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Exercise in Excess: Feasting at The French Laundry

A little while back, I confessed to never having eaten at a single one of the 50 best restaurants in the world. Well, last week I finally fixed that by dining at Thomas Keller's number 4 ranked (number 1 in the US) The French Laundry of Yountville, CA (Napa wine country). The menu there consists of two options: the chef's tasting menu or the taste of vegetables menu, so unfortunately there's no popping in and ordering a la carte. In fact, there's no popping in of any sort - we had our reservations booked two months in advance, and even those were hard to come by. The meal itself is rather pricey, but I felt worth it for the food, atmosphere service and experience. It's not something I could see myself doing often, mostly for financial reasons. When I told everyone that I went, the first question was, "was it worth it?" followed shortly by, "what did you eat?" To find out the answers and see a parade of delectable pictures,

The evening started off by being presented bottles of both still and sparkling water. The still water was from Hildon and my friend Eric made sure that I noted that the bottle said it was "An English Natural Mineral Water of Exceptional Taste." Once we were settled in with waters, we (there were four of us) all decided to go with the Chef's tasting menu. The vegetable menu looked great, but I knew I would be sad not to get the chef's menu. Once our menus were chosen and our variations (a few dishes had options) selected, it was time for the amuse-bouches.

The two amuses were little gougeres (cheese bread puffs) served on a warm plate, and red onion crème fraiche filled, black sesame cornets topped with salmon tartare. I could have eaten just these and been quite a happy camper.

Next up is the "Oysters and Pearls," "Sabayon" of Pearl Tapioca with Beau Soleil Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar. This is one of of the only dishes that is served just about every evening, and after tasting it, I know exactly why. The oysters were great, the caviar delectable and the texture amazingly creamy. It was like a savory tapioca pudding, everything just melted in my mouth. They followed this up with one of the best breads I'd ever eaten. A "brioche-like" roll and I must say, if this recipe is in either the French Laundry or the Bouchon Bakery cookbook, this will be disaster for my waistline.

After the caviar it was time for Moulard Duck "Foie Gras Au Torchon" "Compressed" Strawberries, Purple Top Turnips, Frisée Lettuce and Black Truffle "Gastrique" served with fresh buttery rich brioche. This dish was smooth, creamy and totally my undoing. I should have eaten only part of it, but I devoured it instead. In fact, I had more than one helping of brioche. Along with the brioche, the foie gras was also served with a trio of fancy salts.

At this point we were only 2 of 9 courses in to the meal, and on our 3rd glass of wine. Like I said, the whole evening was an exercise in excess! Be sure to come back for tomorrow for part 2 of my French Laundry recap!

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