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The French Laundry


What did we do for our 5 year wedding anniversary? We went to one of the best restaurants in the world…the French Laundry owned by Chef Thomas Keller!! How did we get a reservation? See below. It was a gorgeous July day in the Napa valley when we arrived for our three hour lunch. As we entered we were welcomed, congratulated on our anniversary and promptly escorted upstairs to our table. We were the first to arrive to the small dining room. As our waiter described the menu the other 4 tables in our area filled with guests from China, Florida, Arizona and New York but no VIPs or celebrities. Due to the close proximity of the tables it was easy to hear the conversations around us especially the woman who decided she was going to make and receive phone calls during the first half of her meal (she did keep them short but still so rude!).

Deciding what to order was easy as we were not going to do any of the supplements and for the few courses that we had a choice we chose one of each so we could try everything served that day. Mike instantly fell in love with the 100+ page wine list presented on an Apple ipad (the technology not the prices…). He decided on two half bottles to accompany our meal. We started with a Lazy Creek Riesling and ended with a Biale Black Chicken Zinfandel. Together they ran about $125 and were some of the cheapest bottles on the list which brought our total bill to $720. Both wines were wonderful but the Black Chicken blew us away so much that we are going to visit the winery next week.

The menu for 7.8.2011

Amuse-bouche #1
Gruyère Cheese Puffs

Amuse-bouche #2
Salmon Tartare atop a Crème Fraiche Filled Poppyseed Cone

Course #1
“ O Y S T E R S  A N D  P E A R L S ”
“Sabayon” of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar

Course #2
S A L A D  O F  H A W A I I A N  H E A R T S  O F  P A L M
Lychee, French laundry Garden Cucumber and Greek Basil

Course #3
A T L A N T I C  C O D  “C O N F I T  A  L A  M I N U T E”
Brentwood Corn Mousse, Summer Squash, Parsley Shoots and Demi-Sec Tomatoes

Course #4
S W E E T  B U T T E R – P O A C H E D  M A I N E  L O B S T E R  T A I L
Charred Leek, Ruby Red Grapefruit, Piedmont Hazelnuts and Vanilla-Sauternes Emulsion

S A N T A  B A R B A R A  S P O T  P R A W N S
Green Mission Fig, Young Coconut, Hass Avocado, Red Jalapeno and Cilantro

Course #5
L I B E R T Y  F A R M  P E K I N  D U C K
“Confit de Canard,” Steamed Bun, Nantes Carrots, Radish, Edamame and “Sauce Japanaise”

D E V I L ‘S  G U L C H  R A N C H  “E P A U L E  D E  L A P I N”
Summer Pole Beans, Smoked Garlic Puree and Hobbs’ Bacon “Jus”

Course #6
S N A K E  R I V E R  F A R M S  “C A L O T T E  D E  B O E U F  G R I L L E E”
“Pommes Darphin,” Chanterelle Mushrooms “a la Greque,” Quail Egg and English Peas

Course #7
“B R I L L A T  S A V A R I N”
Pistachio “Pain de Genes,” Celery Branch and French Laundry Garden Strawberries

Course #8
N E C T A R I N E  S O R B E T
Earl Grey Tea “Granite,” Honey and Grilled Nectarines

Course #9
C A R A M É L I A  C H O C O L A T E  “ C R È M E U X ”
Gros Michel Banana, Georgia Peanuts, “Dentelle” and Salted Popcorn Ice Cream

“Î L E  F L O T T A N T E”
Lemongrass, Meiwa Kumquat, Black Sesame and Ginger “Anglaise”

ANNIVERSARY BANANA CAKE

M I G N A R D I S E S:
6 Truffles (hazelnut, cherry, ginger, meyer lemon, olive oil, peanut butter & jelly)
Cold Espresso with Cappuccino Foam & Sugar Doughnuts
Chocolate Covered Macadamia Nuts from Hawaii

PARTING GIFT:
Shortbread Cookies

Our experience in photos:

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Lunch, like dinner, includes a couple Amuse-bouche items followed by 9 courses and concludes with Mignardises which are bite-size desserts. All the dishes were prepared perfectly and arrived at timely intervals. Mike’s favorite course was the devil’s gulch rabbit. He oohed and aahed through every bite. The thing I enjoyed most I hate to say was the desserts. Even though the beef melted in my mouth the caramel mousse with salted popcorn ice cream was off the charts. At the end of our meal we also received a small banana cake for our anniversary. As it was being placed on the table Mike told the server that banana was the top tier of our wedding cake which the server in turn said with a smile…we did our research. It was a nice coincidence.

About the service…you would think that a place that requires men to wear a jacket even at lunch (in California) would be uptight and stuffy, but our servers were all super friendly, down to earth and casual in their approach. They didn’t speak only when spoken to but engaged us in conversation about where we were from, how long we would be in town and what other plans we had while in town. We found that very refreshing.

Lunch vs. dinner… I was psyched that we got a reservation on our exact anniversary date but mildly disappointed that we didn’t get an evening seating. After finishing our meal we were extremely pleased that we had come for lunch because we were stuffed. We didn’t even finish half of our Mignardises and couldn’t imagine having to go to bed immediately following that food marathon. We couldn’t eat for the rest of the day. Another bonus was prior to the sweet portion of our meal we were offered the opportunity to stretch our legs. Being able to take a short walk outside in the sun and check out the garden across the street was just what we needed after 2 hours of sitting and probably not an option if dining late at night. I wouldn’t change a thing about our time spent at the French Laundry.

Rating:

Website: http://www.frenchlaundry.com/

How to get a reservation at one of the 16 tables? Perseverance is the key… just keep trying and you will get in. I read all the tips online about how to get an elusive reservation. It really was not as difficult as everyone says. It may not be the exact time you want but you will get something, especially if you are in the area for a long weekend… although booking a table for 2 is more difficult than 4+ because they have fewer small tables. 2 months to the calendar date I began dialing at 9:58am (they open at 10am) and was able to get through to a reservation agent by 10:20ish. On the two days I called all reasonable times for dinner (before 9pm) were taken but lunch and late night dining was available. I ultimately went with a lunch opening I found on opentable because Mike goes to bed early and I didn’t want him sleeping through dinner. On opentable reservations would randomly pop up between 9:30-10:20am. Another option is to have your hotel or credit card concierge call, but in my case both only got me wait-listed. I don’t think they are hitting the phone lines at 10am…

In the late 1920′s the building housed a French steam laundry

French Laundry on Urbanspoon

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Thomas Keller Cooking Demo – Pebble Beach Food & Wine 2009

keller
As Mike and I arrived in beautiful Pebble Beach we both headed off to our first events. He went to the Vérité tasting and I went to the Thomas Keller cooking demo. For those of you who need an introduction Keller is the renown owner/chef of The French Laundry, Bouchon, Ad Hoc and Per Se. Things started off with a quick intro by the head honcho at Food & Wine Magazine Editor-in-Chief Dana Cowin. This was the first time I had seen Chef Keller in the flesh and he was very personable and humorous.

He wasted no time and immediately began making two gnocchi dishes: a classic potato gnocchi with mushrooms and peas then a flour based choux dough gnocchi with onions and a garlic emulsion. Keller made the whole process look  easy but I guarantee it isn’t. He grew up making gnocchi with his Nona. She said that you know when the dough is ready when it feels like your earlobe. Thomas said that the key to making great gnocchi is practice. The more times you make it the better it gets. Don’t expect it to turn out perfect the first time.

Throughout his demo he stressed three things:

1.  Seasonal cooking is essential to making a successful dish. Everyone should have a garden.

2. The importance of getting kids in the kitchen and cooking.

3.  Salt, Salt and more Salt (he loves this stuff). He talked about it at length. He feels salt enhances flavors unlike pepper which can change flavors. That is one thing I noticed while eating at Ad Hoc the food is always seasoned perfectly.

goodiesAs the cooking came to a close my mouth was watering and I was ready to eat but the gnocchi would not be mine. This was the first demo I’ve been to where you didn’t get to sample the goods at the end (a bit of a let down) so I can’t tell you if the food was tasty (who are we kidding …of course it was) but I can tell you that it smelled heavenly. What we did receive was a cool gift bag that had 4 chocolate bouchons and a French Laundry/ Pebble Beach apron. Spending the morning with Thomas Keller was a fun experience and I’m excited to make gnocchi at home for Mike, he loves them (ya…he will probably end up making them for me…😆).

RECIPES: Here is copy of the handouts I received.

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