Tuesday, April 26, 2016

French Laundry for my 40th Birthday

About 15 years ago, Chef Morimoto opened his restaurant in Philadelphia. About 2 weeks after the opening, a large group of fellow foodie friends and I went for the omakase. We had somewhere around 12 courses, which are written down on a napkin I still have somewhere, and delicious drink concoctions. It was, to this day, the best dining experience I had ever had. 

The French Laundry may have topped that. The only thing I wanted for my 40th birthday was a once-in-a-lifetime experience at The French Laundry, which has been rated as “best restaurant in the world.” It took 3 months and mad phone skills to get the reservation (my birthday was January 2 and we went on March 12), but it was so worth the wait. The food, the champagne, and the wine were incredible. Our meal lasted about three and a half hours. I was grateful for the suggestion to go for lunch rather than dinner, especially since most nights these days I’m falling asleep by 9.

The building itself is beautiful!




It was hard going through the tens of pages of wine, but we ended up with a half bottle of Billecart-Salmon Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, which was yummy (and of which I drank most myself. Yikes!). After that, I had a glass of Dehlinger Pinot Noir from Russian River. That was also very good, very berry-y.

We started with an amuse bouche of creamy gougères and salmon tartare cornets. I had made gougères in the past, but they have never turned out like this! These were filled with a creamy cheese, too. The cones below the salmon tartare were filled with crème fraiche. With that start, I was even more excited about what was to come.


We moved on to the famous “oysters and pearls,” Island Creek oysters and white sturgeon caviar in the most amazing cream sauce.


Next was a Hudson Valley moulard duck foie gras terrine served with 6 types of salts from Hawai'i, France, Montana, and Japan and the most flaky, buttery roll that exists. After that, we got our first selection of breads, which are served with salted and unsalted butters specially made for the French Laundry. I had the pretzel and the French roll this time around. Later I had the multigrain roll. (And another pretzel. Because yum!)


Our next course was a filet of Mediterranean John Dory served with a black truffle emulsion sauce and thick, buttery, smooth mashed potatoes.

If that wasn’t enough seafood (and really, can you ever have enough seafood?), we next had Maine sea scallops with roasted beets and hazelnuts. (I forgot to take a picture of it before I dove into it. Oopsie.)

Next we had quail with Hobb's bacon, asparagus, watercres, and “sauce charcutière” topped with quail egg.


After that, we had Elysian Fields lamb with a garlic jus that was poured on it tableside. It was served with a split pea croquette, which wasn’t our favorite thing, and fava bean pesto with Meyer lemon puree.


Up next was one of my favorite courses of any meal: The cheese course. We had Andante Dairy contralto with sour cherry paté de fruit. According to Cheese Notes, contralto is “a washed rind goat’s milk cheese with the trademark orange-pink rind and creamy texture of a washed cheese; at the same time, it is strikingly lacking in the strong aroma and pungency one would expect from a washed rind, never mind one of the goat family. The delicate, lightly eyed paste of this mild, creamy cheese has an herbaceous, milky flavor with just a hint of goaty tang.” It was indeed creamy and mild and delicious. It was served with a carrow seed roll, which wasn’t my favorite since I’m not a huge fan of the taste of carrow seed. 


And to my next favorite course of any meal: Dessert. My whole philosophy in life is that if you’re not having dessert, there’s no point in even eating. And here we had desserts for days! It started with a birthday cake, which was a type of mille feuille cake with alternating layers of vanilla, chocolate, and mocha creams and served with the best fresh vanilla gelato I've ever had.


We also had roasted banana ice cream, bruleed rhubarb with almond meal souffle type of thing, "coffee" and donuts, the famous French macarons, chocolate covered macademia nuts, and homemade truffles of various flavors. I was a very happy girl. Very happy.  



We even got a little goodie bag with the leftover desserts (I know, can you believe there were leftovers!) and some sugar cookies in little imprinted tins for the road.


After we were finished, we had a great conversation with our lead server and were lucky enough to get a tour of the kitchen as well as the design plans and construction of the new kitchen. In the kitchen there was a live video stream of Per Se's kitchen in NYC, which also showed the live stream of French Laundry’s kitchen in Per Se’s.



We also got a 
signed copy of our menu 
from the chef.

I was also impressed with the little details around the restaurant, which was, in fact, a French steam laundry in the 1920s and is on the national registry of historic places. Here are the light fixtures and one of the several paintings depicting old laundries.

Before leaving, we of course signed the guest book.


It was pouring all afternoon, but by the time we finished the rain had let up enough to walk around the restaurant's gardens across the street, which included a bee hive and a chicken coop.




I topped it all off with a long soak in our Inn's hot tub. Not a bad day. I'm so grateful for this experience and this day, and for having the most amazing and generous husband and partner. I told him to start saving so we can come back for my 50th birthday.

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