Saturday, March 8, 2014

The French Laundry - 02/24/2014

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

After my previous meal at The French Laundry didn't quite live up to expectations, we decided to forgo the restaurant during our Bay Area trip last summer. Still when one of my friends came up with an extra seat I was hard pressed to say no, besides it was a chance to see what the new Chef de Cuisine David Breeden could do. Breeden, who replaced Tim Hollingsworth back in November of 2012, has spent the better part of his career working for Keller at either The French Laundry (2005-2007, 2013-Present) or Per Se (2007-2012). Born and raised in Tennessee, I was curious if Breeden would bring touches of Southern flair to Laundry's menu.

Classic French cheese puffs, inside the fluffy choux pastry is a warm velvety cheese sauce; a tart and savory treat meant to whet the palate for the meal to come.

Like the Gougeres, the Salmon Tartare Coronet is a fixture on the French Laundry's menu. I thought the creme fraiche was a bit heavy handed, but the mixture of salmon and the cone was smoky, zesty, and sweet.

01: "OYSTERS AND PEARLS" - "Sabayon" of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar
Moving on to the meal proper, we were treated to a classic rendition of Keller's signature "Oysters and Pearls" The dish marries two beautifully trimmed Island Creek Oysters "pearls" with a quinelle of caviar. The combination rests in a thick custard of tapioca and stock made from the oyster trimmings. The resulting dish has a multifaceted salinity with a sharp piquant tang and a hint of fresh levity from the chives.

Supplement: WHITE TRUFFLE CUSTARD - Black Truffle Ragout and Chip with Chive
The next course was a gift from the kitchen. I was absolutely captivated by this course during my very first visit back in 2007 and am always pleased to see it on the menu, though it doesn't quite impress the way it used to. At the core of the dish is a silky egg custard laced with white truffle. The custard is then submerged in a dark gravy of veal and black truffle which giving the dish a dense meaty weight.

02: SALAD OF HAWAIIAN HEARTS OF PEACH PALM - Poached Rhubarb, Sicilian Pistachios, Meyer Lemon and Mizuna
The salad was an excellent follow-on to the weighty truffle custard, the tender hearts of palm are brightened with touches candied citrus and tangy rhubarb coupled with the weighty oily verdance of the pistachio. I would have liked to see a bit more textural variation as the salad was on the soft side.

03: "SELLE DE LOTTE RÔTIE, ENTIÈRE" - La Ratte Potato Purée, Wilted Arrowleaf Spinach, "Pommes Maxim's" and "Sauce Bordelaise"
The monkfish was easily the best course of the night. Composed of protein, vegetables, and starch the dish was probably the most conventional dish but the combination of flavor and texture was spot-on. The monkfish was dense but still pliant with a heady savor augmented by the slight tang and richness of the red wine sauce. The potato purée was probably laden with butter but tasted all the better for it while the Maxims had a rich chip like savor and crunch to them. Finally the spinach adds the right touch of bitter restraint to moderate the richer flavors on the plate.

04: SWEET BUTTER-POACHED MAINE LOBSTER - English Peas, Garbanzo Beans, Garden Carrots, and Parmesan Cream
The French Laundry's lobster dishes have always been among their standouts and I was expecting this to be no different. This preparation delivers in terms of flavor, particularly with the interaction between the verdant peas, rich Parmesan cream, and the sweet crustacean; however the dish falls flat texturally. In the past, the poached lobster tails have consistently displayed the most exquisite supple texture but this time around the meat was stringy and tough.

05: WOLFE RANCH WHITE QUAIL "SAUCISSON" - French Green Lentils, Sacramento Delta Asparagus, Preserved Green Strawberries, Watercress and "Sauce Soubise"
A traditional Saucisson is a cured dry sausage typically made with pork and blended with spices. Laundry's preparation is a fresh version that substitutes quail for pork. The resulting sausage conveys a generic meatiness and peppery zest that goes nicely with the tender asparagus shoots and the tartness of the strawberries. Certainly tasty, but I would have preferred the quail served in a less adulterated form, something that kept the characteristic flavor and texture of the bird intact.

06a: HERB-ROASTED ELYSIAN FIELDS FARM LAMB - Garden Broccoli, Caramelized Sunchokes, Black Trumpet Mushrooms and Sunflower Seed Vinaigrette
The lamb consisted of beautifully dressed and grilled rib-eye and a small cube of something braised, rich, and delicious. While I thought both lamb pieces of lamb were impeccably prepared, the overall feel of the dish is a bit dense and monolithic.

06b: CHARCOAL-GRILLED JAPANESE WAGYU - "Ris de Veau," Bone Marrow "Pain Perdu," Hearts of Romaine Lettuce, Garden Radishes and "Béarnaise Mousseline"
I decided to substitute the Japanese Wagyu for the lamb ($100 supplement) and it turned out to be a great choice. The meat exhibited all a fatty richness preceded by a heady sense of woodsmoke from the charcoal. The Bone Marrow French Toast sounded interesting but with a flavor like savory pound cake it was subsumed by the weightiness of the beef. The succulent romaine and fresh radish slivers provided some relief but nothing near enough to counter the weight of the beef especially with the sheer overkill of the Béarnaise sauce.

07: ANDANTE DAIRY "PARTITA" - Hadley Orchard Medjool Dates, Toasted Cashews, Cauliflower, "Naan," Cilantro Shoots and Madras Curry
The cheese course is a sheep's milk variety from Soyung Scanlan's Andante Dairy. The cheese feels like a thick paste that melts on the tongue leaving lactic tang and grassy sweetness. The rich jammy Medjool dates play well here as do the subtle curry flavors were an enjoyable if unconventional pairing for a cheese course.

We started off the desserts with a relatively light treat. The bitter tang of the blood oranges was readily apparent as was the undertone of herbal flourish from the green tea.

09: BROWN BUTTER ICE CREAM - Hazelnut Crumble
I absolutely loved this dessert cool sweet with a flavor reminiscent of a frozen butter cookie its felt a little simplistic but hard to argue with the flavor.

10: CHOCOLATE CAKE - Chocolate Mousse, Pistachio
Our third dessert was the richest of the night, a sinfully smooth chocolate mousse and equally rich cake topped with bright green bits of pistachio. This dessert doesn't pull any punches delivering a decadent chocolate flavor with a slight twinge of green nuttiness.

11: "COFFEE AND DOUGHNUTS" - Espresso Semifreddo and Sugar Doughnut Holes
I'm never sure whether this represents the final dessert of the first of the mignardises but regardless its a consistent crowdpleaser. In the demitasse cup is a thick espresso ice cream cool and brimming with coffee notes. The sugared doughnut holes are the perfect foil, warm and fluffy with a hint of sweetness, now if only my local doughnut shop offered coffee and donuts like this every morning.

Dinner at The French Laundry always ends with a veritable onslaught of desserts. I typically make a point to try all the house made truffles but having tasted most of them before I went with my three favorites: White Chocolate Yuzu, Passion Fruit, and Salted Caramel.

These were textbook Macrons, featuring a delicate crumbly meringue shell and a rich creamy filling. Sadly in the rush of desserts I forgot to record the flavors.

The final treat of the night was a bowl of chocolate and caramel covered macadamia nuts. These aren't your typical store bought confections. The sensation of biting the thin brittle shell is an absolute joy as is the subsequent flavor, a multifaceted blend of sweet and nutty with a hint of toasty savor.

Unfortunately I'd have to say this meal was relatively on par with the last one. Again the technique and flavors were largely there but the meal felt overly heavy this time around with less bitter or tart elements for balance. Perhaps I'm just out of tune with what the chefs at Laundry are trying to accomplish or after five visits I've become a bit jaded. Despite my recent experiences, I would still suggest those who haven't been make a trip and decide for themselves.


Anonymous said...

Your a douchebag. If your going to rate a Michelin star restaurant at least don't include fake photos of a bullshit receipt. Have some integrity for friends who view your blog...

Epicuryan said...

Instead of calling me a douchebag you could assume I posted the wrong receipt accidentally. The correct photo is attached to the post.

Michael said...

The Law of Diminishing Returns. Please stop going to The French Laundry.

Charlie Fu said...

ballin out of control. Still haven't gone. Heading up to Napa next month, was hoping to get the private room.. booked out ;(

Joce said...

I agree with your comments. I went there last summer for the first time and it wasn't what I expected from the meal. I think I had a better meal at L'Arpege a few months ago.