Pardon me for the long hiatus during my travels for work and pleasure, but I assure you there was a lot of eating and drinking, and all in the name of research of course. I won’t start at the beginning, but shall revisit the pinnacle of the trip, which is forever etched in my memory as one of the greatest meals of my life. Yeah, it was that good. But I’m jumping ahead of myself!
For me, an amazing dish is something I could remember immediately, even after a few months or years. The moment you think of that restaurant or chef, you think of that dish. Both are inextricably linked. For instance, whenever I think of Fat Duck and Heston Blumenthal, I remember the B.F.G. i.e. Black Forest Gateau which still holds the title as the best damn dessert that I’ve ever had. At my meal in the French Laundry, there were plenty of highs, as well as a dish, as I paraphrase my friend, left our facial muscles paralyzed by its sheer deliciousness.
Now, I’ve been to the French Laundry before. Although I did enjoy my previous meal, it was still hard for me to comprehend the complex flavour profiles within each dish. With my second meal, I thought it would be interesting to see if my perception of it will change, or if I will have a better appreciation of it. Our predilections evolve with time, although I still have trouble getting past raw onions on top of herring!
And so, we begin!
First off was Thomas Keller’s signature amuse bouche of Salmon cornet filled with creme fraiche. The cornet was buttery and flaky, whilst the salmon tartare was delicious and naturally paired well with the creme fraiche, which was injected into the bottom of the cone. This dish has been a staple at the French Laundry, and if it ain’t broke…. Quite perfect, really.
Next, was the legendary Oyster and Pearls, which is a sabayon of pearl tapioca with oysters and white sturgeon caviar. The amount of caviar was absolutely obscene! It was incredibly luxurious, and just left us wanting for more.
Next, was a salad of compressed apple, meyer lemon, and walnut tapenade. A well balanced dish, and the walnut tapenade was a definite surprise which was redolent of peanut butter, but with a very pleasant natural sweetness to it.
The subsequent dish was a seared Yellowtail with avocado puree. The fish was cooked to perfection, and was surprisingly packed with flavour. Once again, it is apparent the menu was incredibly ingredient driven, each of them made to shine.
The next dish was seared scallops served with sunflower seeds and some sort of pastry. Probably my least favourite dish of the outing, as the salt was too aggressive.
After that was some form of Quail roulade with pickled vegetables. Another good dish albeit not particularly spectacular.
The highlight of the meal was the Charcoal grilled Japanese Wagyu beef with “potato chip” and baby leek. This dish was just mind blowingly good. I’m typically not a fan of steak made from Wagyu beef, as it might be too soft. But this struck the perfect balance with a tender interior and a nice char on the outside. It tasted like a proper steak, but better, and was as close to a perfect dish that one might get.
Next, we had the cheese course. A well balanced dish, but not particularly memorable I must say.
Finally, the dessert course! Well, five courses apparently. All were delicious, but my favourite was the sweet milk ice cream with chocolate chips. It was like ice cream made with the richest possibly milk, and the chocolate chip adding some crunch.
Another Thomas Keller classic of Doughnuts with Coffee ice cream. A very satisfying and fluffy donut, but by this point we were already filled to the brim and could barely eat another bite!
And one must end with macaroons, of course. Despite being happily satiated, it was hard to resist. The macaroons were luscious to the bite, and not overtly crunchy like most of the commercial stuff that one might get. Could definitely stand against the Ladurees and Pierre Herme’s out there.
Quite an amazing meal, and definitely up there with the best of them. Compared to my previous visit, I felt that the dishes this time around were better and with more pronounced flavour profiles. Perhaps this was influenced by the presence of Thomas Keller, who was actually in the kitchen, as we caught a glimpse of him visiting a private party in the adjacent room.
Now I can truly understand why it was regarded as the best restaurant in the United States during its heyday. But even now, it can definitely give other Three Michelin star restaurants a run for its money. It may not be the most avant garde, but it is still a bastion of Modern American cuisine, using the best possible ingredients available in the region whilst paying homage to the French culinary heritage and techniques.