napa trip log: french laundry
August 26, 2002

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French Laundry

Editor's note:  Entire Napa trip report begins here.


    "Oysters and Pearls"
    "Sabayon" of Pearl Tapioca
    with Poached Malpeque Oysters and Osetra Caviar

(With this dish we ordered a half bottle of NV Billecart Salmon Brut Rose.)

This dish consisted of a small bowl with a bed of pearl tapioca at the bottom, a few pieces of poached oyster meat resting on that, and caviar on top, surrounded by a pool of some kind of cream sauce.

Not typically the kind of dish I enjoy best.  But I loved it. I worried that the dish would be briny, something I'm sensitive to, but it was instead just pleasantly (and mildly) salty. The combination of textures of the oyster, tapioca, and caviar was fun!



    Moulard Duck "Foie Gras Au Torchon"
    with Bartlett Pear Relish and Toasted "Brioche"

(With this dish we ordered an aged Austrian dessert wine made from a lesser-known relative of Gruner Veltliner. I wish I'd written the information down.)

Given the choice between the endive salad and the Foie Gras, we all ordered the Foie Gras.  The torchon was creamy and delicious, as you might expect.



    Pan Seared Filet of Atlantic Halibut
    with Summer Pole Beans, Squash
    and "Confit" of Vine Ripened Tomato

(With this and the following dish, we ordered a half bottle of 1999 Premier Cru Chassagne Montrachet, Domaine Marc Colin, which is a white Burgundy, which is typically made from Chardonnay.)

Fantastic.  The halibut was done perfectly , with a crispy sear on the outside and a firm but velvety texture on the inside. It was also inexplicably flavorful, as if this halibut had lived out its life in a pool of chicken stock and white wine instead of seawater.  The beans, squash and tomato were perfect complements in texture and in taste.

The wine was very good.  I can see this being a "bridge wine" that might draw lovers of California Chardonnay into the world of Burgundy -- it's very accessible, full of peach and pear flavors, but still exhibiting the restraint and balance that's characteristic of good Old World wines.



    "Beets and Leeks"
    Sweet Butter Braised Maine Lobster
    with Melted Green Leeks, "Pomme Maxim"
    and Red Beet Essence

Otherwise known as the "Tower of Lobster".  The base of the tower is built from lobster tail meat.  This base is covered in a thin layer of bright green paste, ostensibly the "Melted Green Leeks". This paste is a kind of mortar which joins the base to a second layer of lobster -- this time composed of claw meat.  Set gently atop this majestic column is a wide, thin cracker of fried potatoes ("Pomme Maxim"), which makes this dish look like a radio telescope in The Little Mermaid.

The tower is surrounded by a moat of "red beet essence", a thick red sauce made from beet juice and a strong stock, among other things.  This sauce is the tastiest thing imaginable.  I wanted some with every course.  Including dessert.  ("Sir, here is your Creme Brulee with Red Beet Essence...")

The whole ensemble was good -- sweet, buttery lobster framed by the strangely neon green leek mortar -- but what I remember most is the Red Beet Essence.



    Braised Cloverdale Farms Young Rabbit "En Ravioli"
    with a "Ragout" of Forest Mushrooms

(This course was served with a half bottle of 1999 Pommard Les Perrieres  Jean-Michel Gaunoux, a red Burgundy from Cote de Beaune.)

Both Rebecca and I like rabbit, but nevertheless I liked this much more than I expected to.  The rabbit was flavorful and moist, and the giant fresh pasta ravioli was the embodiment of chewy goodness.

The wine, I must say, was a perfect choice.  Earthy and slightly spicy, and with a long finish, this is a great wine -- especially so for the price.  Wine is amazing.  Just when you think you're getting the slightest handle on it, you realize there's a whole wild world out there of wildly different stuff just waiting for you.

It's not like I haven't had Burgundies before.  But every time I have a good one I get this feeling, as though it's a drink from an alien planet.  (Which I suppose it is -- it comes from France. )  Slowly I'm coming to realize that it's a planet that I'd like to spend some time on.



    Pan Roasted "Chateaubriand" of Four Story Hill Farms Veal
    Garden Herb "Risotto" Cake
    and Jacobsen's Farm Fig "Marmelade"

(With this course we ordered a bottle of 1998 Chateau De Pez, a red Bordeaux from St. Estephe.)

The perfect veal dish, I imagine; succulent, perfectly cooked slices of veal atop a risotto cake.  Trouble is, I'm never deeply impressed by veal.  I've never walked out of a restaurant thinking, "Oh my god, that was the best veal dish I've ever had." This probably was, in fact, the best veal dish I've ever had, but I found myself wishing I had some Red Beet Essence to go on top of it or something.

The wine is another story.  My complaint about inexpensive Bordeaux is that they often feel flat in my mouth; there's a nice start and often a decent finish, but nothing in the middle.  Not so with this one.  It's incredibly full-flavored and  left my entire mouth tingling slightly.  The only thing that made it even better is knowing that if I can manage to find it around town, it'll cost me less than $30/bottle.



    "Goat's Leap Eclipse"
    with Golden Raisin and Hazelnut Salad

Now begins the endless parade of dessert courses to wind down the meal.  One gets the feeling that, behind the politeness and decorum, the waitstaff has the desire to see you explode.

This phase of the game is all about economy.  Spread as much of the food around on your plate so you may miss some, not realizing there is more to consume.  Resist the temptation to order any more wine in an effort to conserve space in your stomach.  Attempt to convince whoever finishes first to have a couple of bites of yours.  Whoever's stomach ruptures last wins.

Actually, the pacing has been very good.  I've had tasting menus before (most notably the remarkable meal at Masa's) where I was getting full going into the two "main" courses.  It wasn't until this point that I got that funny feeling that means that your stomach is reaching the limits of its elasticity.

Simple as it was, I enjoyed this dish immensely.  The cheese is a great find, and is superb in combination with the sweetness of the golden raisins.

Editor's note:  We now see the first significant manifestations of the author's food-induced psychosis.  Here he jokes about the waitstaff being out to get him and the meal being a competition of sorts.  These seemingly harmless humorous gestures are in fact indicators, as you will see, of the author's growing paranoia.



    Goldmine Nectarine Sorbet
    with Toasted Almond "Financier"

Getting full.  Not sure how much more of this I can take.

A Financier is merely a small rectangular browned-butter pound cake, but describing this one thusly doesn't do it justice.  It's a paradox:  light but somehow substantial.  The perfect platform for showcasing the sorbet, which is a masterstroke.

Despite being close to capacity, I found myself checking other people's plates to see if they had sorbet they couldn't finish.



    "Delice Au Chocolat"
    with Coffee "Anglaise" and Chocolate "Dentelle"

Editor's note:  The author's handwriting becomes increasingly erratic at this point.  The experts we consulted see the sudden shift to present tense to indicate an dangerous change in mental state that is common in food-based psychosis.

Barely holding it together.  In the future for meals like this I will bring a girdle, in the hope that compression will assist in keeping my stomach from ripping at the seams and the contents of dinner spilling into my intenstinal cavity.

Heavy but well balanced chocolate dessert.  Frankly, I don't remember too much about it, as most of the blood had migrated away from my brain and to the vessels in my stomach lining. I must have liked it immensely, since I ate it all, despite not having any space for it.

That was the last course, so after a brief walk to my hotel I can spend the rest of the evening immobile in front of the television.  So I think I'll be fine, no thanks to those gits in the kitchen who keep bringing me more food to eat.



    with Coffee "Anglaise" and Chocolate "Dentelle"

Editor's note:  The author's aggressiveness may seem sudden, but as we have pointed out it has been a while in coming and was clearly forecast in the text.

Bastards!  They've brought an entire plate of strange little cookies!  They said we were done eating!  Now they taunt me!  In particular there is a tartlet with a large glowing yellow ball in the center, somewhat reminiscent of lemon curd, which I must investigate.  They have researched me and know about my weakness for lemon curd.  I must be watchful.


Editor's note:  The author's handwriting is nearly illegible.

I have downed several cookies and managed to avoid consuming the others.  But now the waiter dropped the final gauntlet.  He's brought  a box containing five macaroons and set them in the center of the table.  Each macaroon, he explains, had its own delicate flavor: jamaican vanilla bean, saffron, red beet, pistachio, and coffee.  I see their plan. They made them different flavors so I must try each one . They don't think I can do it!

They have no antacids here, so I have ordered a preparation of baking soda and water, which my mother always took for stomach problems.  I will take a short break and resume eating the macaroons and whatever else the devils bring me from the kitchen.


Now I am ready.  People will tell tales for years of my victory over Thomas Keller.  They will sing songs in my honor.  I will begin with the saffron macaro

Editor's note:  The record ends here.  The author's psychosis prevented him from seeing what any seventh grader who has dreamed of blowing up seagulls would have spotted:  bicarbonate of soda should never be used as an antacid on a full stomach.  In a particularly ironic circumstance, we suspect that the baking soda had a virulent reaction to the vinegar in the Red Beet Essence which he had eagerly slurped off of the plates of his dinner companions earlier in the evening.

The subsequent rupture of his stomach combined with the existing psychosis sent him into what is known in the vernacular as a "food coma".  He has yet to awaken from this state.  Food comas resulting from dinner at The French Laundry and other, similar restuarants have been known to last years.

The author has been released, still comatose, from the hospital where his ruptured stomach was successfully treated.  He is now being cared for at home.  Messages and inquiries can be sent here.


August 26, 2002 in best, napa_trip, old_site, restaurants | Permalink


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I'm not sure what the hold-up is... maybe they have re-thought their stance on how this is going to actually make the company any money. Or perhaps their lawyers pointed out the liability of providing agents a platform to stick their feet in their mouth. Whatever it is, it's hardly something I'd claim as being "Well done".

Posted by: Simon Temple at May 6, 2008 1:25:57 PM