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SilverSpoon on Honeymoon: Foodie Heaven at The French Laundry

Every foodie has a dream restaurant; that look sought after place the sits on top of your bucket list and never gets crossed off because its too far away, super expensive and impossible to get a reservation. My dream restaurant is The French Laundry, a foodie mecca that is all those three things and was voted the Restaurant Magazine’s ‘Best Restaurant in the World’ 2003 and 2004. During my pilgrimage to Napa Valley to experience some of the best wine and food in the world I was determined to get a reservation as I knew the trip wouldn’t be the same without it.

When the concierge at Calistoga Ranch got us a dinner reservation I cried ‘Halleujah’… but it was at 5.45pm. I didn’t care, I’ll take what I can get. Mr Silver was a little disgruntled at such an early dinner plan cutting into our day but I promised him that this would be a religious experience.

Some background on the epic three Michelin star restaurant which can be found in Yountville, Napa Valley, about a 20 minute drive from our hotel. Thomas Keller, the chef and owner of the French Laundry, started young in his culinary career by helping his mother at a restaurant in Palm beach. A love of cookery was ignited and Keller relocated to France to work under much lauded Michelin chefs such as Guy Savoy and Taillevent. It was in 1994 he took ownership of The French Laundry after being inspired by the beautiful countryside restaurants he’d seen in France. A fine collection of other restaurants followed including the three Michelin Star restaurant, Per Se in New York. I visited Per Se about six years ago and I remembered it was one of the best dining experiences I’d ever had.

A beautiful garden and farm lies directly opposite the restaurant and it is where Keller and his team of chefs source some of their ingredients. They only use seasonal ingredients and choose only the very best available. As well as curating their own garden, the restaurant works with a vast number of other purveyors as the chefs believe developing relationships is an integral part of their work. As such the menu at The French Laundry changes daily in order to create a totally out of this world experience for every visitor. Everyday after a busy service the chefs consult each other in order to craft the menu for the following day…it’s a tough job but attention to detail has made Thomas Keller what he is today.

A smaller garden lies inside the restaurant itself and as the sun poured through the hedges, we felt like we could have been in a villa in the South of France, just as Keller intended.

Though my outfit suggests otherwise, I certainly wasn’t feeling blue…

I’d bought the dress and shoes during our recent trip to Florence and this special meal felt like the perfect chance to debut them.

The unusual name of the restaurant derives from an earlier us of the building, which in the 1920’s was a French steam laundry. Little details such as the clothes peg above hark back to it’s former incarnation.

As you can see the interior of the restaurant is rather simple and unassuming. It is also half empty as dining times are staggered in order to offer the optimum service levels from the staff.

The champagne is poured and we are presented with a biblical wine list, helpfully compressed on to an iPad so it’s not too heavy!

Coming to the French Laundry isn’t just about going out for a meal, it is an experience…sort of a performance of food. Attention to detail is everything…we are presented with the menu which have been personalised with our names and congratulations for our honeymoon, a lovely touch.

The menu is a fusion of American and French cuisine, every night guests are presented with a nine course tasting menu, and they are given the opportunity to choose the Chef’s tasting menu, or one that is solely vegetarian. There are also further courses that can be taken for an added supplement. These use only the very finest ingredients such as Royal Ossetra caviar, black truffle and wagyu beef, Mr S and I decided it wasn’t really necessary and plumped for the ‘ordinary’ Chef’s nine course tasting menu.

We smiled with delight at the amuse, a salmon cone which reminded us of one of the canapes we’d had at our wedding. I have a blog post coming up on how chose the food for our wedding, watch this spoony space!

A delicate cheese gougere came next.

Then a change from my usual silver utensil when a mother of pearl spoon was placed in front of us. The material is usually used with caviar because silver or metal can be reactive and effect the flavour of the fine ingredient.

 

The first course is known as ‘Oysters and Pearls’, a creamy concoction of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and white Sturgeon Caviar. The taste was absolutely sublime and my little spoon did the perfect job of delivering the divine tastes to my mouth!

Keller never uses the same ingredient twice thorough out the meal so as to sustain the delight and surprise of the guest. Every little course is a touch of magic from the genius chef. Each course is tiny too so as to keep that excitement at a peak and leave you wanting more.

Here’s a beautifully bready collage for your delectation. Notes the two different types of butter.

This piece of artistry was a salad of garden beetroots with English pea puree, Navel orange and pea tendrils. The salad was the perfect light and zesty follow up to the previous creamy dish. As we saw these masterpieces arrive at the table and tasted the extraordinary flavours we knew it is no wonder Thomas Keller has such a string of accolades such as ‘America’s Best Chef’ in 2001 by Time Magazine, and consecutive ‘Best Chef Awards’ (in 1996 he was Best Chef in California and in 1997 he won best chef in America) from the James Beard Foundation. Keller is also the only American-born chef with three Michelin stars for more than one restaurant.

Next was a fish course of sauteed fillet of pacific yellow tail served with garbanzo bean pesto, eggplant (aubergine), a pepper relish and mizuna. The tuna was of course perfectly rare and my love of aubergine made the dish an absolute winner for me.

Butter poached Alaskan King crab served with carrot, turnips, Italian parlsey and a Chanterelle mushroom Veloute.

Wolfe ranch white quail, Oregon cepe mushrooms, bing cherries, Brentwood corn (that’s Brentwood in California, not Essex) and Arrowleaf Spinach. As you can see Keller lists the provenance of every ingredient on his menu, which goes towards underlining the importance of his suppliers and quality of produce.
┬áHerb-roast Marcho Farm Veal with romano beans, Moroccan Olive puree and spicy basil… and yes, I was getting full…

Next was cheddar with apricots, plum, fennel and hazelnuts. A tasty dish but it made me laugh because the cubes of cheddar looked like they should be paired with pineapple on a stick… rather anomalous in such a upscale establishment.

Next the menu listed ‘Assortment of desserts: Fruit, Ice cream, chocolate and candies’…this is what we got…

‘We must try it all…when are we ever going to go to the French Laundry again…’ me and Mr S said to each other as more and more sweet treats emerged and we bravely soldiered on. It was a holy war…The Silvers versus chocolate.

But when the petite fours came out…

…I’m afraid to said chocolate won as I bravely sampled a macaron and a truffle and Mr S popped a mini doughnut in his mouth. We were defeated by dessert.

‘Would you like to take this away with you?’ the waiter said.
‘Yes’ was the resounding answer…

We enjoyed a totally transcendent meal at The French Laundry, I can see why it is one of the best restaurants in the world. Everything was perfection from the food, to the service to the gorgeous interior. I hope to come back but it may not be until our 40th Anniversary…I wonder if they’d take the booking now?

PS This is my 100th Blog Post! And rather fitting that I achieve my foodie dream for such a momentous occasion.