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Laundry On Sundaes

Every beginning is only a sequel, after all, and the book of events is always open halfway through.

Phew, it’s been a while since I last wrote. I had been so busy the past couple of weeks: went to Napa, came back to SF, went to Boston for my Harvard interview, came back to SF, went to the Twitter holiday party with Yufei, and add to that work, house chores, Christmas shopping… But more on all of that later. This post is dedicated to the highly anticipated dinner at the French Laundry! Before actually talking about the dinner, I will say that I am very happy to be accepted at all 3 dental schools I had interviewed at (NYU, UCSF, and UoP), so I did earned my meal!

Yufei and I drove to Napa on the afternoon 2 Sundays ago. Our dinner reservation was at 5:45, so we had a couple of hours to walk around and explore downtown Napa a little bit before that. When we decided to drive to the restaurant, it was nearly dark. I kind of wish that we could have seen everything when it was still light out, but that’s winter for you. Still, the garden area looked quite charming in the twilight.

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The restaurant itself was in a two-story building. We were greeted and seated in a table in the corner of the first floor.

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As you can see, we were one of the first guests to arrive, but the dining room filled up to capacity as the night progressed. We were given the menus for the night: the chef’s tasting and the tasting of vegetables, both 9 courses. The wine list was on an iPad. We both decided to go for the chef’s tasting, but with a few substitutions for Yufei since he doesn’t eat shellfish. There were also a couple of courses that had a choice, but all the alternatives had a pretty hefty supplement, so we skipped on that even though it would have provided even more variety.

We got 2 glasses of sparkling wine to start, and waited for the amuse-bouches to arrive. They were the same ones we had at Per Se, the the gruyere cheese gougeres and the salmon cornets.

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Both were delicious and just as I remembered them, though I wouldn’t mind having them more frequently than every 2 years! Soon after, our first courses arrive. I was so excited about the legendary oysters and pearls, a sabayon of tapioca pearls, oysters, and white sturgeon caviar. I had seen countless photos of this dish and I was finally about to experience it in person! The dish was much smaller than I had anticipated (I guess pictures can be deceiving after all); the center of the dish where the food was was around 2 inches in diameter.

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The small size of the dish added to the delicateness of it, as did the tiny mother of pearl spoon provided to eat it. I really loved this dish. It was delicate yet rich, and all the flavors worked together perfectly. Yufei got the first course from the vegetable menu since he doesn’t eat oysters. It was a parsnip velouté with banana, pecans, and served with a spoon coated in maple syrup. I tried it and it was really good!

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After the first course, we were presented with 2 different butters and several types of bread.

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How cute is the little beehive-shaped butter? After the bread came the second course, salad of fuyu persimmmon with radicchio, broccolini, and red walnut.

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I guess the persimmon was meant to be exotic, but as a Chinese it really wasn’t, haha. I enjoyed the dish but didn’t find anything too special about it. Next came the seafood courses. First, a sautéed fillet of Mediterranean lubina, with petit radish, edamame, ginger, and a scallion and matsutake mushroom porridge.

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It was also kind of Asian-inspired, as with the persimmon salad, and it was quite good. The next course was lobster, so Yufei got another substitute, another fish course, this time a sturgeon.

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I tried a bite of it and I was a big fan. It was very flavorful and meaty and delicious! I went with the original lobster course, the sweet butter-poached Maine lobster with grapefruit, sunchoke, fennel, and hazelnut.

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The dish actually kind of reminded me of the lobster dish I had at Eleven Madison Park, maybe because they both had fennel in it? Anyway, another great dish! We barely ever go to seafood restaurants and I think the last time I had lobster WAS at EMP so I definitely enjoyed this yummy crustacean! The fifth course was the Four Story Hill Farm poularde with bacon, chestnuts, yam, and brussel sprouts.

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This was another favorite dish of the night. The meat was very flavorful and juicy and I love chestnuts! Next came another meat course, the Elysian Fields Farm lamb ribeye, with carrot, petit onions, Tokyo turnip, peppercress, and naverin sauce.

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It was a pretty good dish. At that time I was getting a bit tired of all the meat, and I’m not a huge fan of big pieces of red meat in the first place, so I don’t think I enjoyed this dish as much as Yufei did. We were getting pretty full, and that was the last meat course, so we decided to take a little break from the food and take a walk outside. They had a beautiful Christmas tree in the garden, so we took some photos by it.

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(As you can see, I went with dress #1 from my poll earlier and I was very happy with it! #1 won out but a slim margin but I think it was a good choice. A friend said on my Facebook that the lace collar would look better in photos, and she was right!)

And here is the famous blue door (in terrible lighting):

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After our little walk, we came back inside and continued our gastronomical adventure. Next came a cheese course, the reblochon, served with russet potato “gnocchi à la Parisienne,” celery branch, pruneaux d’agen, and black winter truffles.

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It was a good transition course from the savory main courses to the desserts, which came next. The first dessert was a blood orange “mimosa” with champagne granité, brown sugar streusel, and fresh cream sherbet.

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It was very light and refreshing, a good palate cleanser I suppose, before the final dessert. There were again 2 choices for this course, so Yufei got the chocolate torte, with Pearson Farm pecans, cinnamon whip, and banana ice cream.

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I got the other choice, the bakewell tarte, with Rome beauty apple compote, pain de gêne, and toasted oat glace.

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Both desserts were simple yet well done, a solid end to the meal. Except it wasn’t really the end, since there were still a couple more things! First we were brought this gorgeous wooden box full of housemade chocolates in a variety of flavors (passionfruit, coconut, salted caramel, etc.) and we could pick as many as we wanted. And then – the part I was really excited about – coffee and doughnuts! I loved the little cinnamon and sugar dusted doughnut balls and the cappuccino semifreddo so much at Per Se that I wanted to make sure we get them at the end of our meal here, so I asked our server at the very beginning to bring them to us. They were just as good as the first time I had them!

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They also brought us a bowl of macadamia nuts, but we were so full at this point that we only ate a couple. They offered to bag them up for us to take home and we gladly accepted.

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We were also given a little tins of shortbread cookies, as well the copies of the menu (with my personalized message of “congratulations Wendan” at the top) before we left. There was another beautiful Christmas tree in the reception area, so Yufei and I took one final photo in front of it before leaving for the night.

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It was definitely a memorable meal and night! It was the most money we had ever spent on a meal, and maybe it wasn’t the wisest financial decision to spend half a paycheck on a meal when I’ll be neck-deep in student loans very soon, but I’m glad that we had the chance to experience the French Laundry. So lots of thanks to Yufei for an amazing dinner that I won’t ever forget.

P.S.: Since we had eaten at Per Se before the French Laundry, it was inevitable that I was making some comparisons during dinner. The quality of the food and service was comparable at both places, as expected. And it’s not really fair to compare a 5-course lunch to a 9-course dinner, but we were very satisfied with both meals. Overall I feel like Per Se had more of a modern and open feel, while the French Laundry felt more homey and intimate. Part of this probably had to do with the time of the day we ate and the lighting in the room (daylight vs. candles), but the different atmospheres were definitely also a part of the different visions for the 2 restaurants.

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