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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:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

Ad Hoc Brunch

Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc serves up Brunch every Sunday from 10-1pm and it’s become supremely popular. We arrived at 10:10 and the placed was full by 10:30. It’s a 3 course meal for $34.  I had heard from others that the Brunch menu included Bouchon pastries, yogurt and then a choice of a breakfasty main dish (waffles, pancakes, eggs) but on our visit the format had changed. This is the menu we received on May 16, 2010 (no choices available).

Ice berg lettuce with buttermilk dressing, red onions, apples and walnuts

Steak & scrambled eggs with creme fraiche, wild mushroom ragu and fava beans

Oven roasted potatoes

Beignets covered in sugar with strawberry, vanilla and chocolate dipping sauces

The salad was good but nothing special. The steak and eggs on the other hand was a masterpiece. It still amazes me how every single bite is perfectly seasoned. The man knows how to use salt! The beignets were divine even though they were more like donuts; dipped in a combo of vanilla-strawberry sauce was delish. We left satisfied but not stuffed (which is always a good thing).

Next visit I would make my reservation for a later time. It definitely is more of an early lunch menu than a breakfast. I don’t usually wake up and have a salad with my french press.

See our past Ad Hoc adventures:
Fried Chicken night
Pork dinner

Butternut Squash Soup with Brown Butter, Sage and Nutmeg Creme Fraiche

Check it out… We finally made a recipe from our Thomas Keller “Bouchon” cookbook! Mike whipped this soup up on a week night to boot! It was not super difficult to make and it turned out fantastic. Sweet with a little spice. This would be a perfect starter course at a dinner party especially during the holidays.

Recipe link

Keller vs. Colicchio – Battle of the Bacon Fried Egg Sandwiches

tomvstom

Keller is on the left side

I was cravin’ a kicked up BLT and found two recipes online from Thomas Keller (French Laundry/Ad Hoc) and Tom Colicchio (Craft/Top Chef). I couldn’t decide which to try so I made both (on different days…I’m not that piggy!). I hate to say it but it ended up in a tie. Both sandos were good but definitely missing something.

The  Pro’s:

Keller – yummy bread and cheese selection
Colicchio –  frisee with oil/vinegar was a grand addition

The Con’s:

Keller – Needed a more flavorful sauce. Mayo just didn’t cut it.
Colicchio – This needed a big juicy slice of tomato. It was a tad dry.

Next time I will make a combination of the two.

Keller – Recipe link

Colicchio (from his new cookbook: ‘witchcraft) – Recipe link

egg sando battle

Bouchon – Las Vegas

bouchonvegas
I finally made it to Bouchon, Thomas Keller’s French bistro! The restaurant is tricky to locate in the Venetian hotel but well worth the search. We were lucky enough to get a table outside in the sun (which is next to one of the pools). It took an extraordinarily long time to decide what we wanted to order because everything sounded fantabulous. As we sipped on mimosa’s we needed to have the specials explained at least twice. bouchonbeneRachel and I ended up with the Croque Madame which is toasted ham & cheese on brioche with a fried egg and mornay sauce (Béchamel) and a side of pommes frites (fries). It was beyond good. It was sinful and I ate the entire thing without batting an eye. Dena had her first benedict. Unbelievable, right?…at our age! Well, her first was a doozy — Eggs Florentine (substitute spinach and smoked salmon for the ham). I loved everything about our long relaxing brunch and I can’t wait to return. I’ve already decided what I’m having next time.

Website: http://www.bouchonbistro.com/
Bouchon (Venetian) on Urbanspoon

Lexus Grand Tasting @ Pebble Beach Food & Wine 2009

Welcome to Foodie Paradise! If you can only go to one event during Pebble Beach Food & Wine this is it. You’ll find a little bit of everything here…famous chefs serving up their tasty bites, 100’s of wines from premiere wineries, cookbook signings, photo ops and panels. The slide show below will show all the highlights. Mike and I have decided Pebble Beach Wine & Food will be a yearly event for us.

Noteworthy dishes & wines:

michael-schulson-braised-pork-belly-w-kimchi

My favorite dish: Michael Schulson's braised pork belly and kimchi slider. This was sweet & spicy an awesome combo.

cindy-pawlcyn-duck-burger

Mike's favorite dish: Cindy Pawlcyn's duck burger. Sweet & Succulent.

mark-estee-blt-pork-bellyromaine-ice-creamtomato-jelly

Most clever dish: Mark Estee's BLT (pork belly,romaine ice cream, tomato gelee on a mini english muffin)

Best red wine: O’Shaughnessy Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
Best white wine: Morlet Vineyards “La Proportion Doree” Sonoma County
Best wine find: Terrazas de los Andes “Cheval” 2005
*tons more of Mike’s wine analysis can be found at the end of this post!


*to turn the groovy accompanying music on/off, click on the speaker in the top left corner

Tips for those going for the first time:

  • Many online food communities had discounts for this event including FoodBuzz and Zagat about 1 week before. I even saw some cheaper tickets on Craigslist.
  • Make sure you pick up a map from the guy working the entrance to 17 mile drive. One wrong turn and you’ll be lost.
  • If going to a cooking demo and you have a cookbook from the featured Chef bring it with you. Usually there is a signing after the demo. They also sell books on site.

Check out more of Mike’s wine notes here… Continue reading

Chocolate Bouchons

chocbouchons

OMG! These are just like the real deal. I didn’t think Chef Keller would put his name on a product of poor quality. He teamed up with Williams- Sonoma to produce the iconic chocolate Bouchon mix and mold. The mix easily made 24 sensational corks.

bouchonmoldbouchonmold2

Tasty tip: If you want big Bouchons fill the molds to the top, if not fill them just a tad under the lip. The mold works great and the little bad boys slide right out.

Bouchon Bakery

bouchonbakery

If you can believe it we have never been to the Bouchon Bakery. Since it’s located across the street from NapaStyle we decided to stop by and grab some sweets and breakfast for the following morning. It’s a tiny little shop with many french bakery items to choose from. We purchased the following:

bouchongoodies

Nutter butter, coffee cake, walnut roll, Thomas Keller oreo cookie (TKO), blueberry muffin, chocolate bouchon (not pictured)

Everything was very good and even tasted fresh the next day. My favorite was the blueberry muffin and the TKO. Mike’s was the coffee cake and the Nutter butter. I think this will be a regular stop on future Napa trips.

Website: http://www.bouchonbakery.com/
Bouchon Bakery on Urbanspoon

Ad Hoc part II – Fried Chicken Night

THE Fried Chicken everyone goes gaga over

Typical conversation about Ad Hoc:

Have you been to Ad Hoc?
Did you have the fried chicken?
Oh, my gosh it’s the best chicken I’ve ever eaten. It’s life changing bla,bla,bla

Back in May we did go to Ad hoc but not on fried chicken night. We instead had a marvelous pork dinner. If you are not familiar with Thomas Keller’s beloved restaurant in Yountville, Ca read this past post.

Mike and I returned to Ad Hoc to finally try the legendary fowl. We arrived on July 28 super syked and ready to devourer some breasts and wings. Here was our menu for the evening:

First Course - Baby Iceberg Wedge Salad with house cured speck, sweet 100 tomatoes, red torpedo onions, herb-cream dressing

Second Course - Buttermilk Fried Chicken brentwood yellow corn & yukon gold potatoes

Third Course - The Cheese Board with berry jam & medjool dates

Fourth Course - Pecan Tarts with whipped vanilla cream & caramel sauce

The answer to every ones question…Did it live up to the hype? Unfortunately for me – No…as I have stated in the past I like my chicken with a thin salty skin. Keller’s chicken didn’t have either of those components. His chicken has a thick herby skin. Good, but not my style. Mike enjoyed it. At least I can now say — been there, done that!

My favorite parts of the meal were the two sides. The corn was so sweet I didn’t mind the kernels stuck in my teeth and when I die I want to be buried in a vat of that creamy buttery mash. Just because I wasn’t crazy about the chicken doesn’t mean I like Ad Hoc any less. The food is amazing and I love the concept of the restaurant. It still gets 5 drumsticks in my book and I will be back. I look forward to trying a fish and beef menu.

Tasty Tip: If you want to try it for yourself a fellow food blogger has a calendar that lists all the monthly Ad Hoc fried chicken nights. For those of you who can’t make it to Napa Keller’s chick recipe can be found here or to try my version go here.

Ad Hoc

Ad Hoc is a fairly new restaurant in Yountville from the famous chef Thomas Keller (the French laundry/Bouchon). When you enter the building you will feel as though you stepped into a Pottery Barn catalog. The decor is casual and homey yet hip and fun. Ad Hoc is billed as a family style restaurant which usually means everyone at your table orders a few dishes and you share. Here, things are done a little different… Ad Hoc serves ONE 4 course menu every night which you share at your table. So whatever the chef decides to make, you eat. There are no choices to be made. When I first heard about this unique business model I was highly intrigued. With that said I expected every dish to be prepared flawlessly and guess what?…they were! Every morsel was perfectly seasoned. I could actually taste the salt and pepper in every bite.

Here is the menu we were served on May 10th, 2008 ($48/per person):

First course – Frisee salad with beets
I absolutely love beets so I was totally excited about this salad. It was delectable. It was simple yet refined. When you have fresh ingredients you can’t go wrong.

Second course – Stuffed pork with rice, barley, baby carrots, asparagus and apple compote
Mike was drooling…The pork skin was crisp and salty and the meat tender. The veggies and rice were a perfect accompaniment.

Third course – Goat cheese with pinenut brittle and blackberry jam
A combination I would never think of was a symphony in my mouth.

Fourth course – Thin pastry with baked bananas topped with strawberries and vanilla bean ice cream
I don’t know if you notice from previous posts but if a restaurant offers a dessert with bananas and ice cream Mike and I order it. We adore banana anything. It was like this menu was tailor made for us.

The one and only thing I did not care for was the music blasting in the dining room, it really contradicted with the homey vibe they wanted the restaurant to portray. Don’t get me wrong the soundtrack played throughout the night was great but extremely loud. I found it hard to talk with the friends at our table. Around 8ish the music and lights were turned down which was much appreciated.

This was the best meal of the weekend and probably the best I have ever had in Napa. I hear the evenings with fried chicken and chocolate brownies are to die for. Unfortunately, they only post the menu the day of so you can’t plan ahead. It’s the luck of the draw. Make your reservation (far in advance) and keep your fingers crossed. But really unless you are a picky eater I don’t think you can go wrong on any night.

Side Note: We were told by one of the servers that Ad Hoc originally was a temporary fix until Keller could open a burger and half bottle joint but it became so popular that it had to stay. I’m so glad it did!

Rating:

Website: http://adhocrestaurant.com/

Keller cookbooks:
The French laundry
Bouchon

Ad Hoc on Urbanspoon

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