Review: The French Laundry 10 Course Private Dining Experience
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In February, I had the unique opportunity to dine at one of the world's most renowned restaurants: The French Laundry. Now number 32 on the list of world's top restaurants, for years it sat in the top 3, alongside El Bulli and The Fat Duck. It's still extremely difficult to get a reservation - you have to call: 707-944-2380exactly two months ahead of your preferred dining date at 10am PST and hope you are one of the few who get through.
Luckily for me, I was invited to celebrate a special occasion and the host of the dinner party had reserved the private dining room for our group of 10. For our meal, we went with the 9 course tasting menu with foie gras addition, along with wine pairing. As I often say in life ... go big or go home! Of course it's always easier to have that mantra when someone else is footing the bill ;-)
Upon arriving at The French Laundry you feel like you are entering a private home. It actually took me a minute to figure out which door to enter - no tacky markings or signs, just a nondescript entrance which brings you into a small foyer. From there we were led up the stairs to the quaint upstairs dining room and adjacent was the private room - a large circular table perfectly set for 10.
Since this was a tasting menu, there was very little fanfare before the food - simple introductions from our host and sommelier and then the fun began.
We started with a simple cheese puff? (To be honest I forget what this is and it wasn't on the menu). It was light and tasty, but obviously not really that memorable.
We then moved onto one of my favorite courses of the evening; Oysters and Pearls: "Sabayon" of Pearl Tapioca with Treasure Cove Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar.
Then came another playful interlude - an egg shell filled with a truffley custard. A nice little kick to get the palate ready for what was to come.
Then the somewhat boring Salad of Hawaiian Hearts of Palm: "Medjool Date," Nantes Carrot, Young Coconut, Cilantro Shoots and Madras Curry. I don't generally like Hearts of Palm, but this presentation was, if anything, intriguing. Not one of my favorites, but not bad either.
Then came the ultra-rich Moulard Duck "Foie Gras En Terrine": Poached Rhubarb, Celery Branch and Piedmont Hazelnuts. I'm not a huge foie gras fan, but I do enjoy it on occasion. This was one such occasion, though I thought it was overkill with the ultra rich brioche accompaniment.
Beets and Leeks: Columbia River Sturgeon, Petite Leeks, "Pommes Maxim's" and Red Beet Essence. I've never had sturgeon served as a filet- and now I know why. It was underwhelming, a bit tough and bland. I think this fish should stick to what it does best: making delicious caviar.
My third favorite dish, TFL's take on the Caesar Salad: Sweet Butter-Poached Maine Lobster Tail, Caramelized Romaine Lettuce, Garlic Melba and "Bottarga di Muggine."
Devil's Gulch Ranch Rabbit Sirloin: Snap Peas, Tokyo Turnips and "Creme de Raifort." I generally like rabbit, especially in ragus and stews, however the mini "rack" failed to impress me. The flavor was nice, but rabbit can be kind of bland in my opinion, so this dish fell short of wowing me.
Elysian Fields Farm Lamb Rib-Eye: Asparagus, Red Radish, Pine Nuts and "Sauce Palise." I have to admit I'm not a huge lamb fan. It's a little too gamy for me, but I can can eat it if necessary. I figured I'd try it to see if TFL could change my view. Sorta - there were two pieces of meat: a braised shank and a rib-eye. I enjoyed the braised lamb because it was cooked thoroughly and seasoned well. The main rib-eye was super-gamy and medium rareish, so the lamb flavor was way too strong for me. However, the lamb-lovers at the table couldn't get enough so if you like that flavor you probably would have loved this.
"Vendeen Bichonne": Belgian Endive, Asian Pear, Toasted Oats and Red Wine Reduction.
White Verjus Sorbet: Muscat "Gelee", Green Grapes and Marcona Almond.
"Delice Au Chocolat A La Menthe": Crispy "Feuilletine" Mast Brothers Cocoa Nibs, Brown Cardamom and French Laundry Garden Mint Ice Cream
Mignardises- Beignets and Truffle Assortment - At a certain point, it just became a barrage of desserts. I like to end on a sweet note, but they overdid it in my opinion.
As for the wine pairing? I was disappointed. We told them we liked reds, but we were still given a majority of whites - and a bunch of really sweet white wines, which I personally hate. The highlight was the hearty Modicum Cabernet Sauvignon- it's a very exclusive brand made for TFL. I honestly could have drank a magnum myself, it was that good.
Wine Pairing (pardon my lack of accents or misspellings):
Pierre Gimonnet, Blac de Blancs "Cuvee Deux Cotes" premier Cru Champagne 2005
Blue Apron Ale. Brooklyn Brewery
Von Hovel, Riesling "Oberemmeler Hutte" Kabinett. Saar 2008
Chateau Rieussee, Premier Cru Classe, Sauternes 1989
Jermann, "Vintage Tunina" Friuli-Venezia- Giulia 2007
Kongsgaard, Roussanne / Viognier, Napa Valley 2009
Domaine Lafarge, "Clos des Chateaux des Ducs" VolnayPremier Cru 1996
Modicum, Cabernet Sauvignon, "Rutherford" Napa Valley 2001 - I could drink only this wine for the rest of my life and die a happy man. It was amazing.
Huet, Vouvray, "Cuvee Constance" Loire Valley 2005
Disznoko, Tokaji Aszu. 6 Puttonyos. Tokaj 2000
After our 5 hour dinner, we were given a tour of the kitchen, which was pristine and modern. There was even a live TV feed of Per Se - their sister restaurant in NYC - which I haven't visited yet.
Overall, it was an enjoyable evening, but I don't think it was worth the $350 tasting menu + $350 wine pairing + gratuity and tax per person price tag... Though I have to say I was jealous just thinking of the miles the hostess earned after her Platinum Amex was swiped :-) Though I think I have much cheaper ways to rack up a similar amount of miles, like my $150 trip to Copenhagen this weekend which will get me more than double the amount of miles from a $9,000 dinner! Crazy how that works.
The rest of the weekend was wonderful, including 5 hours of wine tasting at Gargiulo Vineyards, Honig Vineyard and Elizabeth Spencer Wines. I'll recap that portion of the trip and the Westin Napa Verasa in another post soon. Until then I'll leave off with a picture of me cracking into the cheap limo champagne towards the tail end of wine tasting ...