Sunday, December 17, 2006

The French Laundry

While Sigrid was away at CSM, we were chatting, and somehow the French Laundry came up. I told her that if she could get us reservations, we'd go. After we got back from Turkey, Sigrid started calling up the reservation line every morning, until she managed to get through. The way it works, pretty much, is that if you get through, you get a reservation for the day that is exactly two months later. As luck should have it, when Sigrid finally got through, it was exactly two months before a Saturday, and we ended up with a reservation for two on Saturday, December 16, 2006.

If you're going to the French Laundry, you best work up an appetite. After dropping our bags off at the hotel, we zipped north of St. Helena to Bothe-Napa Valley State Park for a quick, brisk hike.





After our hike, it was back to the Napa Valley Lodge, conveniently located three blocks from the French Laundry.


We still had some time to kill, as our reservations were for 9:15 p.m. Luckily, we had splurged on a spacious room with a fireplace.


And we even had a small patio with a view of the neighboring vineyard.



At nine, we strolled over to the French Laundry. We were a few minutes early, and perused the French Laundry cookbook while we waited. Soon enough, our table was ready. We were seated at a two-top in a little nook on the first floor, with a view of the wine cellar.


To begin, we were offered a choice of champagnes. We both settled on the non-vintage brut Blanc de Blancs from Pierre Gimonnet et Fils in the Champagne region of France.

There were three nine-course tasting menus to choose between: the Chef's tasting menu, the vegetable tasting menu, and a special holiday tasting menu. I chose the Chef's tasting menu; Sigrid opted for the vegetable tasting menu.

Before our first course, we were offered a couple of amuse bouches. First came the gruyere cheese gougeres, little balls of cream puff pastry dough filled with gruyere cheese. These were fantastic with the champagne. Next were cute cones of fried wonton wrapper (or something like that) filled with creme fraiche and topped with salmon tartare (mine) or creme fraiche with horseradish topped with yellow beets (Sigrid's).

After those two delightful bites, they brought out some bread. Accompanying the bread was not just butter, but two varieties of butter. First was a salted butter that the French Laundry hand-churns, using dairy from Animal Farm, in Orwell, Vermont. The other was a French sweet butter. I think this is also when they brought out the first wine we had ordered, which was a marvelous half-bottle of 2005 Pride Mountain Viognier.

First course for me was the "Oysters and Pearls": sabayon of pearl tapioca with beau soleil oysters and white sturgeon cavier. First course for Sigrid was navel orange confite, nicoise olives and young arugula, all topped with a puree of globe artichoke soup:


Next came the salad course. For Sigrid, garden Tokyo turnips, broccolini, Anjou pear, red radish, perilla leaves, topped with a black sesame vinaigrette. For me, grilled cardoons (schmancy celery) with marinated sweet peppers, cipollini onions en persillade, parsley shoots and sauce soubise:


Sigrid's third course was carmelized cabbage pierogi with marinated peppers, glazed pearl onions, King Richard leeks, and a Hungarian paprika emulsion. For me, grilled pave of maltese bluefin tuna with blood orange, sunchokes, field arugula, toasted almonds and nicoise olive gastrique.

Bring on the fourth course. I had Maine lobster tail cuite souse vide topped with black truffle emincee (the truffle took the lobster to another level), with chestnut, celery root, and Fuyu persimmon coulis:


Sigrid's fourth course was gratin of celery root with celery branch, K&J orchard chestnuts and shaved black truffle:


Sigrid's fifth course was a Jidori hen egg omellette aux fines herbes, with San Marzano tomato compote, golden chanterelle mushroom duxelles, accompanied by a small plate of brioche soldiers (the soldiers were delicious, so long as you didn't mind that they were clogging your arteries):



Number five for me was all-day braised Kurobuta pork belly with winter squash puree, Japanese artichokes, mustard greens, and tamari-infused pork jus - so rich, and so good:


Somewhere around here, we made it to our other wine, a half-bottle of 2004 Ramey Claret. The claret was a bit closed at first, but was delightful once it had time to open up.

Sigrid's sixth course was her favorite of the night, a yam. Well, more than just a yam. It was really a yam experience. A plate with a baked garnet yam was set before her. This was then topped with a dollop of whipped Kendall Farm creme fraiche. Next, a white truffle was shaved onto the yam. Finally, placed along side, came a cute wooden box filled with sea salt from off the coast of Hawaii.

My sixth was Marcho Farm nature-fed veal with a sweetbread marmelade, glazed thumbelina carrots, watercress and pomme maxim's.

Cheese course. For me, Bartlett blue with a sour cherry condiment, candied walnut and garden mache. For Sigrid (who was beginning to feel done in), pecorino con fogli de noce, with piperade, sauteed panisse, and whipped extra-virgin olive oil.

Next was a cleansing sorbet. Sigrid's - Persian lime sorbet with cornmeal financier, and chili-chocolate pudding:


Mine - Gros Michel banana and cranberry sorbet, boule de neige muscovado cake, and caramelized banana coulis:


And on to dessert! For me, calice de chocolat a la noisette: white chocolate granite, hazelnut sable, and praline semifreddo. For Sigrid, a huge (for a tasting menu) souffle with cinnamon glace and butterscotch sauce. She loved the souffle, but simply could not come close to finishing it.

For those keeping count, yes, that was course nine (eleven if you include the amuse bouches). This was followed by coffee and tea service. Sigrid chose a tea, while I stuck it out with the wine (Sigrid had stopped drinking wine a while ago, so I had to do my duty and finish the claret). Along with the tea, they brought us mignardieses - some beautiful chocolates, and a box of chocolate dusted, candied macadamia nuts.

Finally, as they brought us the bill, they gave us gift bags of shortbread cookies. If you count the amuse bouches, the mignardieses and the takehome cookies, it was a baker's dozen course marathon. The whole dinner clocked in at around three and a half hours.

It was delightful.

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