USA- The French Laundry- ✪✪✪

 French Laundry Exterior

French Laundry Exterior

NAPA, CA, USA

SERVICE: 7.5/10

FOOD: 9.0/10

PRICE PAID: $420 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)

VALUE/MONEY: 7.0/10

FINAL SCORE: 8.0/10

Thomas Keller's West Coast headquarters has a vertically-integrated farm that supplies fresh produce, and when I visited in mid-May 2015 they were operating out of a temporary kitchen. The kitchen was set up in what used to be a gorgeous, well-manicured garden that I hope some day returns.

 First Bites: Salmon Ice Cream, 8/10

First Bites: Salmon Ice Cream, 8/10

A fun old standby that I have seen before at Per Se, the softness of the Scottish salmon plays off nicely against the crunchy cone. 8/10. The herbs give a bright, fresh taste. 

 First Bites Part 2: Gougère Cheese Balls, 8/10

First Bites Part 2: Gougère Cheese Balls, 8/10

Another replay from Per Se, these are pretty much the best cheesy poofs in the world. 8/10.

 Course 1: "Oysters + Pearls," 9/10

Course 1: "Oysters + Pearls," 9/10

I'm starting to notice a pattern here- this completely outstanding dish that I continue to love every part of was also a holdover from Per Se. I guess there aren't too many folks who will be disappointed by the repetition of trying both restaurants in the same 6-week period. Two perfect oysters in a cream broth are matched up with a generous dab of Osetra-grade caviar, which evokes sensations of the sea and a multitude of earth-toned flavors. A decadent, delightful dish. 9/10.

 Course 2: Fennel Salad, 9/10

Course 2: Fennel Salad, 9/10

The fennel salad came with preserved green strawberries and rhubarb- one of my favorite combinations in the world- and the combo works out perfectly. The greens are incredibly fresh, and smelled like that first moment you walk into a greengrocers who is stocking a fresh delivery. 9/10.

 Course 3: Smoked Sturgeon, 9/10

Course 3: Smoked Sturgeon, 9/10

A bit on the heavy, buttery side, this small flank of sturgeon reeks of smoke that comes through well because the fish is so fresh and mild. 9/10.

Though I won't often make a big deal of sides, Thomas Keller has a great success here with his East- and West-coast butters, star of sea salts, and phenomenal fresh-baked breads. I enjoyed way more of these than I think you're supposed to in one sitting. 9/10.

 

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 Course 4; Duck + Cherries, 9/10

Course 4; Duck + Cherries, 9/10

Another out-of-the-park home run as far as pairings go- duck and cherries are another absolutely classic match that are executed close to perfectly by the French Laundry. The interplay of corn, cherry, and duck is totally stellar. 9/10.

 Course 5: Wagyu Beef, 8/10

Course 5: Wagyu Beef, 8/10

This made for an almost-perfect keystone dish. The A5 Wagyu is as rich and marble-y as one could ask for, but the chefs decided to coat it in an offensively thick layer of salt. I had to scrape most of it off with my fork, because before doing so it virtually bit my tongue. After removing the salt, it is close to perfect. 8/10

 Course 6: Cheese + Mulberries, 8/10

Course 6: Cheese + Mulberries, 8/10

A simple, fresh cheese played off fantastically against the mulberries, which I'll admit I've never had before. 8/10.

 Course 7: Strawberry Tart, 9/10

Course 7: Strawberry Tart, 9/10

The assembly and presentation was what really made this dish sing- A strawberry tart with saffron and pineapple blossom guava stems. There were also tiny cubes of strawberry gelatin throughout, and the small stems made for an amazing texture. The thyme also conveyed a tea-like taste that I enjoyed. 9/10.

 Course 9: Buttermilk Ice Cream, 9/10

Course 9: Buttermilk Ice Cream, 9/10

This buttermilk ice cream came with a small tres leches cake. There is a black pepper/jam kick that pairs with the buttermilk in a truly unique way. 9/10.

 Course 10: Pretzels + Chocolate, 8/10

Course 10: Pretzels + Chocolate, 8/10

Yet another throwback to Per Se, a rod of chocolate with a creamy center is married up to some salted pretzel bits. A reliable crowd-pleaser. 8/10.

 Course 11: Handmade Chocolates, 8/10

Course 11: Handmade Chocolates, 8/10

As the meal concluded, we were offered a selection of hand-made chocolates from a wonderful presentation case that showcased each chocolate, organized by color. The case was what made this for me- someone hand-built a display for these chocolates! 8/10.

 Course 12: "Coffee + Donuts," 9/10

Course 12: "Coffee + Donuts," 9/10

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Yet another classic Keller dish, the "coffee" is actually coffee-flavored ice cream with macarons. Perfectly tasty. 9/10.