it's not often you get an opportunity to eat at a michelin guide 3-star restaurant on a day's notice, but that's what i did tuesday night, joining jp for an amazing dinner at the french laundry in yountville (napa). jp had reservations with a friend (for whom she did a huge favor...nice payback), but friend was unable to go. given that tables are hard to come by there, even more so after it was rated 3-stars in the michelin san francisco guide, i jumped at the chance. what kind of man would i be, not to want to join the girlfriend at a romantic and sumptuous meal in what's considered one of the best restuarants in the country.
from downtown sf it's a good 65-mile trek. our table was for 9:15, so not much rush-hour traffic to battle. got there in just over an hour, with time to spare and relax before being seated. our table was in a small room off the main first floor dining room, a table of 2 next to us and a table of 4 a few feet away. both were well into their meals.
after ordering wine and selecting from the choices in the evening's menu, we were given small appetizers, snacks almost. notable was a salmon tartar in a tiny cone filled with creme freche.
the first course was oysters and pearls, oytsers newburgh and caviar on a cream sauce bed. next up was a confit of squash and asian pears in a very light viniagrette -- light, tart, and (the pears) crispy, a good counterpoint to the richness of the oysters. next up was a return to richness, sea urchin formed to look like a tongue, served over an earthy base given nice texture by small chunks of celery root. it was very much a yin/yang dish, the urchin served cold over a warm base, the urchin soft while the base had a chunky texture.
the main seafood course was 4 small bits of lobster, poached in sweet butter and served atop a curried basmati rice. the lobster was melt-in-your-mouth light, and the curried rice provided a nice balance of spiciness and weight. the next course was another choice, and the only choice where jp and i went different ways -- she had the quail..white and dark meat served in a light sauce with pearl onions and cranberries. i had the tete de cochon (head of the pig). the pork was served in a doughy shell, atop a spinach puree and topped by a quial egg, joined on the plate by a spicy carmelized onion.
next up was the beef, a cap of ribeye atop both a matsuzaki mushroom cream sauce and a veal stock sauce laced with ginger and served with tangerine slices. great balance of sweet, tangy, and spicy. the beef, like the lobster, just about melted on the tongue.
the dessert section started with the cheese course, a lord of the hundreds ewe's milk cheese, hard and tangy, sliced at the table atop small rounds of potato with a tomato marmalade. this was followed by a feijoa (pineapple guava) sorbet served with banana bread. the sorbet was very pungent and had a perfume-like aroma.
chocolate and hazelnut was the main dessert attraction -- a chocolate box was layered bottom-up with a white-chocolate brownie, chocolate mousse torte and hazelnut foam. that wasn't the end of the sweets, though. our captain surprised us with two extra treats from the chef -- in front of jp was placed a small vanilla creme brulee, and i got an eggless custard with meyer lemon. both were incredible, especially the custard. i need to try and make that. a plate of homemade chocolates was offered at the end. needless to say we indulged, despite being just about full.
for wine, jp went with selections from the sommelier -- he started her off with champagne for the oysters and confit, and a white wine that carried the lobster and urchin. a spicy barolo (i think) accompanied the quail and beef. since it was late and i was driving, i went with one glass (though i did sample jp's selections), a very nice pinot noir that was light enough to work with the seafoods and had enough finish for the beef.
all in all, a great dinner. it's hard to believe that such small portions will fill you up, but the richness and that there are 9 courses leaves you quite sated. the service was impeccable -- the wine steward made great choices, and the servers provded clear explanations of each dish as it was placed on the table. it is an expensive indulgence but well worth it. i'm not a serious, serious foodie, but i appreciate good food enough to know that this was not just a great meal but an amazing dining experience.