Thursday, January 3, 2008

The French Laundry!

Almost as shamefully overdue as my Thanksgiving post is my French Laundry post. As is the case with all of my extravagant foodie experiences, I went with Katie and Papa S. (of El Bulli and Cal Pep fame). It was an open house type of event, rather than a sit-down meal, but we certainly didn't go hungry. Before I dive into the food, though, let me just say that Yountville (especially the French Laundry building) is fracking darling. Same with St. Helena. And the whole area made my heart go pitter-patter for the French countryside. If I ever leave research, sell out to Wall Street, and make my first ten million, I'm getting a little cottage up there.

Okay: the food. Our first treat walking into the courtyard was the "ice cream cone:" a small, almost-bite-sized cone-shaped wafer with a tiny dollop of crème fraîche in the bottom, and a teaspoon or so of most delicious salmon tartare on top. I'm not usually a salmon fan, but this was quite good.

Next up, also in the courtyard: smoked sturgeon with thinly sliced red onion on brioche toast. I was supremely skeptical of this one, as it was creamy and just not very appetizing, but it was surprisingly good. What can I say, when I'm somewhere like the French Laundry, I'll eat pretty much whatever they put in front of me. And hey, sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised!

What we really wanted next was the sous-vide roast beef sandwiches (see also: NYT Magazine, 14 August 2005), but they weren't quite ready yet, so we ventured inside. In the main room on the first floor was a spread of potted food, and in an adjoining room was a table (tower, really) of bite-sized desserts: petits fours, mousses, cakes, cookies, and so on. There would be time (and room) for dessert, but not just yet. At the moment we wanted some of that potted food. The table on the first floor being rather crowded, we sought satisfaction on the second floor, where there were identical spreads of potted food and desserts. The potted food was unattended. Score!

And what excellent potted food it was: duck confit, pork terrine, chicken liver hâché, and foie gras, all with various crostini and accompaniments (a delicious apple relish, cornichons, and pearl onions). My favorite was the pork terrine, but the foie gras was fantastic as well--not since l'Ami Louis have I had foie gras that good.

By the time we had finished with (round one of) the potted food upstairs, Papa S. had arrived, so we went down to meet up with him. We found him, naturally, in line for the roast beef sandwiches. The line moved past a popcorn machine that was turning out delicious-smelling popcorn (onto which the attendant sprinkled black truffle salt), as well as another "ice cream cone" table. Katie and I were the victims of an egregious act of cutting. We spent the rest of the wait giving the perpetrators the evil eye, and expressing our outrage (quasi-) sotto voce. Especially when it looked like the offending party was going to get the last of the sous-vide roast beef. Scandal! But all was made right in the end: we got the first slices of a new, steaming hot piece of beef. These slices were placed on Bouchon bakery rolls, and we garnished them as we wished. Options included mustards (smooth and whole-grain), horseradish mayonnaise, tomato paste, thinly sliced onion rings, and lettuce (and maybe more--I can't remember). I went with whole-grain mustard, tomato paste, and lettuce. The sandwich (in particular, the beef) was as heavenly as I was expecting, having heard about it continually for weeks (months, even). Describing it as "tender" is grossly inadequate--it practically melted in your mouth. I could see why Katie and Papa S. had been going on about it.

In the end, we also sampled several of the desserts, as well as the hot chocolate with house-made marshmallows, but the sandwiches--confession time: I had two--were the main event. All in all, a delicious afternoon. I even got to meet, or at least shake hands with, Thomas Keller himself (he's taller than I expected). I'm very much looking forward to going back at some point. And when I do, I promise that the write-up will be more prompt than this one was.


Brave Sir Robin said...

duck confit

Sigh, if that isn't the single most wonderful thing in the universe, I haven't found it yet.

So, is this Katie single?

Anne said...

Nope. :)

Supersaps said...

Sous-vide! I have yet to try anything prepared in that manner. Lucky you.