For years I have said that if I were ever asked to choose a “last meal,” I would select my grandmother’s leg of lamb.
With all due respect to my late grandmother, I am amending my last-meal appeal. Sorry, Mam-Maw, my last meal is coming from the French Laundry
The beauty of eating a last meal prepared at The French Laundry is twofold: I would be able to eat the most skillfully prepared, best-tasting, unique, subtle, and creative food, prepared by the nation’s most talented chef— Thomas Keller. It would also be an extremely long (in a good way) dinner.
During my most recent visit to The French Laundry, in Yountville, CA, I spent almost five hours eating sixteen courses of the most remarkable food I have ever tasted. If it’s going to be a last meal, it might as well be prolonged as long as possible and filled with world-class cuisine and unparalleled service.
Actually, I have eaten in Thomas Keller’s restaurants in New York, Las Vegas, and Yountville and have always been blown away by the food and service. On this visit, however, the service was more attentive than it has ever been.
We were a group of six, seated in the private dining room on the second floor and the staff was amazing in their efficiency and attentiveness. I am usually “all about the food.” I can always overlook poor service if the food is good. I appreciate service when performed at a high level, but I’m there to eat. On this night the service was— by far— the best I have witnessed anywhere, anytime, in any restaurant.
The menu highlights for me were the Keller classic Oysters and Pearls, where the chef makes a impossibly subtle “sabayon” of pearl tapioca and pairs it with Island Creek Oysters from Duxbury, Massachusetts and caviar. All of the courses were notable, but my other favorites were an egg custard paired with a truffle overdose (again, in a good way), quail with pine nuts and a cherry sauce, and one of the most delicate meat dishes I have eaten— a “Chateaubriand” of Marcho Farms Nature-Fed Veal with applewood-smoked bacon, Globe Artichokes, and “Sauce Barigoule.”
Three years ago, when I dined at The French Laundry, the sommelier noticed that I wasn’t partaking in the wine pairings and asked if he could create a non-alcoholic pairing to go with each food course. The answer, of course, was “Yes,” and what followed were 13 of the most creative beverage pairings I have ever enjoyed. Actually, at the time, they were the only beverage pairings I had ever enjoyed. I had resigned to a life with still water during this type of meal.
As usual, I blogged the meal in real time on Facebook, and all of the dishes can be seen there. The live blogging was a first for The French Laundry, and I’m not sure they knew what to expect. The restaurant’s New York publicist was nervous and sent several emails asking about the process. In the end, the entire staff went way beyond the call of duty to make this one of my top three meals of all time (the entire menu can be viewed on the newspaper’s website).
When it comes to a last meal, I’m heading to California. Maybe with a little pleading, I can add a 17th course and have Chef Keller prepare my grandmother’s leg of lamb.
The French Laundry
Chef’s Tasting Menu
July 15th 2009
Royal Blenheim Apricots, Arugula and Niçoise Olives
English Cucumber, Red Radish,
Perilla and Bonito
“Sabayon” of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters
and White Sturgeon Caviar
Hobbs’ Bacon, Yukon Gold Potato Purée, and Celery Branch
with a Ragoût of Périgord Truffles
with Cilantro and Raspberry Gelée
with Black Truffles from Provence
Maine Lobster Tail “Pochée au Beurre Doux”
with King Richard Leeks, Crispy Potatoes and Red Beet Essence
Port Wine Glaze, Cipollini Onions, Belgian Endive,
Cutting Celery and Toasted Oats
Hobbs’ Applewood-Smoked Bacon, Garlic “Pain Perdu,” Globe Artichokes,
Nantes Carrots, Parsley Shoots and “Sauce Barigoule”
Joselito Ham, Arugula and Romesco
Ginger “Gelée,” Puffed Quinoa and Boysenberry Purée
Smoked Black Tea, “Glace à la Vanille”
and Tonka Bean Caramel