August 27, 2008
The French Laundry
It was a meal perfect in every way imaginable, except for one: it did not move me. In a way, the French Laundry starts off leaden with so much praise that it was impossible to match the hyperbole that has been heaped upon it. To its credit, it nearly did. Everything was executed to perfection, from the quaint and rustically luxurious (or is it luxuriously rustic?) setting to the attentive, yet non-intrusive service, to the food... oh the food was flawless. And I mean completely without any imperfections whatsoever. You could break down each dish any number of ways and examine it to the n-th degree of detail and you will not find the slightest mistake with it. Not the plating, not the texture, not the doneness, not the flavor, not even the spacing or the number of grains of salt crystals on the steak. The mastery and skill involved with each dish was evident—everything emphatically declared that you were experiencing the epitome of fine dining. Even the give-away chocolate truffles at the end were as good as any I've had from the best specialty shops.
All the wows, and it was a non-stop series of wows from beginning to end, were all in response to the quality of ingredients and the absolute precision in execution. No fireworks went off on the tongue. You could certainly argue that this is what fine dining is about, but for a restaurant widely considered one of the best in the world, I also expected to be challenged and surprised by taste, not just be bowled over by mastery of technique.
The much-touted “Oysters and Pearls” was a bit of a let-down. Sure, the richness of the egg sauce was nicely offset by the oyster and the rather salty caviar, creating a perfect balance. Yet, somehow, it just didn't dance on my tongue, like a similar caviar and egg dish Jean-Georges serves that did. Why that is exactly, I can't tell you, all I know is that all the dishes went down without putting on their dancing shoes that night.
The escargot and the pig's head bits, both fried, were tasty, but too refined, robbing them somewhat of their distinctive characters.
Highlights included the fig salad and the cheese mousse for taste and the foie gras and steak for their unbelievably velvety texture.
The night's menu is listed below with photos of each dish. I didn't think so at the time, but as I type the menu now for this review, I find it reads like a pretentious and condescending prick showing off his vastly superior French culinary vocabulary. All the French terms are in quotes as if to emphasize that this is a “French technique” which you have “probably never heard of” so I'll try to “talk slower for you.” If it's so esoteric, just write it in English or do the French, force us to learn, but spare me the quotes, thank you. Try reading the menu out loud and making sure to do air-quotes every time something is quoted, you won't go far before you want to kick your own pretentious ass, I promise you. Incidentally, I also could have done without the dress code. Forcing men to wear jackets to dinner is so anachronistic.
Chef's Tasting Menu, August 19, 2008
$240, service included
“Oysters and Pearls”
“Sabayon” of pearl tapioca with Island Creek oysters and white sturgeon caviar.
Course 2, option 1:
Salad of Napa Valley Figs
Cipollini onion marmalade, toasted pine nuts, arugula and “Piment d'Espelette”
Course 2, option 2 ($30 supplement):
Moulard Duck “Foie Gras en Terrine”
Fennel bulb glaze, red Alpine strawberries, mache and sicilian pistachios
Course 3, option 1:
Columbia River Sturgeon “Confit à la Minute”
Caramelized Savoy cabbage, heirloom beets, Nasturtium and horseradish-infused crème fraîche
Course 3, option 2:
“Fricassée” of Jacobsen's Farm Escargots
“Aile de Poularde,” globe artichokes, garden radish, heart of romaine, Spanish capers and Jidori hen egg-garlic emulsion
Maine Lobster Mitts “Pochées au Beurre Doux”
La ratte potatoes, baby corn, summer truffle coulis, “Fines Herbes” and lobster vinaigrette
Course 5, option 1:
“Aiguillette” of Liberty Farm Pekin Duck
Sunchokes, royal blenheim apricots, sunflower seeds, cilantro and aged sherry vinegar
Course 5, option 2:
“Rouelle de Tête de Cochon”
“Haricots Verts,” French Laundry Garden Tomatoes, Frisée and “Ranch Dressing”
The name of the dish means “pig's head” in French, or something like that. I was really looking forward to this one when the waiter explained what it was (damn French terms), and it was a wonderful dish, but I was expecting bolder textures and flavors from a pig's head's bits and pieces. Like the rest of the menu, it was too refined. The swine's head was completely tamed. A bit of a shame, I thought.
Snake River Farms “Calotte de Bœuf Grillée”
Morel Mushroom “Pithiviers,” Swiss Chard, Nantes carrots, bone marrow pudding and “Sauce Bordelaise”
Goat's Leap “Toko” Mousse
Peach cobbler and hazelnuts
Jacobsen's Farm Yellow Nectarine Sorbet
Andante dairy yogurt and puffed quinoa
Course 9, option 1:
“Délice au Chocolate et à la Menthe”
with Amedei Chuao Chocolate-Mint “Parfait” and Mint Syrup
Course 9, option 2:
Armando Manni Olive Oil Madeleine
with Almond Glaze, Bing Cherries and Marcona Almond-Olive Oil Sorbet
The French Laundry
6640 Washington Street