well, one cannot be wasteful. I give you permission to imbibe.

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The Lush Chef
Twitter: @thelushchef Provenance: Santa Monica Dish: Coq au Vin Spirit: Whiskey Wine: Malbec Beer: Hefeweizen Farmer's Market: Santa Monica on Main Street
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Jan 5, 2012

Dining in Heaven at The French Laundry

The French Laundry—it's on every foodie's bucket list.  Tucked away in a quaint two-story building in Yountville, California, that used to house a saloon, brothel and then a French laundry, is Thomas Keller's pantheon to fine American and French dining.  You open that signature blue door and are immediately made to feel welcome.  You'll be spending the next four hours here in culinary bliss.  You won't want to leave, but every great meal must come to an end.  The memories, however, will not.  You'll be recounting each course you had with the friends you shared that dinner with.  You wonder if you'll ever be able to appreciate a good meal again, because somehow, every bite of food you partake may not live up to that dinner.   The next day you come down from your high a little bit and realize that yes, you can eat again, and revel in the simplicity of a great hunk of freshly baked bread or some fragrant roast chicken.  But dinner at The French Laundry will always be tugging at the back of your mind, and you'll share a secret smile with your friends over that next meal, knowing that you've had the joy of experiencing one of the best meals of your life...together.

I had the divine privilege of having a nine-course meal there on December 30, 2011 with five of my friends.  They had spent over an hour calling The French Laundry repeatedly, 2 months beforehand.  One of my friends lost count on her iPhone when the repeat dials numbered over 100, but persistance pays off.  I normally don't unload over $300 on dinner, but I had a rough end of the year and what better way to close 2011 than with a truly memorable dinner?  It was worth every penny.  We all dressed up in our finest and spent four hours tucked away on the top floor in the corner savoring each course.  The service was the best I've ever experienced.  Us ladies were getting a little chilled so they turned down the air conditioning and brought us all black pashmina shawls.

You're presented with two prix-fixe menus at The French Laundry—the Chef's Tasting Menu, which consists of more meat courses, and a Tasting of Vegetables, which isn't completely vegetarian.  Of course, we all went for the more meaty menu.  Also, when the menu lists nine course, it isn't really nine.  There are sorts of little surprises, so pace yourself.  I herewith present you all with a culinary photographic journey of our dinner:

First amuse-bouche: Salmon Cornets

Second amuse-bouche: Gruyère-filled Gougères

First course: "Oysters and Pearls" - "Sabayon" of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar.  They also presented us with fresh-baked mini brioche with unsalted and salted butter.

Second course: We had an option of a beautiful salad or foie gras for an extra $30.  Well, when you're already dropping this amount of money for dinner, you might as well go all out!  Moulard Duck "Foie Gras en Terrine" - Celery Branch, Pecans, Honey-Poached Cranberries and Black Winter Truffles.  They served this with large slices of warm, toasted bread and three types of finishing salts (we all loved the Jurassic salt, which was the most potent and used sparingly).  As we were lapping this course up, they brought out more toast, which we all tried to wave away until they insisted that this dish is best served with hot, toasted bread.  Five-minute cold bread would not suffice.  I entered another level of heaven.

Third Course: Nantucket Bay Scallops - Country Bread Croutons, Cauliflower, Sultana Raisins, Spanish Capers and Brown Butter "Gastrique."  We had a glass of 2006 Karthäuserhof Riesling served with the seafood courses.

One of the great parts about dining with a large group is that you can share dishes.  One of my friends and I selected opposite dishes for certain courses so that we'd be able to try one of every thing.  For the third course she ordered the Sautéed Fillet of Atlantic Striped Bass - Razor Clams, Potato, Pickled Red Onions, Broccoli and Hen Egg "Mousseline."  This was probably the best piece of fish I've ever had in my life.  The top was so perfectly seared and crisped...

Fourth Course: Sweet Butter-Poached Maine Lobster Tail - Arrowleaf Spinach, Parsnip and Saffron-Vanilla Emulsion.

Fifth Course: Devil's Gulch Ranch Rabbit Sirloin - Confit Grapefruit, French Laundry Garden Fennel (yes, they have a garden across the street), Baby Red Beets and Piedmont Hazelnuts.  I had a glass of the 2001 La Rioja Alta, "Viña Ardanza," Rioja, Riserva Especial for the meat courses.  At this point, they also brought out a selection of various freshly baked rolls from Bouchon Bakery.  I had some bites from my friend's fifth course (sorry, no pic because we devoured it) of Salmon Creek Farm Pork Belly - Brussels Sprouts, Salsify, Pomegranate and Butternut Squash "Porridge."

Sixth Course: Elysian Fields Farm Lamb Rib-Eye - Falafel, Jingle Bell Peppers (how Christmas-inspired!), Eggplant, Cilantro Shoots and "Raita."  Now, I'm not much of a lamb fan.  It's something I wouldn't select off a menu, but this ended up being one of my favorite courses of the night.

Seventh Course: "Point Reyes Blue" - Serrano Ham, Belgian Endive, Mâche, Black Truffle and Port Wine Reduction.  This was like the texture of quiche.  After this course, we got a special treat—a private tour of the kitchen!  I had to force back a girly squeal of delight.

We walked downstairs and through the hallway to the kitchen.  It was perfectly neat and strangely quiet.  I'd never experienced such a zen-like atmosphere in a commercial kitchen before.  All the chefs were incredibly focused as they seared, poached and tweezed bits of mâche onto plates.  I was in awe.  And then Chef Keller himself appeared from his little office.  He greeted each of us, shaking our hands, asking our names and if we were enjoying ourselves.  I'm around celebrities all the time and they don't faze me. I was truly geeking out around Chef Keller though.

We headed back upstairs for our Eighth Course: Sour Cherry Sorbet - Coconut "Petit Beurre" and Vanilla "Soda."

Ninth Course: Alpaco "Mousse Au Chocolat" - Spice Pudding, "Panna Cotta" Fuyu Persimmon and Marcona Almond "Glacée.

My friend had the "Pommes Anna" as her last course - Funnel Cake, "Pruneaux d'Agen," Rum "Anglaise" and Salted Caramel Ice Cream.

Dinner wasn't over though.  We were then presented with three different Mignardises.  The first was The French Laundry's twist on Coffee and Donuts.  We had this tiny mug of a coffee-flavored light mousse and we dunked these warm, sugar-covered donut holes in it.

Next, we had these little chocolates in various flavors like Peanut Butter and Jelly (our favorite), Dark and Stormy, Salted Caramel, Pumpkin Pie, Toasted Hazelnut and more.  They also placed little bowls of the best chocolate-covered hazelnuts we've ever tasted.

We're done, right?  Uh, no.  We were finally presented with these little packages of shortbread cookies to take home, and Chef Keller graciously signed a few copies of the menu for us.  The Lush Chef plans on framing hers with the napkin clothespin.  Too bad I couldn't frame all the food!


lynn said...

so epic! definitely on my bucket list!