Dinner at the French Laundry? Check.

29th September 2009

Let’s take a momentary break from my sympathetic nervous system to discuss the finest meal I’ve ever had.

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Bryan started calling for a reservation three months in advance, and we ultimately secured a table for four on a Tuesday night at 9 p.m. I asked Bryan if that would mean we were getting the B team in the kitchen. His response, “The French Laundry doesn’t have a B team.”

Our dear friends Kayla and Josh Cagan were our plus-two, but Josh called in a bit of a panic two days before. He had a bad case of the flu. The French Laundry being a bit particular about reservations, we were doubly concerned. I wasn’t sure how we’d even begin asking other people. “Hello. Are you free tomorrow night? In that case, I have a personal financial question for you.”

Fortunately, one 48-hour nap and a clean shave later, Josh rallied and the Cagans flew up from Los Angeles to join us. You’d never know from this photo that Josh is sweating espresso:

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The day of, Bryan spent a few hours studying wine in hopes of convincing the sommelier that we took him seriously. We got all dressed up, arrived about fifteen minutes early, and stood around laughing too readily.

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All of us felt oddly nervous and self-aware until the sommelier came out and asked us if we’d like to have some Champagne in the garden. Yes, we certainly would. We walked outside to find Pink taking a smoke break with her husband.

(Aside: How crazy loveable is Pink? She was having this passionate, animated conversation with her husband — who I recognized from an ancient episode of Punk’d — and it made me feel all glowy for her. Hooray for the strong, fun girls. I didn’t shove my camera at her head, so if you’re curious, she looked like this:

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But there was no carousel horse for her to straddle. So maybe more like this?

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Only wearing a cute strapless maxi dress. Anyway, I digress.)

The meal was, appropriately, the meal of a lifetime. Our menu:

Amuse Bouche

Ahi Tuna Waffle Cone with Crème Fraîche

Remember what I said about Santorini? This smelled like Greece to me.

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Oysters and Pearls

“Sabayon” of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar

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Moulard Duck “Foie Gras Au Torchon”

Summer Grapes, Hazelnuts and Frisée

The guys figured out that this was essentially the world’s most amazing peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It was served with warm brioche, which was replaced every few minutes to ensure that the temperature would be right for softening the Foie Gras. It was the epicurean equivalent of having someone hand you a dryer-toasty towel right as you step out of the bath.

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Very, very old salt from various regions of the world

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Sautéed Fillet of Sablefish

Sunchokes, Navel Orange, Pine Nuts, Arugula, and Niçoise

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Maine Lobster Tail “Pochee Au Beurre Doux”

Heirloom Beets, English Cucumber, Pumpernickel Purée, and Horseradish Crème Fraîche

The champagne grapes on the plate are not grapes. I believe they were bits of cucumber cut with the world’s tiniest melon baller. Also, they were frozen, which made me gasp.

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Salmon Creek Farms Pork Belly

Ibérico Ham, Candy Stripe Figs, Corn Beignet, and Sauce Pimentón

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Marcho Farms “Coeur de Veau”

Caramelized Apple Dumpling, Watercress, and Pickled Walnut Condiment

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My bread was stacking up, as I was getting dangerously full. All the baked goods are made at sister Bistro/Bakery Bouchon.

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Snake River Farms “Calotte de Boeuf Grillée”

Hen-of-the-Woods Mushrooms, Broccolini, Tokyo Turnips, and Black Garlic Jus

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Andante Dairy “Cavatina”

Sour Cherry “Chiboust,” Fennel Bulb, Nasturtium, and Mustard Seed Shortbread

The top layer of this gave no resistance against the fork, almost like a meringue. I rubbed it all over my face.

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Honeydew Melon Sorbet

Compressed Watermelon and Basil “Nuage”

I love how the seeds on the plate read like caviar.

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“Gâteau Saint Nizier au Manjari”

Mango-Chili Relish, Mast Brothers Chocolate Cocoa Nibs, Lime Foam, and Coconut Milk Sorbet

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Lemon Verbena “Vacherin”

Tellicherry Pepper Panna Cotta, Lemon Verbena Sherbet, and Chilled Silverado Trail Strawberry Consommé

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Mignardises

I’ve decided I want one of these bowls. Gorgeous:

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Can you tell I was a little tipsy by this point? Yeah:

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They even sent us home with little packages of shortbread, which I rationed over four days of afternoon tea.

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It’s so rare to come across new flavors and sensations as an adult, experiencing so many in one evening has made me more aware of how much cruddy tasting stuff I eat without thinking about it. Eating like this is one of the most personal ways you can experience art, and I’ve decided to look into more restaurants I’d like to try so I can add them to the list as well. In the meantime, I’m paying a lot more attention to how my everyday foods taste, and investing a little more to buy better produce and prepared foods.

In all, it was an unforgettable night, and the company was just as good.

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Intel is making my site more interesting by sponsoring my Mighty Life List as part of its Sponsors of Tomorrow campaign. This meal was just one of ten dreams they’ve helped me achieve.

52 thoughts on “Dinner at the French Laundry? Check.

  1. brie

    Looks absolutely divine. There is really nothing like an amazing, fresh dinner complete with mouthwatering desserts. Nothing.

    Also, looking at the picture of Bryan and you made me happy. You’re a very cute couple. Also, when you and Heather Armstrong were in Vancouver last year (?) Bryan chatted with a friend and I. What a nice guy! You have a Mighty Family, Maggie. Bravo.

  2. Adri

    I’ve been following your blog and your many wonderful adventures for quite some time. I love your sense of humor and how well you convey to your readers your life and your passions. It’s always exciting to read what you’ve been up to. The recent posts have been great…and this one in particular had me drooling! Keep enjoying!

  3. Christopher Skrocke

    How great for you! I love reading about people having food epiphanies and The French Laundry is definitely one worth having. You might try Coi, Daniel Patterson’s restaurant. Much more edgy-microgastronomy-sort-of-place, definitely an experience worth having.

    At the other end of the spectrum- one of the finest meals I enjoy every winter is to have dinner at Bistro Jeanty. Get the Tomato Soup en croute followed by the Cassoulet. Awesome.

  4. AnotherRebecca

    Terribly jealous, but I am reassuring myself with the fact that if I didn’t get to go, at least someone who will describe it did!

  5. Betsey

    I’m so glad for you that you had the opportunity to do this! You live your life with joy, and it’s obvious and inspiring. Keep it up lady!

  6. Embe

    Maggie, I seriously love you and all your wonderful ideas for living a fulfilled life but, (isn’t there always a ‘but’ after such a comment?) the ‘Amuse Bouche’ reads just like something out of Playgirl magazine and then when I scanned down to the next photo… Well, both photos reminded me of something which might be needing this:
    http://www.moggit.com/2009/09/calling-all-men.html

  7. Bookbag

    Yum. How am I supposed to go about my Wednesday after reading this?! Looks like a terrific meal. Have you thought about adding Cyrus to the list? I went there once, and it was the most amazing culinary experience I’ve ever had. Everything was interesting but also delicious.

  8. kat

    I always fear going to the French Laundry, that is won’t live up to what I expect from it especially for the cost. But anyone I know who has gone has been blown away so I think my concerns are unfounded

  9. Fiona

    I would recommend Tetsuya’s in Sydney Australia. Along with French Laundry it is one of the top 10 restaurants in the world. Go visit Australia and enjoy this amazing culinary experience!

  10. Wa

    M,

    Your life list inspired me to write a tongue-in-cheek column of my own list last week:

    http://tinyurl.com/yellen2

    But kidding aside, I admire you for going out and crossing some off yours. So many of us put it off until too late. I am still applauding your kayak roll…

    George “Wa”

  11. Andi

    Yum, I have always wanted to go to French Laundry, I live in the Bay Area so I must get there one day! The descriptions and photos are lovely and inspiring me to reconsider my quest again.

  12. Laurie

    I am enjoying reading about your life list fulfillment so much! If I had a life list French Laundry would be on it. And I went to college with Josh so I know your dinner conversation must have been scintillating as well.

  13. susanna b

    Foie gras? Even if you eat meat, the sustained torture of of ducks and geese to please the human palate is vile.

  14. Kizz

    The meal looks lovely. Speaking of the way it looks, I’ve been to a couple of places like that and I recognize the nerves you felt initially. How did you conquer those and unabashedly take wonderful photos throughout the evening?

  15. Erin

    I would have felt so out of place I wouldn’t have been able to cut my finger sized steak or swallow my tablespoon of sorbet…no wonder you were tipsy, you had no food in your stomach.

  16. Maren

    Wow, you’re friends with Doctor Who and Donna?

    http://heyrickie.files.wordpress.com/2008/03/10doc-donna-_2.jpg

    Kidding aside, you guys all look great, and so does that food. I’m from Sonoma County, one valley over, and have always wanted to eat there, but the prix fixe menu makes me nervous that I’d get there on a night where I didn’t like a good portion of the food, since I don’t eat red meat and I’m kind of a picky eater. :(

  17. Amanda Mae

    Maggeh,

    I was just reading Thomas Keller’s French Laundry cookbook and recognized many of these pieces. You should read it, it’s fascinating, his entire approach to food. You’re very lucky.

    If you’re in L.A. again, look up Patina at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. It’s one of LA’s only fancy pants at this level, but a leetle cheaper. A truly memorable experience.

  18. Bonita

    Oh my, there’s nothing like a little food porn first thing in the morning! Thanks Maggie!

    Our “so-fancy-I-felt-like-an-imposter” meal was lunch at Gordon Ramsay in London, and I’m sorry to say it wasn’t nearly as memorable as it should have been. Wolfgang Puck’s Chinois on Main in Santa Monica – now THAT was spectacular!

  19. norm

    I think my wife and I are going to be able to do the French Laundry only after all the kids are through college. Will they take reservations for 2018?

  20. Miss B

    I am so glad I’m not the only one who immediately thought you were holding an absurdly cute and tiny…something else…in that first photo. *ahem*

    The experience sounds lovely, though it is the sort of meal I would never be able to do really, since I don’t eat meat outside of fish and very occasional poultry, and even years ago when I did eat meat, I wouldn’t eat foie gras for ethical reasons (oh, they laughed and laughed at me the year I lived in Geneva for refusing to eat it, they did!).

    Do they have options for people with any restrictions — voluntary or otherwise — on their diets at that gorgeous place, or is it pretty much “You will eat one of every animal and like it, period.”?

  21. Ashleigh Burroughs

    Went to The French Laundry as a “thanks for your business” dinner several years ago. Didn’t see Pink, but loved the garden anyway. And you’re right, new tastes as an adult are wonderfully surprising experiences — that reduction of watermelon still lives on in my taste buds. Amuse bouche, indeed — my bouche was quite amused.

  22. Jill

    WOW! Amazing, amazing! This is on our list of places and I’m hoping we make it.
    SO fun to live vicariously through your experience. Good to know that it IS as fantastic as I’ve imagined!

  23. Maggeh Post author

    ANSWERS:

    Kizz, I think they’re used to people photographing the meal, so I didn’t worry about it too much.

    Kathleen, It was a set menu that had a few options for wiggle room. For example, there was more than one choice for the pork option, and a second choice if you prefer not to eat Fois Gras.

    Miss B, They have an entire vegetarian tasting menu. It’s the other Prix Fixe option.

  24. Joyce Rimmele

    *Gasp*….such amazing food porn! Thanks for sharing. Saw the picture of the bottle of wine from Domain Weinbach….fabulous winery in Alsace, France. This is one place that should be on “the LIST”. Madame Faller and her two daughters (one is the wine maker, the other runs the business) are c’est magnifique! Visiting them in their salon is quite the experience…very personal and quite unique…we’ve seen them several times and have never been disappointed.

    Love your blog and have been most inspired by this last posting….merci!

  25. Dawn

    The meal of a lifetime, and I thank you for sharing it with us. Although in my brain I know that French Laundry is Thomas Keller, I get his face transposed with Hubert Keller, who I just adore. I have never been lucky enough to eat at any of the Keller restaurants, but they are both on my list…Fleur de Lys for Hubert, natch. We are planning to visit some friends in Napa in the next year or so, and I will be sure to call months in advance for French Laundry.

  26. Bob

    Most of the previous contributors have really captured and expressed my thoughts, (special thanks to Adri #4). Just a lovely blog entry. Thanks for sharing.

  27. jennifer in sf

    I don’t even eat meat and there’s a puddle of drool on my desk right now. The French Laundry is SO on my list.

  28. Sarah

    I’m very envious! French Laundry is #1 on my to-do list but haven’t been able to get a reservation. Looks like you guys had an amazing time and an amazing meal!

  29. elaine

    a friend of ours gave us a generous gift certificate to the french laundry for our engagement and we still managed to have to fork out a little less than double its value for our dinner there.

    it was definitely a once in a lifetime experience and for months i went through alternating feelings of glee (OMG! that was the most fantasticamazingglorious dining experience of my life!) and guilt (i can’t beleive we spent that much money on a dinner for 2! oh woe!). still, i’m really really glad i did it. but we didn’t get to see Pink while we were there. damn.

  30. Kris Mueller

    Hi there.

    Loved your article, I had a similar experience with my wife in April. The best part was the service. There was no hint of stuffiness. They completely understood that we are not all rock-stars, and this is a once in a lifetime experience, and they honor that.

    I remember being put off by “normal” food for about a week after that. It just didn’t seem worth eating.

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  32. amy

    Wow.

    Can I remind you how lucky you are to have Intel on your side?! I am green with envy reading of your adventures :)

  33. amy

    Nth-ing the amazing food porn post! But clearly, we need a Mighty Closet post on you & your lovely dinner companions’ sartorial choices for the evening!

  34. Jennifer (Conversion Diary)

    Oh, MAN, I am so jealous! Back when my husband and I were in our “traveling and spending money as if P. Diddy were our financial advisor” phase of life, one of the few decadent things we never got around to doing was eating at French Laundry. I always wished we were able to do that…and now I do even more after seeing those fantastic pictures!

  35. ken

    I’m overjoyed for your fortune and jealous I wasn’t there. One day I will. It’s on my list too!

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