When experience far exceeds high expectations – TFL

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“When you acknowledge, as you must, that there is no such thing as perfect food, only the idea of it, then the real purpose of striving toward perfection becomes clear: to make people happy, that is what cooking is all about.” – Thomas Keller

The famous blue door that takes you in to one of the most magical places on earth.

I learned a lot with all of my advance reading that helped put me at ease in what could have been an intimidating experience.  First off, the staff are there to serve you, and it’s their job to adjust their service style to match the mood of the table.  That was a big lesson for me, because sitting in the chi chi dining room, my gut reaction was to feel, “what am I doing here?  I’m not worthy”.  Our Captain was excellent and he made us feel at ease right from the get go.  We were laughing with him right from the start.

My first photo should have been of a napkin with a French Laundry clothes pin. But our napkins did not have that signature pin. I was a bit disappointed, but wasn’t going to let that be a downer on this very special meal.

I was so befuddled with trying to take amazing food photos, while still enjoying myself, that these cheesy bites weren’t given the attention they deserve.  After that moment of realization, I decided that the photos would come second in this meal and that I was just going to allow myself to savour every bite.

1st Amuse Bouche – Gruyere Cheese Gougeres.

Next up was another Keller Signature! The tuile cone was so thin and crispy, inside was a red onion creme fraiche topped with a little dollop of smoked salmon tartare.

2nd Amuse Bouche – Smoked Salmon Cornets w/ sweet red onion creme fraiche

We worked with our Captain to discuss the wine service for the day.  It was decided that we’d share a few half bottles and add in extra glasses if we chose.  We started the meal with a celebratory half bottle of Michel Turgy bubbly which was so delightful with our amuse bouche.

A few of the courses throughout this nine course meal had multiple options. We did as all good couples should do and ordered each choice and split each dish so we could taste everything Chef had to offer.

I was disappointed that Oysters&Pearls weren’t on the menu that day, but I asked if the kitchen would substitute the Cauliflower Pana Cotta on the menu with this signature dish. What we were to find out during the course of this meal was that a request was never denied.  I was so happy because this dish is perfection!  The tiny oysters were so sweet and the sabayon with tapioca and abundance of caviar made the dish so luxurious.

1st Course – Oysters and Pearls, a “Sabayon” with tapioca pearls, Island Creek oysters and white sturgeon caviar

I appreciate how there is so much thought put into every little detail.  The bread courses are served with your choice of a local salted butter or a unsalted one from Vermont.

1st bread course – Butter bun from the Bouchon Bakery

Next came the foie gras, which was paired with a wonderful glass of Sauternes.  After attempting to get the perfect photo for this dish, my brioche bread was promptly replaced. Apparently, the minute I took taking the photo is too long for the brioche to sit idly. Have I mentioned how amazing the service is here?

2nd course- Moulard Duck “Foie Gras en Terrine” w/ field rhubarb, toasted walnut, cutting celery, yogurt streusel and aged Balsamic vinegar

3 types of salt for the foie gras – Grey French sea salt, white Japanese sea salt and a pink salt from the copper mines of Montana that is said to be over 40 million years old.

This was the first of the split courses and the other dish was a Belgium endive salad.  I only had a small taste of this dish because in my world, when given the choice between salad & foie, I’m always going to choose the foie!

2nd part of 2nd course – Salad of Compressed Belgian Endive w/ green grapes, Piedmont hazelnuts, black truffle, watercress and verjus

Apparently I didn’t like my foie course one bit…

At this point I got up to use the little girls room, not really because I had to go, but more because I needed to get up from the table to walk around a bit to help pace myself.

Back at the table, I was ready for the fish course.  I don’t think I’ve ever had sturgeon in flesh form before.  It was a nice firm fish, with very grassy flavours.  I loved the little beets and could have had a whole plate of the hashbrowns.

3rd course – Columbia River Sturgeon Confit w/ Yukon Gold potato(hashbrowns), cucumber, the sweetest little beets, and French Laundry garden sorrel

We moved into a El Molino Chardonnay at this point, which was deliciously buttery and paired beautifully with the lobster to come.

The tartare was so pretty to look at. Each individual vegetable was perfect, but on the whole dish itself, I kind of felt, “raw tuna is raw tuna”, (unless you’re being spoiled by raw tuna outside the fish market in Tokyo that is).

2nd of 3rd course – Tartare of Bluefin tuna w/fava beans, artichokes, jingle bell peppers                     and a saffron reduction.

Like a work of art on a plate, I had to take another photo. It’s funny, although all the dishes presented beautifully, I didn’t think any of them, except this one was too pretty to eat.

This was my favorite bread of the evening. It tasted like a pretzel, but way better than the ones you get at a ball game.

2nd bread course – Pretzel roll

The next fish course was a succulent piece of lobster with a lobster stuffed crepe. This was another one of the hits of the lunch for me.

4th course – Maine lobster crepe w/butter poached lobster, avocado puree and a tarragon vinaigrette

Stuffed inside the crepe was lobster and garlic shoots.

At this point in the meal we decided to take a break from the meal and go for a walk in the French Laundry farm across the street. It was a lovely day and the walk prepared me for the rest of the meal to come.

We were told there is a Culinary gardener, (Tucker Taylor) who meets with the chefs each day to report what is ready to be harvested. The chefs then tailor the menu to make use of their very local ingredients.

Is this the brother of the fava beans in my tuna tartare?

After our nice little walk, we went back to the restaurant to finish our meal.  The break did my palate, (and stomach) good.  I was so ready to tackle the last courses of the meal.

The meat courses were next.  I was surprised at how flavourful the rabbit was.  The pressed meat was absolutely divine, especially when eaten with smidgens of the mustard.

5th course – Devils Gulch Ranch Rabbit “Presse” w/asparagus, pearl onions, frisee and dijon mustard.

After taking rhubarb off my list of foods I don’t like, I was happy that I only had 2 things on that list. After today, I again have 3… veal brains, no thank you.  I just couldn’t get past the mushy texture and that it actually looked like a brain.  Thankfully after just 1 bite, I was able to trade this dish back for the rabbit.

2nd of 5th course – Marco Farms “Cervelle de Veau Croquante” aka Veal Brains

Any down feelings toward the brain were quickly turned around with the delivery of the next dish.  With each bite of the beautiful lamb my stomach became happier and happier.  This perfectly seasoned dish was perfectly complemented with our glass of ’04 Brunello Di Montelcino, Talenti

6th course – Elysian Fields Farm “Selle DAgneau” w/ravioli stuffed with lamb collar, morel mushrooms, the sweetest carrots and Sauce Bordelaise

Another bread course!

3rd bread course – currant bread

I was pretty excited with the delivery of the cheese course.  I never get to order cheese in a restaurant, and I love cheese.  I was also pumped knowing that I was heading in to the home stretch of the meal and I had faith that I was going to make it through the meal.

7th course – MT TAM- Cowgirl Creamery triple cream cheese w/ fennel bulb, sour cherry, nicoise olive, pine nuts and arugula. Paired with a German Van Hovel Riesling.

I was worried that the coconut milk was going to make the sorbet heavy, but in reality it was like every great sorbet should be, light and refreshing.

8th course – Coconut milk sorbet w/ Maui gold pineapple, candied ginger, medjool dates & cashew nuts

The first of the desserts was a lemon sponge cake, carefully drenched in olive oil.

9th course – “Savarin au Citron” Lemon sponge cake with creme glacee and a droplet of Per Mio Figlio olive oil

The second dessert was my favorite of the two. But the combination of peanut butter and bananas is always the winner in my books.

2nd of 9th course – Peanut Butter “Bavarois” w/ milk chocolate whip and banana sorbet

Just when I thought it was over they brought out this vanilla custard tart with perfect whip cream.

I made it to the end of the meal without having to find an extra stomach!  We were served a plate of chocolates that we smuggled out to be delighted in when we were more prepared to appreciate it.

Mignardises – assorted truffles
More mignardises – candy coated chocolate macadamia nuts

At the end of the meal, we asked if we could take a peek in their kitchen. When we went down, they were busy prepping for the 1st dinner seating that was going to start in less than an hour.  I’ve read TFL uses a food matrix to ensure that each diner is not served the same ingredient twice.

Pictured below is “the pass”, where all food is inspected before it goes out to diners. I’d heard rumors that this pass was put on live video feed to NYC’s Per Se so that Chef could see every dish that was going out to diners at both restaurants.

And there it was! Directly across, the live feed of “the pass” to Keller’s other restaurant in NYC, Per Se. in the corner, you can see us which meant that we were being broadcasted back.

Our take home of shortbread cookies and a folder which contained a copy of the menu and the wine list.

I love how the bill came on a laundry tag.

As we were leaving, I saw that for dinner service, they were putting the famous laundry pin on the napkins. I asked our server is I could steal one. He was mortified to learn that our setting did not include one. It’s a perfect keepsake to my most wonderful meal ever. It’s rare in life that your actual experience exceeds high expectations. I am joyful to report this one did.

The French Laundry 6640 Washington St, Yountville, California

4 Replies to “When experience far exceeds high expectations – TFL”

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