San Francisco Stories and Tips

I Ate at The French Laundry and You Didn't

I ate at The French Laundry and You Didn't Photo, San Francisco, California

Now that we've gotten the quick restaurant review over with, let me tell you about the food. All quotes are from the restaurant, describing both the technique used and defining the ingredients. Our night began with two amuse-bouches. First was a puff pastry-looking thing with Gruyere cheese. The second was a salmon cornet, a thin and crispy cone filled with red-onion crème fraiche and salmon tartare, with a dash of lemon juice. We hadn't even begun eating the tasting menu, and we were already learning about the true meaning of "little bites of delight."

Cauliflower "Panna Cotta"
with Beau Soleil Oyster Glaze and Russian Sevruga Caviar

This small appetizer blew us all away. It was a great start for the chef to show off and let us know that what lay ahead would be even better. I've had panna cotta before, but never the cauliflower kind. I've also had caviar before, but I never appreciated it until this. The caviar was salty, yet so mild. The panna cotta was light and cool; its smoothess was a perfect match for the caviar's tapioca-like texture.

"Peach Melba"
Moulard Duck "Foie Gras en Terrine," Masomoto Family Farm Peach Jelly, Pickled Peaches, marinated Red Onion, "Melba Toast," and Crisped Carolina Rice

I once read that culinary master Escoffier grilled a piece of toast, split it in half, and grilled it again to please the wife of the Ritz Hotel owner, Marie Ritz, who complained that toast is never thin enough for her. She was impressed with his creativity, and he called the toast Toast Marie. Escoffier renamed his creation Melba Toast when he served it to the Australian opera singer Nellie Melba after learning that toast was in her diet. He also created a dessert of peaches and vanilla ice cream. He named it Pecheau Cygne until he added raspberry puree sauce to the recipe several years later. Only then did he rename it Peach Melba.

While eating this dish, I would sometimes forget I was having foie gras because of all the other textures having a party in my mouth. The jelly was softly sweet and delicate, while the crispies provided the right amount of crunch, all while the foie gras melted in my mouth. This was a pleasure to eat, even at a $25 supplemental charge. We were already sitting in The French Laundry, so what could possibly stop us from splurging some more?

Member bonvivant702 and the boy passed on this dish and chose the Salad of Toybox Tomatoes and Summer Melons with English Cucumber "Bavarois", Crisp Young Ginger and Tomato-Watermelon "Jus". I only had a small taste of it, but I remember the sweetness of the tomatoes and the melons with the watermelon jus. It was probably the prettiest dish I've ever laid my eyes on.

Crispy Skin Fillet of Japanese Suzuki,
Hen-of-the-Woods Mushrooms, Baby Bok Choy, Sweet Peppers and "Aigre-Doux de Vervene"

One of our servers told us that Suzuki is like sea bass. Again, I'm familiar with several types of white fish, but I've never had crispy fish skin like this. It was perfectly seared without sacrificing the firm but velvety texture inside. All the tiny vegetables that were served with it tasted a bit like they had a splash of sweet vinaigrette (aigre-doux, vinegar and sugar) but I don't know where or when Vervene comes in. The closest search result I found was for the herb vervain, but my Harold McGee book does not mention either plant or herb.

It was after this dish that I took a walk outside in the garden with bonvivant702 to help me begin to digest. All I could think of was my poor performance--only the third course, and I was already getting full! I was so ashamed!

Pan Roasted Sea of Cortez Diver's Scallop,
Sweet Corn and Caramelized Fennel Bulb "Ragout" with Perigord Truffle "Coulis"

I would certainly protest if any other restaurant served me a single (one!) scallop, but I was too distracted, because here was one thing on the menu in which words used were actually familiar to me. The fennel and truffle sauce made this dish whole. The sweet corn, of course, added pleasurable texture to the firmness of the scallop.

Glazed Wolfe Ranch White Quail,
"Casoulet" of Summer Heirloom Beans and "Pancetta" with Jacobsen's Farm Blackberry "Gastrique"

As soon as this dish was placed on our tables, we had a laugh, because the quails were all the same shape and size, as if the bird was smooshed in a tiny pear-shaped container. Member bonvivant702 found out the next day that gastrique is a reduced mixture of vinegar and sugar; the only difference from aigre-doux is that gastrique is prepared with heat until all the liquid evaporates--more like a glaze rather than a liquid sauce. The quail looked tiny, but it was heavy and filling; it's what I like most about dark meats.

I took another walk after this dish.

Elysian Fields Farm "Selle D'Agneau Roti Entiere,"
Yukon Gold Potato "Mille-Feuille," Grilled King Richard Leeks and Sweet Carrots "Vichy"

In other words, lamb. More specifically, the saddle part of a lamb, roasted.

This dish is a good example of why a lot of the French words in The French Laundry menu are in quotes. Mille-feuille (meel-FWEEH) is pastry in several layers, usually with sweet fillings, but with this dish, the potato was created to look like a small square of dessert and nothing more. And if I learned anything from working with textiles for almost two years in college, vichy is a type of plain weave of both horizontal and vertical bands. But hey, what do I know, especially when the carrots came out the size of pennies. I'll give this up and just say that Vichy was the capital of France while it was occupied during the war. I was already full after this dish anyway.

"Chabichou de Poitu"
Thompson Seedless and Zante Grapes, Celery "Ribbons" and "Verjus Gelee"

When this dish came out, all I could think of was, "Dessert! It's almost over!" both out of delight and melancholy. Chabichou is raw goat cheese from the Poitu region of France. The rind is soft, but the inside is rich and thick--a perfectly good choice of cheese with grapes and jelly. The celery curlies were just a delightful addition.

Hayden Mango Sorbet,
Yuzu-Scented "Genoise," Goma "Nougatine" and Black Sesame "Coulis"

At first we thought that the powder all over this dish was the yuzu. We applauded the use of yuzu in powder format, just because none of us have had it that way before. But after some research, I found out that the powder is actually the goma nougatine, a sesame caramelized sugar. It makes sense now, because genoise is a sponge cake, and that was right next to the sorbet. Again, the textures of this dessert have Thomas Keller's name written all over them: silky sorbet with fluffy cake, crunchy powder, and gooey black sesame.

"Tentation Au Chocolat Noisette et Lait,"
Milk Chocolate "Cremeux," Hazelnut "Streusel," with Madagascar Vanilla Ice Cream and Sweeted Hazelnuts

Hold up, we're not yet done.

As the name suggests, we couldn't pass on this second temptation. Who would, when it is a combination of milk chocolate and vanilla ice cream with hazelnuts?

We were expecting the mignardises to come after, but to our surprise, we were served a third dessert, sort of the end version of an amuse-bouche. Member bonvivant702 and I both got the tiny crème brulee, and the boys received a crucible of panna cotta that tasted like really good yogurt with hidden apricots at the bottom. The boy greedily spooned every last bit, refusing to share any more.

The boy also asked for a cup of coffee, while the three of us chose mint tea to close the night.


The mignardises finally came, and we quickly request for all of them to be packed for later.

And a dream come true finally ended after two walks to the outdoor garden, two trips to the bathroom, and thirteen hundred dollars.

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