Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The French Laundry!

I was talked into running a half marathon back in San Francisco this past April.  Well, technically talked into signing up for the lottery to do it, since the half marathon was so big that you can't just sign up.  We got in.  Ever since I heard, i've been planning on taking a couple of days and going to Napa/ The French Laundry after the race.  Of course, I knew that it was near impossible to get a reservation, but I am persistent.  I vowed I would find a way to get it.

I didn't.  Darling husband and I both tried (each of us with two phones) for two days in August, as reservations opened up.  [ADDENDUM: I forgot to mention my loyal secretary.  She tried one day too!]  The third possible day, I had a conference call and wasn't able to call.  I was dejected.  Adding to the dejection was the fact that I had planned on being nearly done with cooking my way through the book by October (rather than the halfway I am right now).

And then... we got a reservation!  Party of 4, the last seating (not ideal), two days after the half (even less ideal, but it would work out nicely - spa day, wine tasting, sleeping in, fun times!).  I got a babysitter for the three days.  We had a plan!  A plan for the French Laundry.

But, like so many other things, the couple of weeks before, it fell apart.  Someone couldn't go, bringing it down to three.  Another person might not be able to go because of trial schedules.  And then... five days before, my HUSBAND found out he couldn't go because [well, there are a lot of things that could be said, but it sums up nicely with 'his boss is an evil witch.']  Back to dejected.

As with so many things, this got worked out.  Friend with trial issues was able to make it.  Her mom was going to come.  The table was full enough.  Then the morning of, her mom couldn't go.  Back to two.  Except... my husband found a way to make it!  He got a friend to take angry toddler, he got a flight, a car, and dashed up to Napa.  He didn't exactly surprise me, since he told me 7-8 hours beforehand, but I was still on cloud nine (particularly after all the on-off stuff).  I worked in the morning, went to Mumm and had a flight of champagne (while listening to a group of four long-time friends sitting around talking -- making me realize that I NEED to do a trip like this with my friends!), drove around, had a snack at Bouchon, walked the French Laundry garden.  It was a perfect day.

Why the long story?  Because this set up the night to be truly amazing.  And with that, our dinner!  I was the tacky person who took pictures of each course (with my phone, since I wasn't all ready to bust out the big DSLR). 

First up, the cheese gougere - as our table-mate said, 'There is a party in my mouth!'  I can't wait to make these.

Second amuse, the cornet.  I was thrilled to see that my cones were perfect!  The salmon was a much much finer dice.  On one hand, it looked prettier.  But on the other, I like the texture of salmon tartare a little better when its not quite as finally diced (the salmon prep here and my finished ones here, halfway down).

Third, the real first course!  Oysters and pearls.  Much MUCH better than the oysters and pearls that I made.  I don't know what about it was better (maybe the lack of gags around the table), but it was.

Fourth, a "salad."  It was a salad in that it was mostly vegetables.  But it sure didn't look like one. (somewhere on that plate is a potato... and I bet you would never guess which one).* 

Fifth, a sashimi - loved the chili oil.

Heading into the "real" meal... I was getting full!  Despite having nearly starved myself all day.  I think that lunch is really the way to go for a nine-plus course meal.

Sixth, a lobster ravioli.  I went into Toddler mode - mmmmm..... was all I could say.  It was fantastic.

And as a bonus, one of my table-mates (who got the veggie menu) had agnolotti.  My agnolotti looked just like it!  (ok, maybe you can't tell from the picture, but it did)  Validation!

Seventh up, a rabbit rilette.  It was the first time I had ever had rabbit, but I dove in without hesitation (to be honest, it was because it was wrapped in bacon, and there is NOTHING bad wrapped in bacon).

Eight... is when I started to have the 'good lord, i'm still eating' shakes.  I got past it.  Snake River Farm Coelette be Boeuf Grillee.  I also was a little squicked out from the gel-looking thing on the left (it totally reminded me of aspic, which is no bueno).  Then I flipped it over, let the heat from the meat and plate warm it up... and it became Ah-mazing.

Ninth, the cheese course.  This was the only thing that I didn't like.  I LOVE cheese.  I don't love olives and cheese - the olives in the dish just made the cheese taste rancid and competed with the artichoke in a bad way.  I left most of it.

Tenth, a verjus sorbet.  Obviously it was sorbet, so it was far superior to mine (oh wait, I think that is still to come).  There was a candied cashew that was spectacular, even for a nut-hater like me.

Eleventh, (seriously, there is more!) the first dessert - Pommes Anna.  Is there anything better than funnel cake?  It's a close call, but Yes.  It is called salted caramel ice cream.

Twelfth, nearing the end... Coffee and Donuts!  Husband and I disagreed about this (a little), but I actually liked mine a teensy bit more.  Mine were slightly lighter in texture.  Plus, they only served the holes, and the whole donut is the better part.

This wasn't really an 'thirteenth' course, but there were also mignardises.  I dove in for the chocolate-PB one (favorite combination).  By that point I was so food-drunk (I had one glass of wine, but I felt woozy from eating so much!) that I couldn't bring myself to eat another.  In hindsight, I wish I had asked for them to-go.

At the end of the meal, we got a "souvenir" menu, and some shortbread cookies.  The kitchen had pretty much shut down, and I was absolutely exhausted, so no kitchen tour for me.  Another time (you know, in a decade when I can go again).  The price?  I tried to forget.  Then last week, I found the receipt in my wallet...and tried to bury it.  Strangely, I can't bring myself to throw it away.  It can hopefully be the occasional find, something that reminds me of the most amazing day.

* Somewhere around the salad course, I think, we were also served some pain au lait made at Bouchon.  It was the most amazing bread i've ever had.  I've been searching for a pain au lait recipe since then, but nothing had come anywhere near the amazingness of that bread.  I cannot wait for the Bouchon Bakery cookbook (and hopefully a recipe for the pain au lait!!!)

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