Saturday, August 4, 2012

The French Laundry - 08/02/2012

6640 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599
(707) 944-2380

A little more than eleven months ago my friend booked the private dining room at The French Laundry and in what I'm hoping will become an annual tradition, my friend decided to do it again this summer. With a separate phone line and year-long reservation window, the PDR is a much easier way to score a table than the regular reservation system.

Fairly overflowing with gooey melting cheese, the Gougers pack a savory punch that gets the mouth watering for the meal to come.

While The French Laundry boasts an ever changing menu, the canapes that precede the main meal remain relatively unchanged. The dollop of salmon tops a savory cone filled with creme fraiche, simple and tasty.

01: "OYSTERS AND PEARLS" - "Sabayon" of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar
Gaston Ciquet, Blanc de Blancs d'Ay, Champagne Grand Cru MV
"Oysters and Pearls" never fails to impress. The oysters are from Island Creek specifically harvested for Keller's restaurants from a sustainable farm raised variety in Boston. The oysters are trimmed with the poached core forming the beautiful meaty "pearls" and the trimmings used to give the tapioca sabayon a savory piquant verve. A quinelle of sturgeon caviar adds a brash salinity to the more graceful tones of the other elements.

02: WHITE TRUFFLE CUSTARD - Black Truffle Ragout and Chip with Chive
I had this during my first visit to the restaurant and I've been trying to recapture that transcendent flavor during each subsequent visit. The core of the filling marries a classic companions of egg and white truffle. The custard is augmented with a darkly savory and earthy black truffle ragout while a delicately fried potato "chip" provides texture to the dish.

03: SALAD OF HAWAIIAN HEARTS OF PALM - Fresh Umeboshi, Cucumber and Black Sesame
Weegmüller, Riesling, "Haardter Bürgergarten," Kabinett, Pfalz 2009
A fairly sparse looking salad, the hearts of palm and cucumber are fresh and crisp, but a bit sparse on their own or even with the black sesame dressing. The pickled plums are far and away the most interesting part of the dish; simultaneously salty and tart with an underlying sweetness, the plum adds a world of flavor to the otherwise mild salad

04: "BEETS & LEEKS" - Confit Fillet of Atlantic Cod, "Pommes Maxim's," Young Leeks and Red Beet Essence
Lieu-Dit, Chenin Blanc, Sata Barbara County 2011
I was surprised to see the Beets and Leeks headlining the dish above the cod but this dish really was about the beets (unfortunately) and to a lesser extent the leeks. The fish's texture is absolutely stunning with a density reminiscent of a raw scallop but slightly firmer and flakier. In terms of flavor, most mouthfuls were laden with the root vegetable sweetness of the beets with just a few traces of the delicious melty savor of the leeks.

05: "CAESAR SALAD" Sweet Butter-Poached Maine Lobster "Mitts," Caramelized Romaine Lettuce, Garlic Melba and Anchovy "Ravigote"
Mas de Daumas Gassac, Vin de Pays de L'Hérault, Languedoc-Roussillon 2011
All my previous visits to The French Laundry featured butter-poached Maine lobster, but this is my first time having claw meat here. While I prefer the dense snappy crunch of the tail, the supple tender sponginess, made these the best lobster claws I've ever eaten. The echoes of Caesar salad were both creative and effective the dynamic acidity of the ravigote and the bright crunch of the lettuce.

06: DUNGENESS CRAB "PORRIDGE" Ibérico Ham, Sweet Corn, Oyster Lettuce, and Shaved Australian Black Truffles
Sandhi, Chardonnay, "Bien Nacido," Santa Maria Valley 2010
On paper this had the potential to be the best course of the meal. The presentation reminded me of a risotto, something I absolutely adore, particularly when our servers shaved generous heaps of black truffle over the entire face of the bowl. There was certainly a lot going on, the first bite had tons of sweet corn the second featured the fatty salt of the Ibérico the next was like eating a fresh oyster thanks to the lettuce. Unfortunately the flavors never really converged and inexplicably the crab was nowhere to be found.

07: KUROBUTA PORK JOWL - Cauliflower, Sultana Raisins, Spanish Capers, Meyer Lemon, Parsley and "Beurre Noisette"
WesMar, Pinot Noir, "Oehlman Vineyard," Russian River Valley 2008
In my mind pork jowl tends to be fatty and tender so the tiny well-done square of pork seemed a bit off. Of course this is The French Laundry and what looked dry was still nicely tender and brimming with porcine savor; all the flavor, none of the fat. The addition of Meyer lemon was a stroke of genius the fragrance of lemon zest organically tempering the intensity of the cheek meat.

08: SNAKE RIVER FARMS "CALOTTE DE BŒUF GRILLÉE - "Sofrito," Haricots Verts, Tomato and "Fiçoïde Glaciale"
Livio Sassetti, Brunello di Montalcino, "Pertimali," Tuscany 2006
Our final savory was a fundamental if impeccably executed main course. Consisting of a rib-eye cap prepared medium-rare with a medley of fresh vegetables over a bed of "sofrito," the result is the quintessential combination of meat, vegetable, and starch. The beef was beautifully marbled while the vegetables provided a seamless succulent levity. Satisfying, open, and approachable this was quite good but I couldn't help but think of the absolutely transcendent veal from my last visit.

09: "LANDAFF" - Young Fennel, Brooks Cherry, Red Walnuts and Niçoise Olives
As always the fromage is a composed cheese course featuring a relatively safe cheese. Landaff is a cow's milk cheese from a New Hampshire farm that uses milk from Springville Farm which has been producing milk since the 1950's. The resulting cheese is lightly nutty with a subtle tang that lends itself well to the varied accompaniments.

10: PERSIAN LIME SORBET - Chilled Summer Sangria, Alpine Strawberries and Opal Basil
Dessert began with a quinelle of immaculately white lime sorbet drizzled with summer sangria. The flavors of lime, strawberry and mint coupled with the sangria make for a wonderfully refreshing summer cocktail.

11: "MARJOLAINE" - Praline Mousse, "Dacquiose" and Banana Sherbet
Disznókõ, Tokaji Aszú, 6 Puttonyos, Tokaj 2000
This was one of the weaker desserts that I've had here. Dacquiose is a French layer cake that combines almond and hazelnut meringue with buttercream and Marjolaine is a variation that uses chocolate buttercream. Not quite as explosively sweet as some the previous chocolate desserts, I also felt the bananas on the plate were over-emphasized. I did however quite enjoy the disparate textures that made up the dessert

As always we were presented with six types of truffles made in house: passion fruit, hazelnut, pb&j, salted caramel, white chocolate coconut, and mint. The standout was easily the passion fruit bright, fragrant, and juicy citrus contrast with the bitter chocolate.

Along with the truffles came a dish of macadamia nuts covered in hard chocolate and powdered sugar. The toasty crunch and bitter chocolate proved so enticing that everybody tried a few of these despite being full.

MIGNARDISES 03: "COFFEE AND DOUGHNUTS" - Espresso Semifreddo and Cinnamon-Sugar Doughnut Holes
No meal at The French Laundry would be complete without Coffee and Doughnuts. The decadent espresso ice cream was as good as I remember, but the doughnuts were a bit denser and heavier. This would have been sublime if it was my first visit but with three better past experiences this felt a bit lackluster.

As always, we were presented with shortbread cookies to take with us. This time around the crumbly buttery treats came topped with dusted sugar and a embossed keepsake tin.

It was bound to happen eventually, a lackluster meal at The French Laundry. The meal was by no means bad, but The French Laundry is judged by a different standard and what would be a solid meal elsewhere is disappointing here. By and large the technique was there, but unlike my previous trips, the flavors just didn't pop. That being said, its possible the flavors just didn't resonate with me and someone else tasting them might feel differently. Bottom line if you ever have the chance to eat here you owe it to yourself to do so.


Jaime said...

Well, the presentation wasn't lacking, so at least it made a really lovely post.

The French Laundry is a really great *experience*, but after my second trip there (following a 10 year hiatus) I just couldn't find the food quite as impressive anymore. 10-15 years ago, Thomas Keller was just cooking at a level that you weren't finding anywhere else, but I feel like in the years since, many other places have caught up and are producing dishes at the same caliber and innovation. Many times for far less cash.

Michael said...

The Law of Diminishing Returns- The more of The French Laundry you have, the less you like it.

Epicuryan said...

I agree a lot of places have caught up and even surpassed French Laundry in terms of innovation, but the precision and harmony of flavor at my previous meals were hard to beat.

Reasonable and true for most restaurants, but my favorite trip to Laundry was actually my third visit. I think the flavors just didnt work for me this time around.

sygyzy said...

What are the requirements to book the private dining room?

Rebekah S said...

I was at The French Laundry on Aug 2 also. Saw the private dining room when I went up to use the restroom. Glad to see your review.

Sam C. said...

Nice picture as usual Ryan. But I'm sad that this meal didn't pop for you. My meal here a month ago was actually better than my first visit. So it's surprising that you sad that.

Do you think the reason why this meal didn't pop out as much is due to the absence of foie gras?

Epicuryan said...

I hope we werent too obnoxious. What did you think of your meal?

My third visit last summer was my best. I thought the porridge was poorly thought out and some of the other courses weren't as interesting as they were in the past. I would have liked foie gras but its absence wasn't the reason this was the weakest meal.

Ryannie said...


I came across your blog when searching for the name of a dish (the truffel and egg dish) we had at TFL on Aug 12. The photos you took were really really nice! I wonder what camera and lens you used for the food? Many thanks!

Epicuryan said...

I'm glad you liked the pictures. These pictures were taken with a Nikon D300s and a 40mm f2.8 lens though I also have a 35mm f1.8 lens that I use as well.