Dinner at The French Laundry in Yountville, California

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I had dinner at The French Laundry and survived to tell about it. Why wouldn’t I have survived? Because I pretty much almost died of happiness. How could I not?? If you’re food obsessed and you have a bucket list, there’s a fairly high chance Thomas Keller’s French Laundry is on it. It was certainly on mine (side note, my bucket list exists in my head and mostly consists of food-related items) and I still can’t even believe I had the chance to go.

Let’s start with the reservation. The French Laundry is known for being ridiculously difficult to get a reservation at. You have to call exactly two months in advance of when you want to go. At 1:00 p.m. EST on the dot. And keep calling until you get through (remember the busy signal? Yeah, that still exists). And if you don’t get through, too bad. You wait until tomorrow and try again. So, when Chris and I decided we wanted to plan a trip to Napa and Sonoma and definitely wanted to head to The French Laundry, we figured we’d just start calling and plan our trip around whenever we managed to get the reservation. Somehow, some way, we got through on our first day of calling. We were hanging out at my parents house and were kind of in shock since we expected it to take weeks (from hearing the stories of others), but just started planning our trip then and there. Wow.

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Our dinner at The French Laundry was on the tail end of our trip, at the end of a week filled with tons of food and wine (I still can’t get over how much I ate). It was a fabulous way to bring our trip out with a bang and I’m so, so happy I got to have the experience. Our photos aren’t the best since it was super dark in the downstairs dining area, but I figured I’d share anyway. I wasn’t even sure I’d take photos of the food until we sat down and Chris offered to do the snapping with his phone. He’s quicker and more discrete then I am. Pretty much everyone there was taking photos of their food, so it’s certainly not looked down upon, but we still wanted our concentration to be on the food and experience, rather than getting the perfect shot. Our waiter even offered to take a photo of us at our table.

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Yes, the menu is prix pice at $295.00/person (including service), but of course there are all kinds of add ons you can do, too (like the Japanese Wagyu for a $100 supplement!). We decided to have the sommelier pair our meal with wine and while it ended up being quite a bit of wine (maybe a little too much), it was worth it to know that we were drinking what was meant to be had with each course.

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Anyway, on to the food, right?? We started the way most meals at The French Laundry start… With Thomas Keller’s Salmon Tartare Cornets. With the first bite, we instantly knew this meal was going to be perfection. I had read about this recipe in Keller’s French Laundry Cookbook
prior to enjoying them, so I remembered that he got the idea for the cornets after a trip to Baskin-Robbins. I kind of love that. And these might have to be the first dish I attempt from the cookbook.

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The gougéres were another little amuse bouche. I love gougéres, but these were about a billion times better than anything I ever even imagined a gougéres to be. You bite into them and get a burst of milton gruyere cheese. And heaven.

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And then the first course came… “Oysters and Pearls,” which is described as “Sabayon” of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar. I am a big oyster fan (and especially loved that these were Island Creek!), but this was like no oyster dish I’ve ever had (I think I could say that about every dish I had?). This dish was creamy and decadent and pretty much velvety, melt in you mouth. Can I have seconds, please?

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Course two was the “Waldorf Salad,” which included White Wine-Poached Sour Apples, Garden Celery, Belgian Endive, and California Red Walnuts. A totally approachable, simple dish that was the perfect refresher in the midst of the meal. I’d also like to keep a bowl of the white wine-poached sour apples in my fridge so I can snack on them all the time.

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Can you tell I’m happy? So, so happy!

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Time for the Applewood-Smoked Sturgeon “Pastrami” with Braised Collared Greens, Chantenay Carrots, Griddled Corn “Blini” and “Source Soubise.” Yes, there are a lot of quotes in that, but they’re worth it. A fish that has all the flavor of pastrami? It blew my mind. And that little griddled corn “blini”? I almost asked for 10 more.

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One of the things I LOVED about this meal is that it wasn’t totally overwhelming and I didn’t start getting stuffed to my gills after the third course. The bites really are small, but they’re powerful. I just couldn’t wait to see what was going to come out next.

Moving on to the Stonington Maine Sea Scallop “Poêlée” with Kettle Garlic “Beignet,” Globe Artichoke, Nasturtium Petals, Sweet Pepper Essence and Brokaw Avocado Pudding. Avocado pudding? Yes. One scallop that makes you crave a million more? Please? I’m still not sure how they made that “beignet,” but I’d like to learn. ASAP.

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Guys, even the bread was way more delicious than your average bread.

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And the two types of butter, too. Yes, two types from two sources.

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The next course was All-Day Braised Liberty Farm Pekin Duck with Satsuma Mandarins, Cranberry “Tapenade,” Creamed Sunchoke and Watercress Leaves. This was the perfect wintery dish and definitely a little heavier than everything we had prior. But you know how I feel about cranberries and citrus. You could definitely tell this duck had been braising all day; so tender and awesome.

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Herb-Roasted Elysian Fields Farm Lamb with Braised Pinquito Beans, Garden Broccoli, Grilled “Merguez,” Arugula, and Thyme Jus. I know the photo isn’t the greatest, but can’t you tell just by looking at it how perfect this lamb is. Melt in your mouth. I wasn’t quite sure with “Merguez” was, but I knew I loved it. Turns out it’s a sausage. Not totally sure why the menu had it in quotes, but all I know is that I loved it.

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The last of the savory courses was one of the best. “Fondue De Reblonchon,” with “Corned Beef,” Cornichons, Whole Grain Mustard Relish, “Pommes Maxims” and Mustard Frills. I still don’t really understand how this worked or what the heck the quotes around “corned beef” meant, but I was in complete heaven and wanted this to last forever. Except that I was starting to get a little bit full. Just a little bit.

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But no rest for the weary because dessert was on the way… And there were a lot of them!

Sadly the menu doesn’t detail them all (but yes, when you leave they give you a beautiful menu detailing most everything you enjoyed) and I basically have the worst memory in the world. But I do know I swooned over Thomas Keller’s French macarons. They were perfect.

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It didn’t take me long to gobble up this chocolate dessert.

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I’m most disappointed that I can’t remember precisely what this one was because it involved blood orange soda and had the most amazing consistency and was basically my dream come true.

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Next time (will there be a next time??) I’m definitely bringing a pen and paper, but to be honest, I was pretty much just sitting in my chair swooning and writing anything down or remembering for the long term was the last thing on my mind. I was just plain happy. But I do also wish I and a list of all the wines we tasted during the meal, too.

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I was told to ask specifically for the coffee and doughnuts, but I didn’t have to because they arrived at the table.

Perfection.

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And guess what? The “coffee” isn’t really coffee. It’s actually a cappuccino semifreddo and when you dip your spoon into it, it will blow your mind.

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Oh, and we can’t forget the box of truffles we were presented with near the end of the meal. I chose salted caramel and Chris chose peanut butter and jelly.

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The night ended on a pretty fantastic note as well. The restaurant’s manager came over to us and asked if we’d like to see the kitchen. Um, YES. So, he took us back, introduced us to Chef David Breeden, and let us look around.

What a stunning kitchen. To be honest, I was a little (OK a lot) overwhelmed and really didn’t take in the experience as much as I wish I had. My senses were on major overdrive and I basically just stood there and swooned.

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Chris and I with Chef David!

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Couldn’t believe we were having our photo taken inside the French Laundry kitchen.

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So, yes, it was pretty much a perfect evening. Was it everything I expected and more? The food really absolutely was. It was creative without being ridiculous and decadent without being too much. I loved the service we received, though it wasn’t exactly what I expected. I thought it would be much stuffier and a little bit more flawless. But I didn’t have a problem with this at all as it was still great service and it was nice to feel relaxed and able to enjoy the experience. It was comfortable and classy.

Would I go back? Well, obviously this was not a cheap meal. At all. But it was an experience. And one that I feel so grateful to have had. Also one that I definitely wouldn’t do every day or even every year. There are so many fabulous restaurants I want to visit, and a ton of them are in the Napa/Sonoma area. But I certainly wouldn’t say no if I had another chance to come back to the French Laundry in the future. Especially since the menu is always changing.

And now I can die happy. And tell my future kids, who probably won’t care at all. But still, this is a memory that Chris and I will share forever.

I’m planning to blog about the rest of our Napa/Sonoma trip, too (believe it or not, we ate more meals than just this one!), probably in one big roundup post in the next week or so.

Do you have any restaurants are on your bucket list?

[Sues]

Roasted Cranberry Farro Salad with Curry Dressing

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I told you the cranberry madness was far from over. Meh, as far as I’m concerned, it’s still the holiday season and cranberries are still very much allowed. This time I decided to roast them because I wanted fresh cranberries in a salad, but I figured just popping fresh cranberries in, might make for a way too-tart salad. So, I put them in the oven for a few to roast them a bit and mellow them out. This resulted in a sweeter (but still nice and tart!) berry.

Oh, before I jump into the recipe, did you all have a good Christmas?? I had a glorious couple of days at my parents’ house- lounging around, eating a lot, opening gifts, and just being lazy and relaxed. The absolute best kind of vacation in my mind!

And now I desperately feel like I need a detox. But I’m not exactly going to be getting one any time soon…. In just two weeks, I’m going to Napa and Sonoma for my very first time! And not only that, but Chris and I have reservations at the one and only French Laundry! I’m not quite sure I could be any more excited and every time I think about it, I want to yell with joy. The holidays certainly aren’t over for me!

So, instead of going on any kind of detox, I’m just trying to sneak in healthier food whenever possible. My Vitamix has been pumping out the green juice and I’m going to attempt a carrot beet juice later today. But I’ll still be snacking and treating myself (new year’s dinner at Puritan and Company in Boston!) so as to not put my body into full shock when I sit down at the French Laundry. I’m just trying to be smart here.

This recipe, though? It’s healthy without being all up in your face like “hi, I’m healthy; you must eat me now. DO IT.” It’s a bit more discrete than that. Thank goodness.

Roasted Cranberry Farro Salad with Curry Dressing (serves about 6):
Print this recipe!

  • 2 C fresh cranberries
  • 2 C Butternut squash, diced
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 1/2 C farro
  • 2 C baby kale (or regular kale with ribs removed and chopped)
  • 2 oz. goat cheese
  • 1 t curry powder
  • 2 t honey
  • 1 t dijon mustard
  • 2 T lemon juice
  • 3 T extra virgin olive oil

(pre-heat oven to 350 degrees)

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Toss cranberries and butternut squash in olive oil and place them on a baking sheet.

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Don’t mix them together as you’ll need to remove the cranberries before the squash!

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Pop in the oven at 350 degrees. Remove cranberries to a bowl after 10 minutes. Keep butternut squash in the oven for about 15-20 minutes longer, until tender.

They’re almost kinda like dried cranberries, but still juicy and with their natural tartness. Fresh is always best!

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Prepare farro according to directions. I used 1 1/2 C dry to generate a nice big bowl of it.

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Add roasted cranberries and squash to the farro. And mix in kale and goat cheese.

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Whisk the curry powder, honey, dijon mustard, lemon juice, and extra virgin olive oil together in a small bowl.

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Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to coat.

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A healthy salad that most definitely doesn’t make me feel like I’m eating healthy. Hoorah! Eat this with a big glass of green juice and you’re basically the healthiest person in the world. Though green juice is most certainly a bit more in your face healthy.

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I’m absolutely obsessed with how the roasted cranberries turned this farro a pretty shade of red here. Kind of like beets might do? But not beets. My husband absolutely hates beets. Cranberries are way more palatable.

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Speaking of, I made sugared cranberries the other day. And omg yum. I want to snack on them all day long. Aside from the sugar, they’re super healthy. Oh, the sugar is 50% of the recipe? Whatevs.

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I brought this salad to work for a week straight and felt completely satisfied and happy after eating lunch. I think all the flavors are super fabulous, but the curry dressing is the perfect touch!

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I don’t let curry into my life nearly enough and that needs to change. Anyone have any must-make recipes involving it?

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This salad was most definitely a winner and one I will be making into 2014, as well. If you’re not big on farro, you could replace it with quinoa or really any other grain you choose! You could use feta cheese instead of the goat cheese, too. The options are legit endless!

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I know it’s still December and I hope you’re not mad at me for giving you a healthy-ish recipe before the new year. It’s all about balance, right? Now I’ll just have to go eat some leftover Christmas cookies and a tall glass of cold egg nog.

OK I’m going back to my serious Napa and Sonoma trip planning! I’m a little overwhelmed with all the options right now, but if you have any must-see recommendations, please let me know!

Are you having a happy holiday season?

[Sues]