Friday, April 11, 2008

法式洗衣店 (the french laundry)

"全世界美食愛好者的聖地", "一輩子非得來吃一次不可", "experience of a lifetime", "best meal one can ever dream of", "epitome of fine dining", "米芝蓮三星級餐廳"… 狹着種種美譽, 在Thomas Keller 的 "法式洗衣店" (the french laundry) 享受一頓晚餐從來都是不少foodie 夢寐以求的"目標". well, we finally made it.

興奮是從臨離開香港前一天得知secure 了dinner reservation 的一刻開始. 要知道位處yountville, california 的 the french laundry 只有十七張枱, 每日招待62名"幸運兒", 餐廳每天就接超過400個訂位電話. typically all seating is filled by 10:30am local time exactly 2 months in advance – i.e. within a mere 30 minutes after they open up their hotline and online reservation system for those tables. if you are still not convinced how hard that is, try google "french laundry reservation" and you will find tens of so-called tips and sharing on this "finding the holy grail-like" experience, or try reading this.

anyway, we managed to get the table a week before we are to stay in napa. i am not going to bore you with the details with how we managed to get the table here, but has something to do that little plastic in your pocket. now i know what’s meant by "一卡傍身 世界通行"!

the dinner took place on the first day we stayed in napa valley as part of our overnight trip in the wine country. anticipating what could be our best culinary experience ever, we saved up (our stomach and wallet) by skipping breakfast and having a "light" lunch – a double-double at inn-n-out burger joint, and tried hard to stay sober in the midst of wine-tastings and vineyard visits. we even skipped a couple planned winery stops to get some quiet time in the b&b and gathered ourselves mentally ready for the laundry experience.

the restaurant’s in yountville, a township of population 3500 in the middle of napa valley, in between napa and st helena. it’s about 20 minutes from where we stayed. when we arrived, we were amazed at how unassuming the place looks – a stone building with a small sign just by the walkway. after all, it’s converted from an old french laundry built circa 1900 – hence the namesake. it’s overlooking a garden which also belongs to the restaurant.

upon entry through the famous blue door, we were promptly seated in a room on the second floor. menu’s simple – either a 9-course tasting menu (with choices on several courses) or a vegetable menu. no brainer to us. as the tradition, we started off with the amuse-bouche of dollop of salmon tartare atop a crispy cone – i probably saw the picture of it a thousand times in his cookbook or in magazine articles, but trying it for the first time almost dropped me into tears – a dream came true at last, i said to myself. a dream came true.

signature dishes included “oyster and pearl” – in a literal sense, that’s 奶油西米"沙巴翁"拌生蠔及鱘龍魚子醬. i know that doesn’t sound delicious but i am going to leave it that way. and let me assure you if you have not tried it - it’s not just delicious – it’s HEAVENLY! you just had to wonder how the heck can he come up with such pairing and makes it almost like a natural match from the beginning of earth! for all we knew tapioca only works with coconut cream or milk tea! but with oyster and caviar? not in our freaking wildest dream! other of my favorites include "beets and leeks" – lobster tail with leeks, thinly-sliced fried potatoes (pommes maxim) and red beet essence, and moulard duck “foie gras au torchon” – oh my god!

i am not going to blog about every single dish we have enjoyed that night– because words can never appropriately describe the experience we have had. i was going to use an analogy for this but i dare not here. service is formal, attentive and to the details. more perfect than perfect. for wine, we picked a copain 2002 broken leg vineyard syrah which was especially blended and bottled for the restaurant, which "rises to the occasion" to match with the food, especially the later courses. apparently only 123 cases were produced from this sonoma boutique winemaker – speaking of exclusivity! just as a side thought, during our stay and visit in the napa wine region, we seem to have better experience with the pinot and syrah over the more famous cabs. probably just so happened.

if i really have to find glitches in the whole experience – which is extremely hard to, that would be how tight the tables are arranged. well, cyy apparently didn’t mind as she’s been having fun overhearing the conversations from the table right behind us. and of course, if they didn’t fit a few additional tables in, that would make the already-difficult reservation even harder to get. so that was forgiven.

at the end of the dinner, we couldn’t resist by asking our waiter to give us a brief tour of the kitchen and pay our compliments to the chef. we looked at everything in amazement and “fear” like we are looking at a holy shrine or something. 當然美妙的, 還有廚房裡real-time連線着紐約per se廚房的螢幕... it’s a pity that we didn’t get to meet thomas keller in person this time – an excuse for us to go back there some time in the future? as if we need one.

worth it? absolutely – for the food, for the experience, for the sense of privilege and accomplishment, for the tale to share among ourselves in many years to come and for everything. and we will let the ecstatic feeling going over and around our head for a few more weeks, until we have to pay off that huge laundry ticket bill when the credit card statement arrives.

when? april 8 2008
where? the french laundry, 6640 washington street, yountville, ca
occasion? the dinner is an occasion by itself
menu highlights? everything! start from finish! perfect 10! two thumbs up!
drinks? copain 2002 "broken leg vineyard" syrah

1 comment :

DBJ said...

Glad to know it lived up to expectations. A pity we could not see photos, but I would expect they would have thrown you out if you had gotten out your camera - or they would have frowned at being so "Asian" with the camera. Nevertheless, very well written! Richee