Thursday, February 5, 2009

French Laundry. Chapter Seven.

Keller's innovative plating style… I'm just kidding, that's Tania's abstract expressionism in huckleberry.

I was going to break this one up, but fuck it. Use your time mgt. skills. Read some of it today, some of it tomorrow. Here it is, the epic story of our epic lunch at the French Laundry. Tania's text is in blue.

Dave gets to blame the tardiness of this post on me. It’s my fault and I take full responsibility for not getting the text inserted/created so Dave could post this. You see, I have a job. A 9 – 5 office job. A job coordinating and shipping priceless pieces of art all over the world at inflated prices. A job that I absolutely abhor. A job that destroys my inner soul and basic will to live. A job that pays me money. Consistently. Bi-weekly even! And money, in this hard economic time, takes precedence over our fun little food blog. It hasn’t allowed me time to type about the best restaurant experience ever. And for that, I am sorry. But there is a big wide world out there for the taking (and eating) and you should have used that slow blog time to push yourself away from your desk, stand up, go outside, and shut the goddamn door. There’s more to life than reading about other people’s experiences. That said…

The kitchen, from the courtyard.

Let’s go in, shall we? “Finally… fuck.” Yeah, I know. We’ve been dragging this out. You would too. The reason we’re spending so much time on this French Laundry nonsense is because it’s like the last signals from a space ship being swallowed by a black hole. The future looks very dark indeed. Black metal got what they asked for. I can see us huddled, naked, in a dust strewn, post-apocalyptic, Blade Runner landscape, shivering under a tarp and clutching the tattered shreds of our French Laundry menu. “Remember when we saw Him, Tania? ‘Memmer? HIM?” Tania will be so hungry she’ll be reduced to babbling “Cauliflower panna cotta, Cauliflower panna cotta, Cauliflower p-p-panna panna panna cotta…” It was an experience I will remember forever, and, unfortunately, impossible to explain. The ineffable meal? I’m not going to get that gay.

Uh, yeah he is. Let’s just embrace it, shall we? Because it’s just that.

So let’s go in. But wait, where’s the front door? Yeah, seriously, Tania and I couldn’t find the front door. It’s a beautiful two-story building. It’s wood. It has a balcony. There’s foliage growing up the walls. There’s a small sign out front. And a stone walkway that appears to go nowhere. (It was a brothel at one time! Woohoo! Sluts!) We walked down the side street. Nothing. Then we started feeling stupid. Like someone was watching us. You show up somewhere like that in a suit and you want to look like you know what you’re doing. Maybe the stone path? We tried that and it led to a courtyard. There was a door, but there was no “Abierto” sign on it. We wandered further into the courtyard. We could see the kitchen (the kitchen that He was in the whole time. And we fucking saw Him! He was there). A man opened a door and poured a bucket of grease onto the bricks—I’m kidding. Suddenly, the sans-abierto door opened and a woman in smart business attire hailed us. “We’ve been waiting for you,” she said in an English accent.

The whole time our friends and the staff were obviously giggling at us looking around the courtyard like retards.

We walked into what looked like a dentist’s reception area. Tom and Denise rose from a couch off to the side. Perhaps they were reading US News, or Time, or even Highlights? It was good to see them. They were supposed to be a surprise, but I had already guessed they were coming. Tania is not amused by my amazing guessing abilities.

Dave guessed all of his birthday surprises about 8 hours before I was planning on telling him. Which is fine, I guess, except that I had built up all of these revelations in my head and they were gonna be so awesome and special. Like in romantic comedies where the obvious surprise party or thoughtful trinket is the most shocking and amazing thing the unsuspecting dumbass could ever imagine. Fucking Dave WOULD NOT play along. Instead, he just said “Oh shit, we’re going to the French Laundry, huh?” “Shit. Well… yes. Yes we are going to the French Laundry.” In my head I’m still imagining the tears that will surely stream down his face when I show him the cookbook in the car on the ride there. NOPE… FUCKER. Fine. I still had another surprise up my sleeve. I’m good, I plan shit, I am thoughtful and organized. Naturally, I expected more waterworks when we got there and our dearest friends were waiting to share in our special dinner. Oh, how thrilled he will be! He’ll never forget that moment. I’ll never have to get him another birthday present again. I am the most awesomest, smartest, most thoughtful wife in the whole wo... “Wow. Awesome. Are Tom and Denise coming?” FUCKER.

Tom and Denise.

“Are you ready?” the English lady asked. It’s kind of like an appointment. Not a reservation. Our table was sitting there waiting for us. And, in my opinion, we got the best table in the place: over in the corner below a couple of windows. I hate sitting in the middle.

It was the best table in the place. This is not an opinion, this is a fact.

After we sat down, we were swarmed by angels. They turned out to be waiters. Our head waiter was a David Byrne looking fellow named Guillaume. Which is French for “Bill.” “HI MY NAME’S WILLIAM BILL FOR SHORT!”



They gave us menus. I don’t know why they bothered. He could have given me anything and I would have eaten it. But unfortunately there were a couple of choices to be made. (Say “choices” with a lisp in the gayest voice you can muster.) Frankly, for the amount of money we were paying, I was like, “I do not want to have to make any decisions, just bring me the food!” Here is the menu. Study it closely.

Click on menu for larger view.

What’s weird about the French Laundry is that there are two menus, the other one is vegetarian. And the vegetarian menu costs the same as the “normal” menu, $240 per person. I’m sure it’s delicious, but what kind of an idiot would pay $240 for nine courses of vegetables? Guillaume went over the first menu, item by item for us… it was quite a process… and he was a pro… it was as if he had created the menu himself… he wasn’t reaching around in the back of his brain for the words he was taught to say, he just knew it… it was amazing… dazzling, really.

Fun Fact: The vegetarian menu has ham on it.

“Would you like me to go over the vegetarian menu?” he asked in his cute little FRANCH ACK-SANT.

NO NO NO, we all said. Fuck that menu. We want meat and booze! Guillaume found us charming.

We really did say that. That’s not even slightly embellished.

As you can see on the menu, there were four servings where a choice was necessary. In each instance, Tania and I chose opposites, so as to maximize our dining experience. When we do this, she almost always “wins.” Not on this day. My choices were, for once, superior to hers. Salad or foie gras? Foie gras. Snapper or Tuna? Snapper. Lamb or Wagyu? Wagyu, duh. Dessert? I don’t even remember, mostly because I don’t care. Dessert is bullshit to me. Want to know how to spot an alcoholic? Look for the guy that doesn’t eat sweets. He’s got too much sugar (alcohol) running through his bloodstream already.

Let me just say that just because I didn’t “win,” I was faaaaarrrrr from losing.

We started with champagne. I don’t even really know what we drank after that that afternoon, but we drank a lot. If you look at the bill (below), please note the wine cost: almost $600. We had a “keep it comin’” policy at the table. It was worth every penny. We drank mostly whites. When I talk to a sommelier, I always want to say, “Give me the best bottle of white you got that doesn’t taste like anything.” I don’t like the oak/buttery flavor of chardonnays anymore. I like the clean, crisp taste of a pinot grigio or a sauvignon blanc. “Mineral-y” is the word in their language, I’ve discovered, that corresponds with the wine I like. The language of the sommelier, incidentally, is called BULLSHIT. I think the word “sommelier” translates to “bullshit artist?” Bunch of liars. And for the record, I am not a fan of the whole tasting ceremony. “Here, have a li’l sip!” “Just pour it,” I usually say, “I’ll let you know if it’s bad.” But, at the French Laundry, I let Guillaume do his thing. Plus Guillaume had this awesome wine pouring stee. He’d stick his thumb up the wine bottle’s butthole and pour from there. It was cool.

Our sommelier was not Guillaume, just to clarify. Out sommelier was a charming fellow who I would never refer to as a bullshit artist. Dude didn’t sell us shit. He just acted delightful and chatted us up while he allowed us to order all kinds of wine that surely didn’t pair with the best food we have ever had the chance to eat.

My salmon cone picture sucked, so this is the one from the book.

After we pounded some champagne, then came the ice cream cone. I kind of wish I didn’t know about it beforehand. See, Dave guesses everything! Fucker! Because it is quite a surprise. “This is an amuse bouche,” the waiter said. He had a tray with little holes in it. In each hole was what looked like an ice cream cone. “It’s a salmon tartare with a red onion crème fraiche in a black sesame cornet. Enjoy.” I could have eaten ten of them. I said so out loud. Apparently a diner did say that out loud once and they brought him ten salmon ice cream cones. “I said I COULD EAT TEN OF THESE… ?” That shit was bommmmbbbbbbbbbbb, you guys. I don’t even like fish. I could have eaten twenty of these. If there was a competitive eating event with these things, I would OWN. “Because it was a canapé that people really began to associate us with,” Keller writes in his cookbook, “I decided that everyone who eats at the restaurant should begin the meal with this cornet. People always smile when they get it. It makes them happy.” If I had money like Bill Gates, I would want one of those on my bedside table when I wake up every morning. I would be a much happier person if I could start my day with a salmon ice cream cone.

If I had money like Bill Gates I’d have my very own monkey.

Let’s begin, shall we?

1. CAULIFLOWER “PANNA COTTA.”
It came with a special little caviar spoon that looked like an oyster shell.

Wait! Wait! Hold on! Dave’s forgetting the breads that we got to nibble on before service. Fresh baked at Bouchon Bakery down the street. We got a variety of tasty, warm rolls and a wonderful pair of butters to spread all over them. A nice California butter that was creamy and remarkably salty despite being unsalted. And a salted Vermont (or French, I can’t remember) butter that was mild and creamy. We all chose the unsalted butter as the winner, it had way more flavor. No one knows it, but I dabbed my knife in both of them and licked that shit like it was a Pudding Pop.

Awesome. This was one of my favorite dishes of the day. It tasted like the sea. But in all caps. THE SEA. If you could slice yourself a piece of pie out of the ocean, it would have tasted like this. The good ocean, not that feces infested water off the coast of Santa Monica.

There is no way to describe how mouth-wateringly amazing this was. Seriously, one of the best things I have ever eaten, and I am including the rest of the menu in the comparison. I think about this on lonely nights.

2. SALAD OF YUKON POTATOES and FOIE GRAS.

The pink puck is the foie gras, and the little turd chips are truffles.

Awesome. Although not as awesome as 1. I’ve never had cold foie gras before. I always thought all foie gras was cold? I remember His was warm (but who the fuck cares?) and served on warm, toasted brioche. When Tom and Dave’s brioche got cold the staff exchanged those cold, old breads for warm, new breads. Nyom nyom nyom.

When Tom and I were in college, we used to eat the fuck out of toast. We were toast connoisseurs. But our toast was never this good. His toast is so good that they came and took one of Tom's away and replaced it with a brand new one. "The chef wasn't happy with the first toast," the waiter said.

It was a hockey puck made out of duck liver. (I’ll refrain from making the racist joke about real hockey pucks and what they’re made out of.) No wonder I love hockey so much. It. Is. Delicious. Thomas Keller can take a slapshot at my mouth any time. “HE SHOOTS! HE SCORES!”

When you put one in your mouth, they just explode with flavor. They're so big, and juicy, and delicious. Oh and the food on Tania's plate was pretty good, too. Wokka wokka!

Despite Dave’s declaration of winning with his menu choices this was his own, private victory. The foie gras was good and all, but I don’t care for foie gras and can never really eat more than one bite. The best part of his choice was the selection of four different salts (a volcanic salt from Maui, a couple from the oceans of France, and some crazy Jurassic salt from Montana. Dinosaur salts, dudes. 200 million year old salt! That is worth the price of the meal alone. If you don’t dig that—oh, pun!!!—we can’t be friends.). The guys sprinkled it on their foie gras, making their “choice” pretty god damned good. Mostly because I can eat salt like some people eat spoonfuls of peanut butter. But whatever, my potatoes, right? The plate was perfectly composed, every component a compliment to the other. Every bit was like a first kiss with a new lover. And the thought of that has me, seriously, getting all worked up just thinking about it.


3. SNAPPER and TUNA.

Snapper. Nominated for best course.

Awesome. I’m a big fan of tuna tartare, but I totally fucking won round three: the snapper was definitely a contender for “best dish of the day.” This dish tasted like a cloud, if clouds swam underwater—actually I guess clouds start in the ocean? Since clouds begin in the ocean, perhaps they do taste a little like fish? Maybe clouds are fish farts? Bloo bloo bloo bloop! “Rain’s a comin’, that fart’s going to piss on us.”

All the fish are farting out loud,
wagging their tails and making clouds.

Tania’s tuna was amazing as well, but it was no match for the snapper.

This is the only time a tuna tartar could ever lose to anything.

The snapper was really fucking good, y'all. It had little to do with the tender, moist, perfectly cooked snapper and more to do with the warm chorizo. Fish is bunk, but fish with pork is fucking awesome. The tuna was nummy num num nummers on its own, but I don’t know how to describe it. It was fresh, it was elegantly dressed. It was cool and crisp and clean. It was easily the best tuna tartare I have ever even seen, let alone, tasted. But I will concede, that snapper was exponentially better than the best thing I’ve ever had.

4. SCALLOP.

I want to live on that thing. Have NASA build me a spaceship and send me to planet scallop.

Awesome. It should be known that Tania is not a big fan of seafood, but she loved this scallop. As did I. And I’ve eaten scallops underwater off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. Right under the bridge that the shark eats with his mouth. DUN DUN… DUN DUN DUN! When I was eating raw scallops the song went, “NOM NOM… NOM NOM NOM!” By the way, what’s up with that little chubby dyke on Top Chef who keeps making scallops? It’s kind of like the ocean’s version of a meatball.

Dude, that Top chef bitch sucks, doesn’t she? She’s been getting a free ride because she just stays in the middle. Lame. This scallop was nowhere near the middle. I eat scallops on occasion and I like them alright. I’ve eaten them at their freshest, most flavorful, and wonderfully cooked… blah blah blah…. big deal. This scallop, however, was intense. It was genius and I can’t even begin to wrap my head around how on earth those flavors were composed. And, again, I don’t even like seafood!!

5. RABBIT.

Musta made a wrong turn in Albuquerque!

Awesome. This was kind of like eating a dollhouse. Oh look at how tiny everything is! This was “awesome” on its own, but in the company it was in, it was kind of whatever. It was the only time I went, “That’s it? That’s all I get?” Still, someone had to French those little ribs. Very cute. Ahhh, dead bunny…

Dude, rabbit cooked a couple different ways? So good. Fuck being a vegan just because animals are cute. Seriously. Animals are DELICIOUS. And apparently, the cuter they get the better they taste. Baby panda paws will surely be the next, new culinary rage.

6. WAGYU and LAMB.

They actually bring your meat out on a tray before they cook it. "You don't believe us? Here!" I was getting a little more brazen with the camera at this point as well. "Wait, wait, wait, can I has a pitcher of yous?" I love this photo. It makes me think of Robert Walser and all his butler stories.

AWESOME. When it came time to order, I didn’t understand why I was the only one to choose the Wagyu. I wanted to taste the lamb offering as well, it sounded great, but I thought someone in the other couple would order the beef. It wasn’t until after dinner that I learned the Wagyu was an extra $100. Oops. But it was my birthday and it was kind of expected we were going to splurge. When you’re paying that much money for a dinner and the experience, it’s not the time or place to try and cut corners and save money. You either go all the way, or not at all. “Go big, or go home,” I think they’d say in Thrasher. Guillaume told us an interesting story about the Wagyu. All the Wagyu you get here in the US is fake. This shit was imported from Japan. It’s the real deal. Well, almost. Apparently the Japanese are very strict about their Wagyu. For one, it’s graded. And the top three grades are not allowed for export. Right, like Kobe beef. No matter how many times you’ve seen Kobe beef on a menu or on a frozen food box of burgers at Trader Joe’s, it’s false. You’re getting a lower grade Wagyu. Sorry. They don’t export that out of Japan, by law. Stop over paying, guys. So this was level four Wagyu. Not even on the podium Wagyu. “But,” Guillaume said, “I think this is the best grade. As you go higher, the meat gets fattier, to the point where it doesn’t even taste like meat anymore.” Guillaume totally sold me on the hand-me-down Wagyu. I totally believed him. Grade four Wagyu is the best Wagyu you can get. And the best meat you can even see, let alone, taste. I don’t know, and I don’t care because this was the best dish of the day. I’ve never had anything like it before. When I cut into it, I was kind of bummed. It resisted the knife. Which is not what I expected. I thought it would fall apart. But it felt like any normal steak. Until I put it in my mouth. HOLY SHIT. The best way to describe it is that it tasted, and felt, like steak-flavored butter. I would like a little hunk of this next to my salmon ice cream cone every morning.

A closer look at the Wagyu. I'll build my summer house on planet Wagyu.

The lamb was fucking amazing. I wish it wasn’t so overshadowed. It’s basically like comparing you’re cute wife next to a Playboy model. Your wife is cute to you, but nothing compared to an airbrushed, surgically enhanced, stereotype with hair extensions and acrylic nails. Get over it. And stop humoring her. I can already hear you telling her she’s more beautiful than those fake-ass chicks. Move on. she's not. This lamb was rich, tasty, and substantial… it was surely a million times smarter than that stupid Wagyu, and will take care of you when you're sick, but it still sat in the ultimate beef's glorious (more attractive) shadow. This is also the reason why I will always want plastic surgery and a sweet boob job. Don’t judge, jerks.

7. CHEESE.

I'm not sure what's going on here? I think that's the cheese on a beet reduction, flanked by a bunch of alien radishes.

Awesome. I was pretty much done at this point. We were drunk. And we were high on food. I think I ordered a port. I don’t know. I was grinning from ear to ear, completely satisfied. I got buttfucked in the mouth. Yum. “Whaziss?” I said as they put the cheese in front of me. “Ohs okee, I’lls east thatsss.” It was delicious. But then again, Tania and I love cheese so much that a slice of Kraft American cheese in the plastic wrapper is amazing.

Kraft shouldn’t have even been mentioned in the same thought as the cheeses that were served to us that afternoon. Those cheeses were Valedictorians, while Kraft is the funny, retarded step-cousin. Those helmets aren’t tasty.

8. DIANE ST. CLAIR BUTTERMILK SHERBERT.

I was too busy playing with my food to take a picture of this course.

It was at this point I stopped caring. As I was just looking at the menu to write this course down, I realized I don’t remember this. I mean, I do, but, meh. And this is the genius of Tania: she chose a lunch sitting for us knowing that if we didn’t start this meal ‘til 8pm, I would have been wasted half way through and remembered little to nothing. It’s a little blurry at this point, but that probably has as much to do with alcohol as it did my interest in the dessert courses. Maybe Tania can tell you about it?

If you had to choose between saving your best friend and this dessert from falling off a cliff into a burning hot pool of lava, you would pick the dessert. I don’t care how much you like your friends, this was way better. WAY BETTER. I love you, guys, but I would trade all of you in for some more of this.

9. CARAMEL ROULADE and CREAM YOGURT “BAVAROIS”

Did He write that? His handwriting is delicious.

Bavarois is, apparently, Bavarian cream. I remember the huckleberries were very good. This is also when I got my little birthday cake. I wonder if he wrote “Happy Birthday?”

If I’m going to continue to garner any credit for this ludicrous experience, I will continue to perpetuate the notion that He did, indeed, write “Happy Birthday” on Dave’s plate. Don’t you tell him otherwise! How many times do you get the best chef in the world to physically interact with your fucking dinner (Not ever, jerks! Shut up!!!) But that’s only fair because there’s only one Thomas Keller. And he only works in one—his own—restaurant (unlike other chefs who work in zero restaurants: Morimoto, Ramsay, Oliver, Mina, English, and Batali all have places that are nice and all, but homies don’t green-light your plates at the pass). One should earn this experience, one should work for it. I did… And I have already resigned myself to start tucking money away for a future visit. Which will be a cinch, because that visit will be in four years, when I (can hope to) get another reservation.

Tania wanted to stuff the plate down her bra and take it home with her.

I read an article in Gastronomica recently by some college student who debated (with himself) his dining experience at the French Laundry. And as you'd expect in a two sided, one person debate, there wasn't really a winner. He basically said something to the effect that, yeah, it's an amazing meal that's totally worth the money, but at the same time it's not that good and not worth it. ??? Well if you ever meet that kid, tell him to shut the fuck up because he's bullshit. It was the greatest dining experience I have ever had. And I have Tania to thank. Thank you, Tania, I love you. Oh and Tom and Denise as well. Thanks guys. We are going again for sure. And if you can swing a reservation, I'd highly recommend going. Thanks Keller.

$600 worth of wine…

…down the drain. (I've peed in Morrissey's toilet, and now His!)

2 comments:

bendall said...

OK, so I saved this one for the 2 hours a day I have to kill on the internet while my kid is asleep on my chest.

Thoughts: First of all, fucking sweet, thanks for making this blog.

Second: fuck sommeliers and their smelly As, I always knew they were fulla shit - http://scienceblogs.com/cortex/2007/11/the_subjectivity_of_wine.php?source=rss_feed

But third: I invented the scallop. Last summer we got in this bbq war with my friend who lives down the street. I've always sort of liked them, but I'm the one who discovered they go from 'yeah, ok' to 'OMFG GIMME MOREMOREMORE!!!' when you sear those fuckers for a sec with some spices and shit.

No idea what the Laundry's ones taste like, but they look and probably smell and even sound really good.

Keep em coming in '09 you two,

DB

grbl said...

so kellerman never came out from the food prep area? no "what up, yo?"