Thursday, January 9, 2014

#Reverb13, Day 14: Feast

Throughout the month of December, I’ll be participating in #reverb13: Reverb is a way to reflect on the past year and project into the next year with a prompt a day for 31 days.

Day 14 – Feast:
What was the best meal you had in 2013? Was it slurped standing over the kitchen counter? Was the menu written in a language you understood? Were you alone? Or at a table filled with family and friends?

This one is easy.  There is a very clear winner for "meal of the year," and it also takes the title for "restaurant meal of my lifetime". 

We went to the French Laundry at the end of October (or beginning of November?) when we were on vacation in Northern California. 

I first heard about this restaurant in 2003 when my best friend and her husband went to Northern California for their honeymoon.  I remember her telling me about trying to get reservations and how happy they were when they got in the very week they were there because of a cancellation.  When she got back from their honeymoon, she raved about it.  Their check had been over $500 but she said it had been the best meal of their lives.  And when my husband and I got married in Italy, we had about 10-15 courses of food at our reception (typical Southern Italian style), and they said they'd now had two of those meals:  The French Laundry and our wedding reception.  While the food at our wedding was good, and while she didn't compare the two in any way other than shear number of courses, obviously the French Laundry would win out for quality (not to say I didn't love everything I ate at our wedding...). 

In short, The French Laundry restaurant is small and takes reservations 2 months prior and always fills up on the very day reservations open.  I tried calling in late August and early September to attempt to get reservations on any day we'd be there for vacation (a total of 6 days).  After hundreds of phone calls each day, I'd finally connect and they'd be full already but put me on the wait list. 

But a few weeks later I got a phone call indicating there had been a cancellation and asking if I was still interested.  Uhhh, yeah!!! 

I was glad we found out in September because it gave me time to make sure I could afford the meal.  I'm totally anti-credit-card debt, and I knew our dinner check would be over $500 (little did I know, it would actually be over $1,000 for the two of us), so I was able to spend wisely in the months before our trip (unfortunately, we were in Europe for about 3 weeks of that, and I was spending money like it grew on trees!) (but the Europe money was in the budget, so it was okay, it was just a matter of being prepared for the spending spree to continue pretty much from late September until Christmas Eve!). 

We planned to go to Napa and go wine tasting in the afternoon before dinner but we ended up scrapping that plan.  We knew we'd be pretty dressed up for dinner, and we didn't want to wear that stuff wine tasting.  We knew we'd drink a lot wine tasting, and we didn't want to be intoxicated (or buzzed) for a meal that special.  And we didn't know how we'd kill the couple hours after most vineyards closed and before The French Laundry reservations. 

So instead that day we did the sights of San Fran.  We drove across the Bay Bridge and went to a lighthouse, we went for an awesome run, we saw the sea lions at the pier, etc.  Then we drove to Yountsville for dinner. 

Without further ado, photos of our meal at The French Laundry.  We went with my brother and sister-in-law.  For the record, both of them and my husband were appalled that I was taking photos of the food.  I asked the waiter if other people did it and he said about 1/3 of their tables on any given night are taking photos of the food.  So it wasn't as tacky as they thought -- well, maybe it was, but I had lots of company in my tackiness! 

And feel special, this blog was about 80% of the reason I took the photos (my own bad memory is the other 20%).

Walking in:

Those little touches: 

Hope you can read this, it's the menu I ordered: 

And here is the menu that everyone else at our table ordered:

Not on the menu, but what we started with:

This was the "oysters and pearls", "sabayon" of pearl tapioca with island creek oysters and white sturgeon caviar, that everyone but me ordered: 

The horseradish and la ratte potato "vichyssoise": 

Roll 1:

What my husband and brother ordered -- musquee de provence pumpkin risotto, "castelmagno" mousse and shaved white truffles from Alba: 

Jacobsen orchard persimmon salad: 

The crispy garnet yam, one of my favorites: 

Carmelized red fuseau sunchoke "potage" (one of the only courses that I didn't love): 

Roll 2: 

Sweet butter-poached Maine lobster (I believe, not something I ate): 

And I think this is the "pave" of Atlantic fluke "confit a la minute" (again, not something I got so I'm not sure what it was): 
 I believe this is the devil's gulch ranch rabbit that everyone else got: 

Hand-rolled whole milk ricotta "gnudi" (because of my nut allergy, this was my replacement for the chestnut ravioli course): 

The white truffles from Alba, pre-shaving:

The all-day braised elysian fields farm lamb shank (not mine, obvs): 

This was my favorite part of the meal -- the hand cut tagliatelle with shaved white truffles from Alba:

 Not sure, but I think this is andante dairy "acapella", slow-roasted garden beets, young fennel, ruby beet essence, and English walnut jam (not for me): 

"Terrine de bleu d'Avergne", riesling gelee, marinated grapes, garden mache, black pepper shortbread and syrah "gastrique" (insanely, insanely good, another favorite): 

Wine, water, sister-in-law: 

 The beginning of the assortment of desserts: 

Can't remember what this was, but looking at the picture now, there is a lot of extra saliva being generated -- it was amazing, another favorite: 

The dessert truffle guy, showing us the options.  I believe there were 7 different kinds and each person got to choose as many as they wanted to sample: 

I got three kinds -- each one divine, another favorite part of the meal...: 

Coffee and doughnuts, very, very good: 

 Some Halloween spirit, special shortbread cookies, we also got some to take home: 

Apparently another coffee and doughnuts picture?: 

And oh yes, the check.  Because only 3 of the 4 of us ordered $175 supplement options, we decided not to split the check down the middle (plus it was a younger brother...), so I think our share was $1050. 
 More dessert: 

There you have it.  The priciest meal I ate in 2013.  The priciest meal I ate in my life.  The best meal I ate in 2013.  The best restaurant meal I ate in my life!  That's pretty much my The French Laundry review.  It was quite the feast.  Certainly something to experience once in a lifetime, and something we'll fondly remember. 


  1. OMG! So glad you posted about this AND took pics! Awesome.

    So, I realize... the experience has to be worth a lot. But, honestly... as a vegetarian... was the food really worth that much money in your opinion?

    I ate at Bouchon when I was in Yountville (and still a meat eater), so at least I've had a reasonable Thomas Keller meal (we still spent a ton and ordered a crap ton of food). But... I've always wondered if The French Laundry was worth it.

  2. For me, I'd say yes, but I'd never had an experience like that before, so maybe if you have, it wouldn't be worth it. But the food itself I thought was amazing, and I actually think even as a meat eater, there would have been more that I preferred on the veg menu. About 2-3 of the things I ate were among the best ever, and several others were also stand-outs. I think I've posted before that we like the idea of spending money on experiences, and from that standpoint, this is 100% something we'll remember, talk about, etc., so worth it in that regard.

  3. Cool. Sounds like it would be worth it!

    1. Yeah, I think if you like amazing and unusual food and memorable experiences, and you can afford it, go for it! And honestly for me, if it meant not going out to eat anywhere else for 3 months to afford this meal, that would have been worth it.

  4. This definitely gets filed in the You Only Live Once file! Thanks for sharing the details and photos.