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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

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Black Box Wines

blackbox
I don’t discriminate even when it comes to wine… jug,bottle,box or can I will give anything a try. When Foodbuzz offered to send me a sample of the new Black Box wines I said, “bring it on!”  Black Box wines feature 9 varietals from all over the world. Each box holds the equivalent of 4 bottles for a very reasonable $22-32. I was hoping to receive a Cabernet or Riesling, but alas a 2008 Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand showed up at my door. Mike and I rarely drink Sauv Blanc as I prefer a sweeter white wine but it is the summer so on a hot afternoon we had a glass.

Here are our tasting notes
Color: pale gold
Aroma: floral, melon
Taste: crisp, dry, acidic, bitter with a metallic/tin like finish

We disliked the harsh aftertaste it left in our mouths so this was not a wine we would break out and drink on its own. It needs to accompany food. We used the remainder of the box to cook with and it was fantastic. A favorite dish was a clam linguine. I would be up for trying other Black Box wines.

Website: http://www.blackboxwines.com/

Pebble Beach Food & Wine 2009

Our friends over at FoodBuzz were extremely generous and gave Mike and I tickets to the second annual Pebble Beach Food & Wine extravaganza. This is one of the premiere culinary events in the Country with over 60 celebrity chefs and 250 Wineries. It is the ultimate Foodie weekend and we had a fabulous time!

We went to the following events:

  • Thomas Keller Cooking Demo
  • Vérité Winery Bordeaux Blends Wine Tasting
  • Farm-to-Table Lunch
  • Lexus Grand Tasting – Saturday

We will blog in detail about all of these soon, but in the meantime here is a little taste of what’s to come…


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

Rubicon Estate Winery

rubicon

The Chateau

I was amazed to find that Mike had never been to the Coppola winery in Napa since his favorite filmmaker is Francis Ford Coppola. Mike told me he had tried a couple Coppola wines in the past and was not overly impressed so he didn’t have an interest in visiting the winery. Well, I thought it was time to check it out.

When we arrived at Rubicon (formally named Niebaum Coppola Winery) we were instructed by the parking attendant/security guard to go inside the Chateau and pay our guest fee. There was a $25 per person entry fee which included a tasting of 5 wines, a guided tour* and access to the Chateau’s museum and exhibits. We had about 50 minutes before our tour so we walked around the museum and then had our tasting. The ladies that were pouring in the tasting room that morning were a hoot. They were friendly and fun. Rubicon Estate is where Francis has decided to exclusively showcase all his higher end wines. Mike and I were blown away with the selections. The Zin was robust but not overly peppery like so many other Cali Zins. The highlight was the “Rubicon,” a Bordeaux style red that uses only organically grown estate grapes. It’s mild enough to drink now or will age perfectly for another 15 years. Another thing that impressed Mike was that the wines were not overpriced… just like his favorite winery, Phelps. As we finished our tasting the tour started.

The 30 minute tour took us on a walk around the grounds and explained the history of the estate. It was very educational. We learned that Coppola has moved all his lower end everyday wines to a 2nd winery called Rosso & Bianco in Geyserville, CA (it’s currently being remodeled but I’m sure we will make a trip soon). The Rubicon estate was beautiful and a landmark not to be missed. Our visit went surprisingly well. We arrived with no expectations and left with a couple bottles of wine and a wine club membership so we will be returning.

coppolahome

Front yard of the Coppola Family Home --straight ahead behind the mass of trees is their house

*Note: If you want to take the tour that’s included with your entry fee sign up early! The tours run 3 times a day (11:30,1:30,3:30) with only 20 people and its first come first serve. When we arrived at 10:20am we were the last 2 people that made the 11:30am tour. I would suggest coming in before 11am and signing up for whatever time you want.

Website: http://www.rubiconestate.com/

Chateau Montelena Winery

chamont

After seeing the movie Bottle shock Mike and I were curious to check out one of the wineries that put Napa on the map. The Chateau is nestled in the hills of Calistoga. They definitely took some creative license with the film since the drive up didn’t look at all familiar. The estate on the other hand was as beautiful as it was on screen. For $15 we got to taste the following 4 wines: the Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Montelena Estate Zinfandel, and Potter Valley Riesling. I was kinda bummed that we didn’t get to try a Chardonnay. The wines didn’t disappoint. They were all yummy. We ended up bringing home a bottle of the Zin. After the tasting we were sent off with a map of the property so we could go on a self guided tour. We took a quick walk around the grounds as it was a gorgeous day and the vines were filled with colorful fall leaves. It was fun to visit a place with such rich history.

Tasty Tip: By the way, the tasting fee is not waived with purchase which I find chintzy.

Tasting Room Hours
9:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. daily
(except major holidays and the third Saturday in May)

Website: http://www.montelena.com/

Sauvignon Blanc Steamed Mussels

I was in the mood for mussels. I order them at restaurants all the time but have never made them at home. I didn’t think it would be so easy. Once you take the time to clean them the actual prep/cook time is minimal. Mike and I picked up 2 lbs of farm raised black and New Zealand green lipped mussels for $10 at Whole Foods market. What a deal! We got a mixture because we didn’t know which was better. Now we know… go for the green lipped, they were much more meaty and sweet. I like my mussels drenched in garlic. The recipe I used only asked for 1 measly garlic clove. I used 3 and when I make this again I will probably use 4. We served this up with a side salad and crusty garlic bread (yes, more garlic). Excellent meal.

Recipe link

Village Bistro and Wine Bar

If you want to grab a cheap bite after a movie or work stop by the Village Wine Bar at Santana Row. They have a slammin’ happy hour every night from 3-6pm (weekends too!). Almost all small plates and cocktails are $6! The only downer is you have to sit in the bar area which is small and can get crowded. But the wonderful selection of wines by the glass and appetizers are worth the pushin’ and shovin’.

Recommended eats: crispy Calamari, Heirloom Tomato flatbread, cheese stuffed figs and the crab cakes.

Website: http://thevillagebistro.net/

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