Wednesday, May 23, 2012

42 Birthday Part 3/5

Sporting my newly-blonde hair, I headed off to the FrenchLaundry with my wife.  If you aren’t familiar with The French Laundry, it’s in Yountville, California and considered one of the best restaurants in the country.

It’s also $250 a person.  Plus tax.  Plus tip.  Plus alcohol.  Plus any of the alternate dishes they offer.  Plus gas for the car because you’re driving five hours to get there.  Plus the dry-cleaning bill because you have to wear a jacket, and you don’t have a sport jacket, only a suit, and you have to wear the whole shebang with a tie that takes six tries to get to look right and a dress shirt you dug out of the back of the closet with a neck that’s too small for you and now you can barely breathe let alone swallow with the top button buttoned and so you try to…

Okay, calm, be calm, look at this picture of the restaurant’s front yard and just breathe.
The French Laundry is in a building that used to be a (gasp) French laundry.  It also used to be a brothel and a house of prostitution.  If you have to do other people’s laundry or sell your body to pay for the price of your meal, that’s why.
I don’t know what these arcane symbols on the front of the restaurant mean. I think they’re magic symbols to ward off anyone wearing jeans.
I could go on about the garden where they grow some of their own vegetables, or the windows where you can see the chefs cooking with crazed abandon (seriously, they must be exhausted by the end of the first seating), but you want to know about the food.
The garden's over there somewhere.  I was too nervous about my top button to go look.
It’s pretty freaking awesome.

You have one big choice: vegetarian or not.  While I admire the French Laundry for giving you that choice, I didn’t see anyone ordering vegetarian.  Here’s what we had:
Clothespins!  Not really, but it was a nice touch and we got to take them home.
First there were these little poofs with cheese in them.
Then there was this ice-cream cone like thing made of pureed salmon with creme fraiche underneath.  I asked about the metal holder and I guess they had them made specially for the restaurant.
They kept pouring us water from this cool bottle.  That table in the back was taken by six people who ordered lots of wine and the more expensive options, and then had to sell their summer house to pay for the meal.
Pearl tapioc with Island Creek oysters and white sturgeon caviar.  Our least favorite dish.  Eating the caviar was like being punched in the nose by someone with a fish wrapped around his knuckles.  Glad we didn't get the more expensive Ossetra caviar as caviar is obviously not for us.
A brioche roll with two kinds of butter (one salted and one not).  The salted butter came from a place called Animal Farm in Orwell, Ohio.
Beet salad with celery, red grapes (peeled, of course), pecans and buckwheat.  Those pink squares are beet chips.  The alternative was foie gras, which I don't like, but kinda wanted when I saw it came with a sampling of three kinds of salt.  My salt education has been paltry.
The bread plate comes by frequently.  Your choices are pretzel rolls, sourdough, multigrain, or baguette.

I started with a pretzel roll.  Eventually, I tried all of them but the sourdough, because sourdough is yucky no matter who makes it.

Prawns with brisket.  The waiter warned us that the brisket would be stuffed into the head of the prawn and it would be "looking at us."  He was half wrong.  They only gave us half the head, so it was winking at me.

My wife had the halibut.  It was less dramatic but fabulous.

They even have special spoons for scraping the sauce off the plates.  The notch is for scraping the rim of the plate.  I figure I could sneak this inside the big house when the cops come for me.  It'd make a great shiv.

Butter-poached lobster tail.  That round thing in the back is a little dumpling.  I've never liked shaved radishes before.  Actually, I don't think I've ever had shaved radishes before.
I had the supplemental tartare with a quail egg and melba toast.  Hey, if you're going to try tartare, this would be the place to do it.  I'm also amused they make their own melba toast.

My wife had the standard pork belly with little cornbread cubes.  As nice as it was, half the meat was still a big piece of fat.  Hence my choice to go with raw beef.

Lamb rib-eye with king trumpet mushroom and creamed barley.  Creamed barley isn't something I think I'd like anywhere else.  Fabulous here.

The cheese course.  They called the cheese "Acapella."  My wife cut the rind off hers.  I figured the rind alone cost us $18.50, and so I ate it.

My wife had coffee.  I took a picture because I was taking pictures of everything.

Red grapefruit sorbet with two accompanyments that I can neither spell nor pronounce. When I called it "ice cream" I thought the server was either going to have a heart attack or stab me.  She did both.
At this point, heady with food and alcohol fumes from the next table, I started talking to the wait staff.  There were dozens of them (80 people work in the restaurant, 40 are servers).  I found out that some famous people had dined there recently: Lady Gaga (who does always dress like that), the "guy who played Green Lantern" (who was very nice), and Vince Vaughn (who is "huge.").  It turns out celebrities are very nice to the servers at the French Laundry.  I decided to be a dick to balance things out.

It's called a "Marjolaine," but the rest of the world calls it strawberry cheesecake with banana ice cream.  The ice is actually roasted banana sherbet.

The chocolate dessert called a "Bavarois."  I didn't get to try it because my wife kept poking me with her fork when I tried to taste it.  She gave me a piece of the swirly.  It was chocolate.
Little dougnuts, nut cookies in chocolate and powdered sugar and a coffee mousse thingy.

Chocolate truffles.  Each one was a different flavor, but I've forgotten what they were.  Now, that precious information is lost forever in the sands of time.
The meal took about three hours, and we were very happy we went for the lunch seating.  Afterwards, our server Guillaume (Hi Guillaume!) presented us with a little box of shortbread cookies for the drive home.  After three hours of eating, we didn’t have the strength to eat them.  In fact I just had the first one now.
Everybody sing! "C is for French Laundry, that's good enough for me..."
Mmmm.  Maybe I should schedule a trip back up there for next year….

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