Another part that i was really excited about my USA trip before i heading there – luckily I got a reservation at The French Laundry under the help of a friend who works in the same industry in San Francisco. My partner and I travelled to Yountville in the heart of California’s Napa Valley just for Thomas Keller’s refined French-American cuisine.
The French Laundry is one of the olddest French restaurant in the Bay area, opened in 1994 by Thomas Keller who is a genius in cooking since he was a kid. The restaurant is frequently awarded the Top 50 Restaurants of the World and it has been honored three stars in the Michelin Guide San Francisco since 2006. Keller’s Per Se in New York City is also three-Michelin-starred.
Address: 6640 Washington St., Yountville, California
Hours:Fri-Sun 11am-1pm, 5:30pm-9:15pm; 5:30-9:15pm daily
As it takes about 1.5 hours to drive from down town San Francisco to Napa, we made a reservation for lunch thus it won’t be too late when we back in town. Although it sounds a long trip, but it was actually enjoyable as you can see the natural scenes along the highway, as well as the vineyard in Napa.
The French Laundry (TFL) housed in a historical building in a quiet small town in Yountville. The building was built in early 1900s, it is one of the National Registed Historic Places. TFL also has its own farm in front of the restaurant (not all the vegetables are from the farm) .
The restaurants has two floors of seatings, mostly tables in the main dining room and few private rooms for larger parties. The interior is very classcial French-American style, a bit olddie but warm and elegant. While unlike other fancier fine dining restaurants in SF town, we felt the space between each tables is quite small. We were the first group of guests who arrived, but i am pretty surprised that the restaurant was fully-occupied in 3o mintues. Most diners seems like successful business people in their 40s, two of us were probably the youngest guests here (haha).
TFL opens for dinner daily, and lunch is only available from Friday to Sunday. A daily menu priced at USD $310 (service included) is served for both lunch and dinner; vegetarian menu is also available at the same price.
Before starting the meal, we were served two savory snacks to open our palates – almon tartare cone and cream cheef puffs.
The first dish was a green asparagus soup with black winter truffles from France. The soup was warm and has a mild milky and buttery flavor which balanced well with the greeny asparagus flavor, the turffles gives gives more aroma and texture to the dish, very spoonful, creamy and delicious.
The next dish is also a luxerious burst of oceanic flavors – a ‘sabayon’ of preal tapicoa with isaland creek oysters and white Sturgeon caviar. The oysters were not very large in size but clean and umami, the sabayon soup base was creamy and the entire combination was quite lovely. While we both prefer the asparagus soup in comparison.
Followed by a dish with a stong Japanese twist. The marinated Shima-aji, or Striped Jack in English, is fresh and clean. The pineapple-yuzu flavored ‘chiffon’ is quite interesting, the texture is more like espuma – light and airy, it has a refreshing taste that matches well with the fish.
The fourth course is hen egg custard in a lovely egg shell, topped with Parigord truffle puree. I enjoyed the smooth egg custard pretty much for its deep and eggy flavor, the truffle again made it up.
When Keller’s signature 6 assorted salt came to the table, it means the foie gras is to be served next. Then a beautiful dish of cold foe gras appeared in front of us, it is too pretty to eat (especially the plate made especially for TFL, although i’m not going to eat it 😀 ). The duck foie gras was topped with a layer of sour apple puree which brings a refreshing touch to the dish, side by ruby beets, red vein and crispy oats to bring up the flavors and textures. The homemade briche on the side was soft, buttery and flaky, so good with the creamy foie gras. One of my favorite dishs of the meal.
The first hot dish was pan seared snapper with crispy scales, on a bed of fork crushed new crop potatoes and French pickle emulsion. The skin of the fish was indeed crispy, the flesh underneath was succulent. Although i am not a big fan of potatoes and to be honest, i don’t like to see them in my dish when i fine dines, especially at Michelin-starred. Surprisingly i wasn’t mad of the potatoes here at all, probably because they are from private farm which gives me a real and homey feeling.
The pacific abalone was well-cooked, rubbery but more on the tender side, the golden crust was pretty crispy. I really liked the perserved tomato marmalade which has a deep flavor and matches very well with other components in this dish.
There were few seasonal supplement dishes on the menu, while my partner and i thought the dishes on the original menu was totally enough to fill we up, so we didn’t add on anything. But we were so surprised that the team treated us the signature black truffle risotto. The black winter truffles from Provence was very aromatic, risotto was perfectly cooked served in a creamy parmigiano reggiano cheese base, the entire combination was honestly fabulous. My favorite dish of the meal.
Next we were served a beautiful roasted quail, it tastes as good as it looks! Inside the thin crispy skin was succulent meat. While the most impressive part was the stuffed herbs with quail meat in between its skin and meat, which has a lovely herbal taste. The Hadley orchards Medjool date pudding, sweet carrots and toasted English walnuts on the side bring some sweetness to the dish. Lovely.
The last but not the least, for me, poularde (a fatty chicken that is grown in a unique way to avoid that it reaches sexual maturity) from Four Story Hill Farm wrapped with a thin layer of cabbage. I’m not sure whether that’s the correct description of ‘poularde’, it sounds scared but very tender and moist. I really loved the savory cabbage dumpling and dill creme fraiche – much over the chicken itself.
My partner had the herb roasted lamb from Elysian Fields Farm, Waynesburg, PA. Garnished with California grey morels, Sacramento Delta green asparagus, fava beans and Bearnaise Gastrique. Obviously i cannot comment too much on this dish, but I was told it was well roasted, the meat was indeed succulent and delicious with the sauce, but slightly fat for his liking.
A cheese course is included in the menu, served right after the main course before entering the dessert part. I loved this slice of Andante Diary Contralto which was not very old nor too strong, very balanced flavor and indeed textural.
Although there’s a saying that girls have too stomaches for desserts, i expected a sweet ending too but at the same time feeling scared of American desserts, even at a French restaurant like this. Look back to my 14-day-trip in the states, i cannot even remember a second dessert besides the citrus ice cream i had at 3*Saison. And here at TFL, the desserts were quite disappointing.
As i had stayed in Tokyo for a long while so i had get used to finish all the dishes as a culture, too as a basic manner to the chef. While i (we) actually cannot finish the rhubarb pavlova because it was too creamy and heavy. The dessert chef obviously added too much sugar to ‘balance’ the sourness but nooooo – imagine an oversweetened lemon tart.
And more desserts are coming…
Gateau Opera, bisciut joconde and Valrhona chocolate Ganache; “cappuccino semi-freddo; cinnamon-sugared doughnuts; macarons, candies and chocolates
I may not say the food was that stunning as i expected, but the whole experience was great. The entire menu went very smooth, very warm and friendly stuff but slightly inefficient during peak hours. Compare to other fancier younger Michelin-starred restaurants, TFL no doubt serves more traditional French food at its best. While i am not sure whether the food matches the expecteations of everyone especially for foodies who travels to Napa Valley only for TFL.