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Yeah, I was pretty excited about this meal.  Even more so than Alinea, which at the time seemed like the most exciting meal ever (and in hindsight I still think it is the most exciting/inspiring? meal ever…).  I just couldn’t believe that after all the years since stumbling across TFL cookbook in my local Borders, and instantly falling in love, that I was actually going to have dinner there.  

Well we did, and it was worth the wait.  

This wasn’t the greatest meal ever, not even the second greatest meal ever.  I think, that Alinea and Manresa still have a strangle hold on the top two positions. Those two restaurants are just more to my taste, Alinea in service/ambiance, and Manresa in the food department.  

Though, there is no denying that The French Laundry is an amazing experience, and not just for the food, but for everything else that makes a restaurant.  TFL is an amazing restaurant because it offers the diner an experience that is so seamlessly, pleasurably, holistic.

It begins the moment you get close to the restaurant.

It starts with the beautiful old building, and a garden across the street, and the shaded lawn, and a hostess that was more than gracious in letting us sit outside until the restaurant were ready for us.  It continues with the menu, the glassware, the china, and the cutlery.  The bows on the toilet paper in the bathroom have something to do with it, as do the lampshades on the scones in the dining room.  It has to do with the cloche that magically appears, and the doors that silently open as Mr. Nadeau decides it’s time to let the cool night air, and a view of a distant vineyard, into the dining room…

I only have pictures of the food so you’ll just have to take my word on everything else.  I had requested a list of the wines that were paired with the meal, but didn’t get it before we left the restaurant, so some of the wines are somewhat vague.

. . .

Amuse:  The world famous Salmon Cornets and Gougeres

First Course:  “Oysters and Pearls”

"Sabayon" of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar

"Sabayon" of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar

As delicious as it sounds.  Except for the grit in my oysters.  This dish was paired with a Pere Gimmonet 1er Cru, which is one of my favorite champagnes, and which tasted especially good that night.

Second Course:  Moulard Duck “Foie Gras en Terrine”

Fennel Bulb Relish, Napa Valley Strawberries, Arugula and Sicilian Pistachios

The smoothest, richest, tastiest foie on earth.  The strawberries were a nice foil for the foie, and really pulled amazing flavors out of the wine that was paired with this dish, which was a 2006 Becker Pfalz Reisling

Third Course:  Crispy Florida Everglades Frog Legs

Cauliflower, Cilantro Shoots, Pili-Coconut Purée, and Lemongrass "Aigre-Doux"

This was soooo good.  The bits of frog leg were so moist on the inside and perfectly crisp on the outside. Each bit was glazed with the “aigre-doux,” which added so much brightness to what could have been a really heavy dish.  This was like southeast Asian popcorn chicken.  The wine pairing for this course was a 2006 Prá Soave.

Fouth Course:  Maine Lobster Tail “Pochée au Beurre Doux”

French Laundry Garden Baby Corn, Tomato Raisins, Filet Beans and Tarragon Butter

Like the foie dish, simply superlative.  This dish was paired with an interesting white blend from southern France, but my memory goes all fuzzy on me for this and the next course, so until I hear back from TFL, I can say that it was a good pairing, though I don’t think I would have enjoyed the wine as much on it’s own.

Fifth Course:  “Confit De Cœur De Veau”

Caramelized Savoy Cabbage, Cipollini Onions, and Caraway seed Melba

Amazing.  It tasted so much like a pastrami and rye sandwich it was sort of baffling. This is the dish that I crave the most from that meal.  I would happily eat it everyday if I could just find someone to sell me some calf hearts.  This dish was paired with a 2005 Nicolas Potel Volnay.

Sixth Course:  Snake River Farms “Calotte de Bœuf Grillée”

Yukon Gold Potato Puree, Roasted Romaine Lettuce, and Ragoût of Morel Mushrooms

I am torn about this dish.  The cut of meat was excellent, but he other components of the dish were just sort of there.  This was just a rendition of a dish I’ve had before, with ingredients that weren’t really offering up anything new.  Very good comfort food, but here?  This was paired with the Neiman 2002 Napa Valley Red.

Seventh Course:  “Blanc Bleu Du Rizet”

Transparent Apples, Belgian Endive, and Watercress Leaves

This was my first encounter with this particular cheese, and it won’t be my last.  It was very, very good.  I love when the cheese course is offered as a composed dish, instead of just a sampling of cheese.  I mean, I’ll eat the cheese no matter what, but this had thought behind it (I wish the beef dish would have been half as interesting!). 

Eighth Course:  Jacobsen’s Farm Yellow Nectarine Sorbet w/ Anadante Dairy Yogurt and Puffed Quinoa

Sorry, no pic.  Very tart, and texturally interesting.  I’m in love with everything Soyoung Scanlan has every made, so it was really fun to get to try her yogurt for the first time.

Ninth Course:  Armando Manni Olive Oil Madeleline

Almond Glaze, Bing Cherries and Marcona Almond-Olive Oil Sorbet

This was very good, and amazingly delicate.  Almost too subtle and delicate, because at this point in the meal I had reached my saturation point, and I was terribly over-stimulated, and so I think that this dish was sort of lost on me.  Please don’t think less of me, it really pains me to say it!

“Mignardises” and Tea

The mignardises alone are almost worth a trip to TFL.  The are too much, and yet, some how I still managed  to taste through almost all of them!  

I was definitely bummed when the check came.  I wanted the dinner to go on and on (despite being overly full).  I was also sort of bummed that we didn’t get to see the kitchen.  I felt weird asking for a tour, considering there were still tables in the middle of their meals, though I’m sure if I would have asked it would have happened…

. . .

This meal was definitely one of the best I’ve ever had the pleasure to sit down to, and now that I’ve been I can’t wait to go back.  Though, I think I need to do a little bit more eating before then, so that I can really appreciate what they are doing there.

It was beyond awesome to finally see M&B again.  We had such a good time, as usual.  I’m also happy to report that they decided to join us in Montreal again this December!  Now Todd and I just need to convince H&D to come again, and then we will have a full-fledged reunion of the H.F.L.

So, I plan on doing some more extensive writing on the dinners at The French Laundry and the Meadowood (and also on the lunch we had at Ubuntu), but first I thought I would give a few brief recaps of the other meals we had on the trip:

Orson, SF 

I guess I’ll start with the sort of bad news. It is too dark, too big, and too loud.  Also, a little touch of acid would have helped almost every dish.  

A few highlights were the Elizabeth Spencer Sauvignon Blanc, the chicken sausage, the smoked trout with corn, and the soy/peach/white peony dessert.  The biggest missteps were the foie gras, the parmaggiano pudding, and the dish they are calling the “wondrous pig.” I am a huge pork fan, PDC is my favorite place in the world, but this dish was so fatty and over-the-top heavy that I couldn’t even eat half of it.  

I really wanted to like this place, because I really loved our lunch at Citizen Cake last year, but they are completely different animals.  Actually, I haven’t been back to C.C. since the remodeling so it might have changed as well…

Cook, St Helena

Our head waiter at TFL said we should check this place out for lunch.  He was right.  It has all the hallmarks (IMHO) of a great neighborhood restaurant, it is casual, it serves great food (especially the pasta dishes!), and it has a nice wine list.  We especially enjoyed the soup of the day (which was a freakishly flavorful mushroom one), and their pasta alla bolognese.  

Sorry no pictures here either.  The light was fine, but I was drunk.

Barndiva, Healdsburg

This is definitely a place to check out if you ever find yourself in Healdsburg.  Much like Cook, it just feels like the kind of place that you would want to eat (or drink) at least once a week.  The kind of place where everybody would know your name.  Again, a really nice wine list helps to get things going in a good way. I love that they have some great international selections on the list (really enjoyed the Baumard Crémant de Loire BTG), in addition to the very solid Californian base.  The blended gazpacho and the burrata BLT were definitely highlights, and the berry shortcake was no slouch either.

Again, no pictures.  I really need to get this drinking under control…

Still to come:  Ubuntu, TFL, Meadowood, Arnot-Roberts, Oxbow Public Market, and Calistoga Ranch…

Wow

So the past three days have been pretty amazing. We’ve eaten quite a bit, and very well for the most part. We’ve done Orson, Cook, The French Laundry, and The Restaurant at Meadowood. I know this seems like ridiculous consumption, but we don’t get out to this area very often, so we pack it in as tightly as possible!

I’ll have full write-ups when we get back to Louisville, but for now I thought I’d put up a few shots from the phone.

On Our Way

So Todd and I are on our way to San Francisco this morning. Big things in store for us this weekend: Michael and Bob’s wedding (!!!), the French Laundry dinner (please pinch me), and three stress-free days in “wine country.”

Probably going to check out Copia, as well as dinner at the Meadowood, and will hopefully make it to the Family Winemakers tasting in San Francisco on Sunday.

I’ll keep you posted, and I promise pictures!

It’s hot in Louisville in the summer.  There really is no getting around it.  It is not “sort-of” hot, or “mildly” humid, it is straight-up sub-tropical.  

I definitely think I am slowly acclimating to the weather, but there are still days that make me want to avoid going outside altogether.  It is on those days that I need a tasty, chilled white wine to restore my constitution.

I mean, I don’t drink white wine for breakfast, but you get the point. 

Here are some favorites and one new wine that wasn’t bad.

2006 Quinta do Feital “Auratus” 

A blend of alvarinho and trajadura.  Rich golden color.  Day bright.  Medium viscosity.  Sort of restrained nose of lemon, pear skin, tangerine, and wet wool.  I liked the nose a lot, especially the wool aspect, as it reminded me instantly of a Loire Chenin Blanc.  Medium-plus body. Flavors echo the nose, but with an added savory/spicy quality.  Medium acidity and nice length. A really nice wine that mangages to be both substancial and refreshing at the same time.  We found it for $13, but the current release might be slightly more.  A Polaner Selections wine.

2007 Hofer Gruner Veltliner

This is my go-to wine right now.  A relatively simple wine, but one that seems to taste great with everything we are eating right now.  I think it is perfect with ripe tomatoes, sweet corn, and roasted beets.  It is definitely not the most intense G.V., but the flavors are all there:  green apple, lime, herbs, and just a hint of slate.  One more great thing about this wine is that it’s $10 a liter!

NV Prosecco Il Faggeto IGT

Despite the last bottle being horribly corked I still think highly of the great appertif wine. Again nothing particularly intense or complex about this wine.  This wine is definitely more refreshing than thought provoking which, I think, with Prosecco is sort of the point.  It is more of a frizzante than a spumante in my opinion.   It has a pleasant citrus filled nose, and nice citrus and unripe apple flavors in the mouth, with great acidity.  I think this wine is about $13 dollars retail, but I get it from the restaurant so it’s a bit less for me.  

2006 Jean Marc Brocard Bourgogne “Kimmeridgien”

We had this wine with dinner at Lily’s last week.  I wanted to like this wine, because the last time we had a Brocard it was at the late Brunoise in Montreal.  At Brunoise we had had the 2002 Chablis Extreme, which was awesome, especailly with their brandade dish.  Oh, Brunoise I miss you…

O.k. back to the present wine.  It must be noted that the “Kimmeridgien” is the base level wine from Brocard, so it really isn’t fair to compare the “Extreme” to the “Kimmeridgien,” but I was expecting a little bit more from the “Kimmeridgien.” It wasn’t a bad wine by any means and it definitely tasted more of Chablis than I thought it would, but it was like a watered-down Chablis.  Others have really enjoyed this wine, so maybe I’ll give it another shot, but only if I can find it retail, because I don’t think it is worth the $32 dollars it was priced at at Lily’s.

Why August Is Amazing

We had another great dinner at Mayan Cafe last night to celebrate Todd’s birthday.  This was my third time there, and Todd’s fourth and it was probably the best meal yet.  This was also the first time we sat outside in their small courtyard, which was really nice despite the Louisville-in-late-July humidity and the flies.

Todd would probably have been happier inside, so I’ll remember to keep my mouth shut the next time a host/hostess asks if we would rather sit inside or out.  I do think the dining room at Mayan Cafe is a little dark and sort of cramped, especially when it is busy (like it is every time we go), so if you don’t mind the trappings of dining alfresco I would highly recommend doing so.

The service was excellent as usual.  Even on our first trip to Mayan Cafe when the entire restaurant was packed, and there were like, two servers, we had good service.  You might wait for somethings, but you never feel like you’ve been forgotten, and if you have been waiting it is acknowledged.

The wine was nice (though it was a very different bottle from the one I wrote about here), and because they were running it as a “summer special” it was only marked up 175%, which was really decent of them.  

So on to what we had:

To start we had an order of the delicious salbutes of the day, which happened to be tenderloin with queso oaxaca and a chili-watercress sauce.  The sauce was very good.  It managed to be very spicy, but also maintained a sort of subtly of flavor, with a nice earthy bitterness from the watercress in the background.  Delicious.  

The chili relleno was very good as well.  It looks like a bit of a mess, but it tasted really good.  It had lots of varied textures, and great acidity in each bite. 

For the entrees we “shared” the pork pibil and the poc chuc chicken.  Both dishes were great, especially the achiote sauce on the chicken and the pickled onions on the pork.  

I’ve had the pork pibil every time we’ve come to Mayan Cafe, but I don’t remember the pickled onions ever standing out.  This time it was almost the best park of the dish, and would easily have been the best part if the giant pile of braised pork wasn’t on the plate!

Dessert consisted of some Graeter’s banana ice cream.  Yes, those are little, strawberry flavored death-sticks on each side of the ice cream, and yes, we did try them, and yes they tasted exactly how they looked, just like year-old death-sticks from some can…

Also, as it is our habit to eat every last thing off of any plate that is put before us, we did try (or at least I tried) the little spearmint leaf  with the ice cream, and it was really good.  Banana-spearmint ice cream, here I come.

Mayan Cafe

813 E. Market St.

Louisville, KY 40206

(502) 566-0651