So – dinner at The French Laundry. Dinner at The French Laundry. Dinner at The French Laundry. I had dinner at The French Laundry! I ate at The French Laundry, wow. But why wow?
I ate a large multi-course dinner and helped consume 6 bottles of wine (with 4 other people). It is not as if I climbed a mountain or even walked a 5k, in fact I sat in a chair for over 3 hours. Food I did not cook was placed in front of me exactly 8 times, and managed to eat most of that food 7 times and then fell asleep during the dessert course.
What? Yes, my name is Angel, I am a foodie, and I fell asleep during the dessert course at The frackin' French Laundry. I have a super power where I can fall asleep in exciting situations usually involving fatigue and/or alcohol. I was experiencing both at the time – alcohol and fatigue that is. But I digress, let us not focus on the fact that I fell asleep at one of the best restaurants in the world.
Why is The French Laundry on so many bucket lists? So many "best meal of my life lists?"
Is it because of its three Michelin stars? Is it because Anthony Bourdain and a list of other chefs, celebrity and otherwise, who know what they are talking about when it comes to French cuisine say it is so?
Or is it the magic of a name? A myth of the perfect meal just waiting slightly out of reach of the average reservation and/or a pocket book? Is it because other people will envy the experience?
Is it because of the quest for flavor? The new hero's journey where personalities seek the experience of world and palate?
The journey for the perfect meal has only been recently recognized as an actual hobby. I say hobby because I'm not sure the search for flavor and food perfection is respected as a type of connoisseur yet, say, like an art collector. But this search that the tongue and accompanying senses lead is a similar search for art – it just does not involve paint on a canvas or a chisel to rock. It is viewed as a curiosity, generally undertaken by the rich and/or privileged, or the obsessed. I think the name "foodie" was actually a label given to those on the quest – and not out of honor.
Where does this put me in the spectrum? I would say, hardcore curious with an American Express card. Eating at The French Laundry was not an easy financial decision for me. I had to think about it and work out a plan, understand my boundaries, ask myself, just for a little bit, if it would be worth the expense. After less than five minutes of deliberation I determined it was definitely worth it for "The Experience." If for nothing else, I did not work for the reservation, my friends did. Who could turn that down right? So I am a foodie. I wanted to know, to taste perfection, to see if this would be the best meal of my life.
As I thought of all the angles one could come at writing this essay about that experience I paid quite a bit for – what I keep coming back to is the great question of why? Not because I was disappointed, not because it didn't meet my expectations. It was an amazing meal and I had great company to experience it with. I hold great gratitude for the invitation to join in this reservation and memory.
Was it the best meal of my life? No – but I believe that I did not actually expect it to be – so this is by no means a let down. My tastes are way more exotic than standard French cuisine, even perfect standard French cuisine. And I love standard French cuisine. I love perfect standard French cuisine. I loved the food and experience I had at the French Laundry. Julia Child is one of my heroes – I wonder what she would say about all the foodie fuss over The French Laundry?
Heck, maybe she did say something and I haven't found it because I haven't done the research. I just want to ask questions about why we do the things we do and how things come to be in the context of an iconic establishment that I had the privilege and means, albeit borrowed, to visit.
Perhaps I am asking why because I do not have the education to understand what it is I experienced? I am a home taught cook. I have no gastronomy training other than what I have learned from cookbooks, cook memoirs, and cooking shows. I could not even venture to guess how to repeat anything I ate in this meal. But that should make it all the more holy in a way, shouldn't it?
Maybe to even ask why is a sacrilege, a blaspheme, a foodie heresy?
The French Laundry itself does answer the question of where, however. As in "where does my food come from?" With an extensive booklet of purveyors provided to you with your menu as you leave, along with a tin of shortbread cookies. I ate the cookies while writing this post three days later.
The purveyors are from all over the United States but it is obvious they are all best in class, growing or harvesting the best ingredients available. It is also obvious that this 48 page booklet is printed in small batches as page 48 in the back listed "This Evening's Purveyors" meaning, this evening the food I ate came from these places – each of which has a one-page description and photo in the book. I work in marketing, this is not an inexpensive choice on the part of the restaurant to provide such details to each diner.
You can tell with the photo above that it is about here in the meal that I fell asleep. 7 courses, 6 wines, I lost consciousness for a little bit at chocolate. I know I fell asleep all too well because I do not have a good picture of this course, and no memory of what it tasted like. My friends also told me that they let me sleep, because they are nice like that.
Was this blasphemy? Or was I just overly full and filled with intoxicating and yummy wine from an extensive wine cellar – heck I drank something from 1997! (I've been a Buddhist as long as that wine was hanging out in the bottle) Or was it because it was already past midnight after two long days of tiring travel and probably not enough sleep? It was probably all of the above. But it happened – making my experience unique I'm sure.
At the end of the day it was a beautiful experience. I was with great friends who all appreciated it for what it was. And what it was will remain unique to each of them and their reasons for entering The French Laundry.
I do not expect all mysteries to be answered, even by the tongue.
The French Laundry, Yountville, California
The Chef's Tasting Menu for April 2, 2016
in order of appearance in the photos above
Royal Ossetra Caviar
Hudson Valley Moulard Duck Foie Gras Rillette
Atlantic Striped Bass Piccata
Charcoal Grilled Pacific Abalone
Four Story Hill Farm Poularde en Brioche
Herb Roasted Elysian Fields Farm Lamb
Andante Dairy Contralto
The Wine List