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French Laundry and Napa Valley, CA

It was a beautiful Saturday morning. My friends and I left San Francisco before 9 AM so traffic was light. We were dressed to the nines, highly anticipating our first 3 Michelin star lunch at the famous Chef Thomas Keller's French Laundry. We arrived at the beautiful ivy-covered building early so we decided to visit our first winery for the day- Grgich Hills Estate
There were several tastings offered. My friends opted for the red and white wines selection while I sat back, enjoying the warm morning and great company. The wines whetted our appetites and soon we made our way to lunch.
We entered through the iconic blue door, greeted warmly by maitre d', and promptly ushered to our table and seats on the second floor by smartly dressed wait staff. We were surrounded by tables of twos, fours, and six. I was immediately drawn to the classic décor and flower arrangements tastefully gracing the room.

We had two main servers who were waiting on us during the entire meal. They took our orders: trio of us went with the basic chef menu while N. supplemented his with wines and Japanese Wagyu. The concept of the restaurant is no same ingredient is served repeatedly during the course of the meal. The menu changes daily. Fresh produce is sourced locally or from the French Laundry's garden across the street.  Other products are sourced nationally and internationally and from the highest quality. 
The lunch began with  seafood tartar cornet and aged gruyère cheese balls, followed with assortment of warm bread from Bouchon Bakery, locally-made salted butter and unsalted butter from the Animal Farm in Vermont. Our dishes were cleared. Then, the first course was served, which was named "Oysters and Pearls" consisting of Saboyan of pearl tapioca with island creek oysters and white sturgeon caviar. I sighed in utmost contentment- this was how great caviar tasted! I took my time admiring each dish composition, engaging all my senses, and comprehending the philosophy of the dish presented in front of me before I took photos of the dish. I know some great chefs have mindfully composed and insisted their signature dishes presented in a certain manner so I honored them by showing my sincere appreciation :) 
Photos courtesy of T. To

Next came the garden tomato En Gelée. It was a garden ripened tomato salad comprising of crunchy young fennel, toasted Pain de Campagne Melba and Armando Manni extra virgin olive oil. I even souped up the dressing because it was so refreshing. Our next course was a slow cooked fillet of wild king salmon served with garden potatoes, hard boiled hen egg Terrine and dill crème fraîche. I was struck by the beautifully designed hard boiled egg.
My favorite dish of the entire meal came next. Called "Purée de Chou- Fleur et Blanquette de Poisson", it was sweet butter poached Maine lobster. The flesh tasted sweetly succulent and I truly admired whoever crack-opened the claws to retrieve the meat in one piece. The sauce remained foamy and I simply had to dip my bread into the sauce and savored it.

Our plates were cleared and the Wolfe Ranch white quail with toasted Quinoa and sunflower seed porridge, forest mushrooms, garden turnips and Chantenay carrots was served. I loved it because the pink hue quail was moist and its skin had a light crisp bite to it. I then had my next favorite dish which was the herb roasted Elysian Fields farm lamb served with roasted garden squash, lipstick peppers, charred eggplant Béchamel and arugula. The lamb was so rightly cooked and the sauce complemented well.
At this point of time, we were two hours or so into our lunch. All the tables were occupied by patrons of various ages and conversations flowed. It was surprisingly chirpy. We grimaced at the thought that our lunch was coming to an end... but little did we realize that it went on for another hour. The next course was Jasper Hill Farms "Harbison" which was hazelnut Pain de Gêne, muscat Gelée and K&J Orchards peaches. The meal ended with a generous assortment of desserts: fruits, ice cream, chocolate, and candies accompanied with French roasted coffee. We even received gift boxes containing oh-so-good chocolates and short bread cookies.
After settling our bills, the maitre d' gave us a tour of the building and kitchen. The kitchen was undergoing expansion so a temporary kitchen built from shipping containers was set up. There was a live feed of Per Se, Chef Keller's NY fine dining restaurant. It was great to see the wait staff bustling about while the kitchen staff efficiently prepared the food. Chef Keller was on vacation but his presence was felt. We bade adieu, took obligatory pictures of the restaurant, and stuffed our contented selves back in the SUV that we rented for the day.
Photo courtesy of N. Chen

We stopped at Bouchon bakery to grab some macaroons and visited an olive oil tasting at Round Pond Estate. We got to sample locally pressed plain and flavored olive oils as well as vinegar. The estate also houses traditional Italian mills and was flanked by rows of vineyards and olive groves.
We wrapped up our Napa visit at Mumm Napa. We tasted a selection of sparkling wines (I like to call them bubbles or Champagne but alas the latter can only be used for sparkling wines produced in the Champagne region of France). My favorite was the 2007 DVX- dry and refreshing, ideal for a hot summer afternoon. 
Photos courtesy of T. To

Overall, my French Laundry and Napa visit was an amazing experience. I am immensely blessed to be amongst greatness: food, people who share my passion for good food and kindred life experiences, nature, and beauty.

Last modified: August 17, 2015
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