Iron Man 3 is a whole lot of fun and is worth the trip to the theater for that alone. It’s not as good as the first Iron Man and significantly better and light-hearted than the second installment. Robert Downey Jr. does a fantastic job with the character, but really Ben Kingsley has what is possibly the best scene in the film. My biggest problem with Iron Man 3 is that I never felt that the stakes are high or serious enough. It seems funny to say that in a superhero comic book flick, but still it never felt that Tony Stark is in any real dilemma or situation that he will not snap a finger and get out of.
There really is no shortage of reports on the web about The French Laundry and it’s food. I’m sure many are very thorough and detailed, especially on sites like eGullet.org. My post here will be more on the short side word-wise. Last time I enjoyed a meal that I had been looking forward to for a very long time at a three-star restaurant that was elBulli and I had chosen not to take any pictures. I have since regretted not having a set of pictures to share here and keep as a souvenir. So this time around I asked our very professional and nice waitstaff if it’s ok to snap flash-free pictures and documented our memorable 4-hour meal as best as I could.
It’s been probably more than 10 years since I first heard about Keller’s French Laundry on Anthony Bourdain’s episode-dinner on his first show, “A Cook’s Tour”. If you do a search on my blog for “Keller” or “The French Laundry” or “Bouchon” you’ll have a pretty good idea that I am a huge admirer of the Chef and his work. We were set to go to a wedding in Napa in March 2013 and I knew that I will try to snag a reservation at this restaurant. It took over a hundred calls back to back…until OpenTable.com came through for me (heh, who knew…) and I got a reservation for 4 on Sunday, March 16th. It was everything we expected to be. I had very high expectations and suffice it to say that I was not disappointed in the slightest. The service was impeccable. It was efficient, friendly and not at all stuffy. It was a lovely meal and a great time with Diana and two great friends of ours.
(Since I used no flash, as the natural light faded away the later pictures are a bit “hazy”. Sorry about that)
After being seated we chose our menu options and supplement courses. We also chose a bottle of an excellent Riesling to go with the meal. I love that the very courteous sommelier did not bat an eye when I requested a “white bottle under $100″. He simply picked two and explained in detail why one of them (the less expensive one) is the right choice. We were then served the Laundry’s classic canapes – Gougere and the Salmon Tartar Cornets. My wife and I opted for a couple of glasses of Champagne to start with as well. Then the meal started.
“Oysters and Pearls” – “Sabayon” of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar
This is a French Laundry classic. It’s creamy, briny and delicious.
Royal Ossetra Caviar – Cauliflower “Panna Cotta”, Meyer Lemon, Black Pepper, Pine Nuts and Toasted Brioche
My friend ordered this as a supplement instead of the Oysters and Pearls. Beautiful and very tasty. (Yes, we passed the dishes around so we all can have a taste)
Salad of Heirloom Beets - Pickled Green Strawberries, Yogurt “au Poivre Vert”, Marcona Almonds and Wild Oxalis
Everyone, except me go this “salad”. Very good and fresh. Instead I got this beauty…
“Carnaroli Risotto Biologico” – Parmesan “Nuage” and Shaved Black Truffles
This was a supplement dish and worth every penny for the loads of truffles the server shaved on top of this creamy heavenly concoction. After showing us a box full of fist size fragrant truffles, she proceeded to cover the risotto with shavings. After eating half the dish, she actually came back and covered the dish again with more shavings of truffle. Her comment “Chef would like every guest who pays for truffles to REALLY taste the truffles”. Thanks!
Sautéed fillets of Mediterranean Lubina - “Picalilli”, Mustard Seeds and Thyme infused Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Tasty and perfectly cooked fish. I would’ve preferred if the skin was crisped though.
Sweet Butter-Poached Maine Lobster “Fricassee” – Kendall Farms Creme Fraiche “Pain Perdu”, Fava Beans, Green Garlic, Watercress and “Lobster Bearnaise”
Butter and lobster, rich sauce, fresh favas and crispy French toast. Perfect.
Four Story Hill Farm “Poularde” – Poached Field Rhubarb, Braised Spigarello, Sicilian Pistachios and Black Truffle Jus
It’s not a simple a chicken as it looks. The breast meat is perfectly cooked and juicy. It is also stuffed under the skin with a layer of chicken mousse and black truffles.
Marcho Farms Nature Fed Veal “Oscar” – Alaskan King Crab, David Little Potatoes, Sacramento Delta Green Asparagus, Garden Radishes and Shallot Sauce
This was a surprise of a sort. I was not sure what to expect, but it ended up being one of the highlights of the meal. Not pictured here is a small porcelain pot that was filled with very rich and airy potato puree. This was the ultimate meat and potato dish.
“Cantal” – “Thomas’s English Muffin”, Green Apple Relish, Petite Onions, Frisee and Black Walnut Puree
This was the composed cheese course. Lovely with a mix of textures and temperatures to go along with the Cantal cheese.
“Verjus Blanc” - Demi-Sec Grapes, Jasmine Tea Ice Cream and Marshall Farms Honey Crisp
A complex little palate cleanser before dessert
Passion Fruit “Swiss Roll” - Valrhona Chocolate Cremeux, Caramel Mousse and Banana Ice Cream
The ladies got this for dessert while , funny enough, the guys got the…
“Princess Cake” – Animal Farm Buttermilk, Navel Orange Marmalade, Toasted Marzipan and Cara Cara Orange Sorbet
I have to say that the desserts were the least impressive of the meal. Nothing bad or wrong, just not as “up there” as the savory courses that preceded them.
After all that food and almost four hours we got some warm donuts and coffee.. .
This extra course is the same one I posted about recently, Coffee and Donuts. It’s cool to taste it there and, except for the much better foam on the semifreddo, my dish was pretty damn close to the real thing. This was also delivered to the table with a bunch of Mignardises – a selection of chocolate truffles and chocolate covered macadamia nuts.
We left with a small box each of buttery shortbread cookies and the memory of a lovely evening of good food and excellent company at a unique and beautiful place.
Whether I agreed with him or not about whatever movie he was reviewing I owe most of what I know about film and the way to watch movies and how to appreciate them to the great Mr. Ebert. I felt it would be a big miss not to mention on my little corner of the web the passing of this “movie critic” who is one of the few celebrities that I oddly enough feel was sort of a friend. I read his articles regularly and even more so since he started his hugely popular blog, Roger Ebert’s Journal, a few years back. The writing on that blog -about film and other topics- is personal, sharp and prompted the most intelligent comment discussions on the web. It’s I suppose appropriate for me to be halfway through reading his personal memoir right now “Life Itself” just as he leaves it. Roger will be greatly missed and his passing, for me, is really an end of an era and will leave a vacuum on the web and print. Thank you Mr. Ebert for the many years of wonderful writing and for introducing me to and teaching me to appreciate the likes of Werner Herzog, Ingmar Bergman, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Krzysztof Kieslowski and many others. I could write more, but really, and oddly enough, The Onion News had one of the most poignant and touching words about Mr. Ebert in their post “Roger Ebert Hails Human Existence as ‘a Triumph‘”
so I’ll leave you with that:
“CHICAGO—Calling the overall human experience “poignant,” “thought-provoking,” and a “complete tour de force,” film critic Roger Ebert praised existence Thursday as “an audacious and thrilling triumph.” “While not without its flaws, life, from birth to death, is a masterwork, and an uplifting journey that both touches the heart and challenges the mind,” said Ebert, adding that while the totality of all humankind is sometimes “a mess in places,” it strives to be a magnum opus and, according to Ebert, largely succeeds at this goal. “At times brutally sad, yet surprisingly funny, and always completely honest, I wholeheartedly recommend existence. If you haven’t experienced it yet, then what are you waiting for? It is not to be missed.” Ebert later said that while human existence’s running time was “a little on the long side,” it could have gone on much, much longer and he would have been perfectly happy.”
Yeah, foam is a crazy new fad. Afterall, no chef was making any food with “foam” ten or 50 years ago. Right? Well, no. Wrong. Foam in cooking, baking and beverages is everywhere. Sometimes it is obvious like a nice froth on a cappuccino. Other times, like in this dessert, it’s a bit less recognizable. This dessert (part 2 of my French Laundry meal) is composed of several foams. Five types to be precise. As the name suggest and the picture shows this is a sort of coffee with a nice froth on it served alongside some perfect donuts. This is a classic French Laundry dessert that is much more than it seems.
The coffee part is actually a coffee semifreddo topped with steamed frothy milk to give it a traditional cappuccino look. Semifreddo literally means semi-frozen or half frozen and it is a very traditional Italian dessert made by mixing three foams. A custard foam made from egg yolks, sugar and flavored with instant espresso powder is mixed with stiff-whipped sweetened cream and a simple meringue (whipped egg whites and sugar). The three are gently folded together and portioned out into small coffee cups and then frozen. The frozen product has a wonderful smooth rich texture similar to frozen mousse. It is allowed to warm up for a few minutes and then it is topped with hot frothy milk. The effect is both lovely to look at and just delicious with the fantastic juxtaposition of hot and cold.
Bread and cakes are filled with air bubbles. They are also a type of foam that we bake, steam or fry to trap those air bubbles. As the air in those bubbles heats up it expands producing airy products that are at the same time light and sturdy. These donuts belong to the category of yeast-risen doughs as opposed to cake donuts which are a quick bread leavened chemically with baking soda and baking powder. Chef Keller’s donuts are rich and almost like a brioche dough. they are made with flour, sugar, eggs and butter. After I made the dough I put it in the fridge to allow it to rise slowly and develop flavor. A couple of hours before frying, I rolled the dough and cut it into 2-inch rounds and then used a much smaller round cutter and punched holes in those rounds to get both donuts and donut holes.
When ready to serve, I fried the donuts and holes. It’s really neat seeing them go in the oil then bob up when they puff with the heat. While they are still hot, I rolled them in a mixture of cinnamon and sugar and plated a donut and a donut hole alongside the “coffee”. The combination, just like the braised pork cheek dish that preceded it, is comforting, familiar and refined. The semifreddo gets soft enough to even dunk the donuts in it. I highly recommend you do that if you decide to try making this. The recipe makes a good bit of donuts and that’s a good thing because one is not enough.