…on good food, questionable judgment, and making life work
To be honest, after the shock of being lucky enough to get THEIR LAST reservation passed, I was a little bummed that I was only able to to get in for lunch. I will tell you that after the fact, I wouldn’t have done it any other way because I’m not sure how I would have gotten back to our B&B after a 3-4 hour dinner. It was loverly to walk around Yountville after our lunch in the early afternoon and digest.
Fast forward to our anniversary. We had experienced a truly amazing time in Napa and the surrounding area. We had eaten sublime foods, chugged exquisite wines, played at exercise to work off the couple of thousand extra calories a day we were packing in, and the big day was finally here.
We shot up the highway in our painfully green convertible, and tried to get there early if at all possible. We had tried to go easy on breakfast, which was tough, because the place that we were staying kind of did naughty things with eggs. every. morning.
So anyway, we got there and were immediately seated and offered a complimentary glass of champagne.
And like that, we were off. Our server Milton showed us our choices – thank G-d the wife decided to put aside her vegan nonsense for the purposes of this trip, because she really would have missed out.
And what choices they were! There were so many courses we had in front of us. There were upgrades to be made, but just going with the base menu was more than what most people would require in their entire lives.
The ambiance in The French Laundry is amazing. Everything is controlled, there is amazing attention to detail, but you will endlessly be surprised and it all feels so… warm and inviting. I remember being struck by the glassware of our water glasses. I own fine crystal and bar ware – this was the most amazing combination of light and yet sturdy I had ever grasped.
Milton is worth mentioning. He was a great server. He took care of us and was there any time we needed help. He was the opposite of pretentious. He would chat with us between courses and we found out he was originally from Northern Alabama. We spoke of Frank Stitt and he mentioned the last time Chef Stitt had been into the restaurant. The man knew his stuff, and he was supported by a great crew, and I wish I could remember the name of the young lady that was his assistant.
I must disclose at this point that I am not a reliable narrator when it comes to the wines. They were amazing. We chose them with the aid of an iPad, Milton, and chutzpah. They effectively doubled our ticket and made all the difference in the world. I will also say that I will not comment on my wife’s menu because she got the vegetarian tasting menu and stop laughing.
Amuse-bouche – Smoked Salmon Cornets
The first taste after the sparkling wine was Salmon Tartare Cornets – tiny little sesame cones filled with cream cheese and smoked salmon – An explosion of flavor that was just enough to get the imagination going…
Course One – “Oysters and Pearls”
The first course was the famous/infamous “Oysters and Pearls”; poached oysters in a savory tapioca pudding topped off with a nice splash of caviar. The perfect combination of savory, umami and salty. Plus, they gave you this beautiful mother-of-pearl spoon to eat it with which despite my best efforts, I was unable to purloin…
Course Two – Salad of Hawaiian Hearts of Peach Palm
What I remember most about this course was how the tart/sweet flavors played off of the wine that we had at that point. And the fact that this course was a well-designed trap meant to throw serious diners off course. NOT THIS TIME, CHEF KELLER!
Course Three – Slow-Poached Columbia River King Salmon
This course was light and refreshing; a great way to reset the senses before we got into heavier territory.
Course Four – Sweet Butter-Poached Maine Lobster Tail
I think I remember thinking around here, “I wonder if there will be treif, because some shellfish would be great right now…”. The lobster was among the lightest and delicate I had ever had and was a vision…
Course Five – Wolfe Ranch “Cuisse de Caille”
Folks – it is bird time. A perfect portion of perfectly cooked quail with the cutest tiny sliced bell peppers on top and great sauce. And a little nugget of something in the family of cornbread to sop up the bites. Not a terrifying undercooked pigeon claw.
Course Six – Charcoal-Grilled Japanese Wagyu
That’s right. I paid an extra hundred bucks to eat beef raised on beer, massaged, and probably given a happy ending as it was slaughtered. And I’d do it again. What was great about this course is that it is EVERYTHING you want in a perfect piece of beef. Asparagus. Mushrooms. Béarnaise. And the the most perfect example of potato ever. It was a basically a tube of mashed potatoes that had been flash-fried. Crisp on the outside, mushy on the inside. And you bet your ass the perfect wine was a part of this.
Course Seven – “Cabot Clothbound Cheddar”
Those crazy bastards had taken amazing cheddar cheese and pureed it into some sort of almost pudding-like consistency. There were some amazing pickled veggies, ridiculously-good olive oil and flowers to go with it. So good it made me laugh.
Course Eight – Fresh Cream Sherbet
Because I pronounce it SHERBERT. Those cherries were the real deal.
Course Nine – “Dark Treacle”
Not just the name of a band you should form. The dark treacle was rich, angry and perfect. The Golden Syrup balanced everything out and when you threw in the burnt honey ice cream… damn… I pity the fools who went for the blueberry cheesecake.
The end? Mignardises
So at the end of a massive amazing meal like this, you get the greatest gift of all; Mignardises. It is basically a course where they shower you with tiny, amazing sweets. We had a small espresso pudding, candied almonds, pastries, toffees, and an amazing sweet dessert wine, I seem to remember it was a Sauternes. And then they brought by a beautiful walnut case that was filled with truffles. You could choose as many or as few as you wanted. I chose several, but one recommended to Abby was the “peanut butter and jelly” truffle; one that Chef Keller had specifically chose for its ability to conjure up great memories.
Abby literally teared up when she ate it. She went back to some place that was very special to her, and it was beautiful.
As we finished up our meal and were basking in the afterglow, it didn’t even matter that I had just spent more money on one meal than I had spent on my first car. Even though gratuity was included, I still threw another C-note at the waiter because good gravy, that man and his team had earned their keep.
One thing that we had read was one should ask to visit the kitchen if at all possible, which we absolutely did. And as Milton showed us that way, we got a chance to thank and chat up with the hard-working kitchen team and we also got to see the CCTV monitors that Chef Keller uses to keep tabs on the kitchen at Per Se (just keeping an eye on his East Coast crew). We turned around to leave and in walked Chef Keller (he was in for auction week). He was very gracious and easy to speak to, when we mentioned were from Nashville, he opined about how much he loved our town and what a cool place it was for food right now. He even made reference of his introduction to Nashville Hot Chicken! We thanked him profusely for his restaurant’s great service and gave props to Milton and his team; but we were too star struck to ask for a picture or to have him sign our menus!
This was not my first Michelin Star’ed restaurant, nor was it my first Michelin 3-Star restaurant; but it was the best damn meal of my life and here is why. It was the capstone of an amazing, perfect trip, it was on the 10th anniversary of one of the happiest days of my life, the food was without compare, the wine chosen for us was irreplaceable, the service was exemplary, my date was so very beautiful and wearing a dress I will always remember, and I got to see food make her happier than I have ever seen in my life. You can’t ask for more.