No matter how I slice it, I can’t seem to get away from wine country. Nor do I want to. This past Friday night, my dear friends Martha and Melissa and I went to the French Laundry in Yountville for dinner.
Now, I don’t think I’m going to try and write a review of the French Laundry. Everyone’s done it already and, well, what’s the point? It was the French Laundry. It was amazing, of course. That kitchen does things with artichokes that slay me. If I could live like a doormouse under their stairs and be fed those artichokes all day long, I’d be happy (and, okay, maybe another dozen or so favorite selections from the menu, since the kitchen is right there).
I’m lucky because they started doing their offal tasting menu again in February, which means that Melissa, Martha, and I got the Chef’s Tasting, the Vegetable, and the Offal menus, respectively, and got to try every single dish on offer (to the non-VIPs) that night. That was really cool. A three-top is usually a strange number, and this time it worked to our advantage.
If I were choosing all over again, I’d still get the Offal, hands down. Instead of the famous salmon coronet to start, I got chicken live mousse, one of my favorite things in the world. My scallop for the fish course came with a sauce studded with glistening white orbs of bone marrow (not my favorite combination since I like light, clean flavors with scallops, but I’ll take bone marrow with pretty much anything). As Melissa dove into her pork belly, I got the most delicious tripe and whipped potato bowl. The last tripe I had was a skanky cup of tangy innards from a street vendor in Hong Kong. As the French Laundry Cookbook makes clear, the Laundry’s was cleaned to perfection, but so much so that it was missing a little of that foul animal bile and acid taste that I love so much. Still, I would eat thirty more of these if only Team Keller delivered.
The crowning jewel of the evening was the deconstructed lamp and kale. This was an offal showcase, with kidney, heart, sweetbreads, brains, and neck meat represented (the latter in a perfect bite-sized raviolli that exploded on the tongue with intense lambiness…a perfect portion for such a heavy preparation). I moved my way up the ladder of organs on the plate, and my favorite texture sensation of the night was the juicy pillowy sweetbreads then seeming to swell into the even sweeter and more custardy brains from one bite to the next. Oddly enough (sarcasm), I was the only person at my table to try it! Martha had some liver but Melissa demurred from the whole dish…and then ran out of steam on her “Calotte de Bœuf,” and, well, I couldn’t exactly orphan it, could I?
The best thing about eating with Martha and Melissa is that they leave a lot of food on the table. (This is not, however, a good thing if you are trying to eat less, though I don’t know anyone who goes to the Laundry with that goal in mind.) Martha is allergic to shellfish and alcohol, so all dishes with those ingredients flowed my way (including a delicious cheese course spiked with Pliny the Elder IPA!). Melissa is a tiny little munchkin who gets full easily and doesn’t usually eat much for dinner (!!!). She put in a downright impressive showing on Friday (fortunately and unfortunately, sigh) but, still, I got to reap a lot of rewards by going with these two. (Their lovely company, of course, is the biggest benefit of all…but we’re talking about food here, folks.)
One of the highlights of the meal was Martha’s chocolate souffle with a citrus caramel. If I could shrink myself down–and, believe me, this fantasy was especially attractive after three hours of eating–and live inside one of those sweet souffle bubbles like a little Sea Monkey, nibbling a bit off my home each day, I would be the happiest creature alive. (Until the souffle deflated and smothered me to death in a delicious tragedy, of course.)
My dessert, punnily called “Sanguine,” was a rich chocolate tart with a secret ingredient–blood. Though I couldn’t really taste it, I like the idea: both dark chocolate and blood are bitter and have minerality to them. Still, chocolate tarts, whether vampire-friendly or not, can’t get a rise out of me anymore, so I was much more interested in the souffle and the Coffee and Doughnuts which came after. (And some real coffee, to combat the food coma.)
We ended up staying in Yountville that night (booking a hotel room during dinner…class act), and the next day I returned to the scene of the crime to walk around the beautiful gardens that are across the road from the restaurant.
A perfect end to an amazing jaunt to wine country. And…then I didn’t eat for the entire weekend, subsisting on water and beet/kale/carrot/apple juice. The agony and the ecstasy, indeed!