Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The French Laundry, Yountville

Just ask any foodie, The French Laundry is the holy grail. It's not just that TFL is touted by many to be the top restaurant in the country. It's not just that it's a Michelin Three Star restaurant and the jewel of Thomas Keller's restaurant empire. It's not just that there are 16 tables and can seat only 60. It's not just that there are only two tasting menus (regular and vegetarian), no ala carte. It's because it's just so darn hard to get a reservation. There's a system. Not joking. You can only make reservations up to 2 months to the date, and at 10am when the reservation lines open, the phone line will already be busy. And if you're lucky enough to speak with a live person, most likely all reservations (for a table two months away) would have been snapped up. It's the toughest reservation to get in the country. Scratch that. Ludobites 6.0 reservations might actually have been harder to secure. I know. I was F5ing for an hour and a half to no avail. So I didn't think much of it when the lady on the other line put my name down on the wait list. I went on with my merry life until one day, I received the call. A spot had opened up. Thankfully it was a month in advance so I had sufficient time to round up the ladies, book a flight and hotel, and plan a wine tasting itinerary.

TFL is located in Yountville, in a stone cottage. It's really quaint with a garden in the front where I've been told you could hang out at if you needed a break during the 9 course tasting menu.

We were seated in the main dining room which only had about five tables.

The menu changes daily and twice for lunch and dinner. The 9 course tasting is priced at $250, service included, not tax. It's the same price for both lunch and dinner.

Wine pairing is an additional $250. Yes, that's the same price as the food menu. Pricey, but the wine selections were stellar.

Amuse Bouche #1: Gougere was airy and filled with light, warm gruyere. A perfect bite sized popper to kick off the culinary adventure.

Amuse Bouche #2: Tuna Tartare Cone with Creme Fraiche and topped with chive
These two amuse bouches are signature TFL dishes. The cornets were made with tuile batter so they were brittle and buttery.

Bread selection included brioche, baguette, multi grain and pretzel roll, served with both salted and unsalted butter. Besides the pretzel roll which was my favorite, I was a bit underwhelmed by the bread. Considering that it's baked daily by famed sister establishment Bouchon Bakery, I was expecting soft, buttery bread. These weren't bad per se, they were just very ordinary. Definitely did not hold a candle to the exceptional breadcart at Joel Robuchon at The Mansion. I'm still drooling over that.

1) Cauliflower "Panna Cotta" with Island Creek Oyster Glaze and California Sturgeon Caviar
The quenelle of caviar was a rather sizable serving. I loved the saltiness of the caviar against the very mild flavoring of the panna cotta. In fact, I could barely taste a hint of cauliflower, but that wasn't an issue since the caviar was the star of the plate.

Pierre Gimonnet, Blanc de Blancs, "Cuvee Deux Cotes:, 1er Cry 2005
Perfect pairing to the first course. You always have to start a meal off with bubbly.

2) Moulard Duck "Foie Gras Au Torchon", Gingerbread, Garnet Yam, Toasted Pecans, Cranberries and Watercress ($30 supplement)
All four of us opted for the foie gras. We had to, the other choice for the second course was a salad of potatoes. I like this preparation of foie gras, it's simple. All you need is some salt and brioche. The presentation was lovely with the vibrant colors of the yam and cranberries. Coupled with the buttery gingerbread crust, this dish really reminded me of the holidays.

The foie gras was served with a selection of salt.

The foie gras was paired with a glass of Yves Cuilleron, "Roussilliere," Liquoreux, Rhone Valley, 2009. I loved all the stemware. We noticed by the end of the meal that there were no two similar glasses served with the wine pairing.

3a) Florida Everglades Frog Leg "Boudin", Piperade, Baby Fennel, Tarragon and "Noilly Prat" Emulsion
Lopez de Heredia, "Vina Gravonia", Blanco, Rioja 2000
I've heard good things about Keller's traditional boudin blanc at Bouchon so I was intrigued by this interpretation. The boudin was tender and smooth. It tasted like a lean, veal sausage.

3b) Sauteed Fillet of Atlantic Black Bass, Chorizo, Piquillo Peppers, Eggplant, Garlic, Parsley and Saffron Bouillon
Maison Leroy, Bourgogne Blanc, Burgundy 2002
The fish itself was a little bland but paired well with the fragrant and salty broth. The accoutrement really elevated the dish. The chorizo chunks were intensely flavored and the peppers added a smokiness to the broth.

4) New Bedford Sea Scallops, Swiss Chard "Subric", Chanterelle Mushroom "Duxelles", tokyo Turnips and Preserved Meyer Lemon
Copain, Roussanne, "James Berry Vineyard", Paso Robles, 2008
I really enjoyed the caramelization of the scallop, although I thought mine was a slight bit overcooked. The mushroom duxelles was meaty and flavorful. My favorite part of the dish was the swiss chard subric. It's basically a fried cube of swiss chard that had a nice crust and very concentrated flavors in the cube.

The French Laundry also offered a supplemental Truffle menu with a few options.

We were presented with the box of Alba White Truffles which was the most aromatic scent I've smelt.

Our waiter then proceeded to shave the whole truffle onto a bowl of pasta.

Supplemental: Handcut Tagliatelle with Shaved White Truffle ($150 supplement)
Produttori del Barbaresco, Barbaresco, Piedmont 1999
This was the most amount of shaved truffles I've ever seen. The homemade pasta was coated with butter and cream, and completely overwhelmed by the woodsy truffle. The pasta was good, but was it worth an additional $150? Probably not.

5) Milk-poached Four Story Hill Farm "Poularde", "Miettes de Topinambour", Cipollini Onions, Scallion Salad, Soubise and Coffee Scented "Jus"
Robert Chevillon, Nuits-Saint-Georges, "Les Roncieres", 1er Cru, Burgundy 2005
The poularde was absolutely scrumptious. It was tender, fatty and a melt-in-your-mouth piece of chicken. Crunchy sunchoke crumbs coated the top of the chicken and was salty and added texture to the dish.

6) Elysian Fields Farm Lamb Rib-eye, Falafel, English Cucumber, Pickled Carrot Ribbons, Medjool Dates, Cilantro and Madras Curry
Marques de Murrieta, "Castillo Ygay", Gran Reserva Especial, Rioja 2001
The lamb was perfectly cooked to a medium rare. There were many flavors going on in this dish. I appreciated that Keller utilized exotic spices even though his cuisine leans towards Californian French. The falafel was crunchy and dense.

7a) Cabot "Clothbound Cheddar", Braised Cabbage, Chestnut "Gnocchi a la Parisienne" and Hobbs' Bacon-Mustard Vinaigrette
I don't like cheese but surprisingly, this was one of my top dishes. I thought the choice of cheese was splendid. The Cheddar was sharp and worked well with all the other components on the plate. There were both chunks and shaved pieces of chestnut, coupled with flavorful braised cabbage.

Brooklyn Brewery, Blue Aprin Ale
The cheese was paired with an ale that is only available at TFL and sister restaurant, Per Se in New York.

7b) Radish plate with cashews
Since I'm not much of a cheese eater, they offered another plate in substitution. I thought this was a throwaway dish. It was ordinary and very boring. It was also difficult to consume this dish as the radishes were hard to cut through, but yet were too large of pieces to eat as a whole. As it turned out, I actually enjoyed the cheese plate better.

8a) Philo Gold Apple Sorbet, Poached Prune, apple "Croquette" and Spiced Cider
The apple pie had a deep fried breading which was remniscient of the McDonald's fried apple pie that you can find at some outlets (unofrtunately not in Los Angeles). It was a sweet and tart flavor combination which was almost like a palate cleanser before the next dessert dishes.

Spiced Cider was a wonderful taste of Christmas.

8b) White Verjus Sorbet, Brown Butter "Financier", Spanish Peanut, and Concord Grape
This option was actually from the vegetarian menu but when I saw it, I asked to substitute the apple dessert for this. I'm a financier whore. Unfortunately, the financier was hard as a rock. It was not the soft, spongy buttery tea cake I was hoping for. I did like the peanuts which added a crunch and almost tasted like a brittle.

9a) Peanut Butter and chocolate Maple Toffee, Chocolate Ganache and Gros Michel Banana Sorbet
Alvear, Pedro Ximenez, "Solera 1927", Montilla-Moriles
The peanut butter and chocolate sphere was sweet, creamy ad rich. Unfortunately the banana sorbet had a very odd concentrated flavor.

9b) Straus Cream "Genoise", Jacobsen's Farm Figs, Lemon Curd and Fig Leaf Ice Cream
I enjoyed the fresh, juicy sweet fig which was caramelized, and the tart lemon curd. The ice cream however was rather bitter. Overall, I didn't think any of the desserts were memorable.

Mignardises #1) Macadamia nuts with Caramel powder sugar and Choc layer
This was served with our coffee. I couldn't stop popping this into my mouth so thankfully, there were many nuts in the bowl. These are offered for sale at Bouchon Bakery.

Mignardises #2) Bon Bons included banana malt, praline, passionfruit caramel, peanut butter, thai coffee cardamom and michigan cherry
My favorite was the praline that tasted like a ferrera rocher.

Mignardises #3) Vanilla cheesecake with graham cracker
Unfortunately, I wasn't impressed with any of the desserts in the Tasting Menu but I really enjoyed this mini cheesecake with buttery crust. It was simple but hit the spot.

They brought by shortbread to-go, along with copies of the menu and the hefty bill. $2,000 for our party of four. Generally, it'll cost you between $350 to $700, depending on if you go with the wine pairing and supplemental foie gras and white truffles.

So what was my verdict? I struggled with this post a little. I thought this was a once in a lifetime experience and felt really fortunate to have secured a reservation. I really enjoyed my meal, but if I closed my eyes, I wouldn't have been able to tell that I was eating at The French Laundry. I've heard amazing things about their service, but I wasn't blown away by it. One of the servers was curt and looked irritated, our main waitress skirted the issue on whether service is included in the alcohol pairing price of $250 (it's included in the food menu pricing). She just sounded vague, saying that it was and was not. After many glasses of wine, we just wanted a simple, direct answer. We also had to constantly ask for bread service. But I do have to note that water glasses were filled regularly, and a few of the servers were friendly. Although the food was mostly well executed and the wine pairing was exceptional, I didn't think the presentation lived up to the pictures on the website. Also, the website mentioned that they wanted us to feel a sense of surprise with every bite, as if we had tasted something we've never experienced before. Except for the swiss chard subric, I didn't find anything else to be unique and innovative. Perhaps I walked in with too high of expectations, which even TFL would have trouble delivering. Yes, I thought the food was solid and prepared well, but I guess wouldn't consider it the "best meal of my life". That title, I'd have to save for Joel Robuchon at The Mansion.

Hits: poularde, caviar, mignardises
Misses: desserts, pricey, tough to get a reservation
Rating: ****

The French Laundry
6640 Washington St.,
Yountville, CA 94599
(707) 944-2380

Monday, October 25, 2010

Yamashiro's Farmers Market - tacos, brats, booze. I heart you!

Every Thursday night, Yamashiro hosts Farmer's Market in conjunction with LA City Farm. Unfortunately, given the drastic decrease in temperature, this week (Oct 28) is the last one of the season. They offer fresh produce, knickknacks, live music, beer/food stands and during the month of October, they are celebrating Oktoberfest with bratwursts from Best of the Wurst. Since parking can be scare hilltop, they also have an efficient shuttle system that buses you from free parking (at the Christian Science Church on La Brea & Hollywood Blvd) up the hill.

The Yamashiro Farmer's Market is really a grown-ups' version of the market. I love that it's in the evening because sometimes, I really don't want to crawl out of bed at 10am on a weekend to pick up from fresh produce from the Farmer's Market. I love that it's located on the hilltop with a gorgeous view. I love that they serve booze and food so it's a nice alternative to hanging at a bar.

If you haven't been to Yamashiro, you should. The view is gorgeous. The restaurant is perched on top of the Hollywood Hills, overlooking Hollywood, Downtown and Century City.

Veev was present to serve up some acai cocktails. Acai is found in the Brazilian Amazon and has been known to provide various remedies (although not all founded) such as detoxification, improved immune system and weight loss. I personally don't buy into all of that, but hey, if it's mixed in a cocktail, I'll try it.

You have to select from a few fresh herbs to be mixed into your cocktail.

The cocktails are served in a mason jar decorated with a bracelet made with acai berries, both yours to keep. My choice was the acai mint cocktail which tasted a bit like a mojito. Refreshing, citrus and very drinkable.

The Oktoberfest beer stand this past week had Sam Adams on tap. The market also has a wine stand with a couple wine selections. So basically, there's an adult beverage for everyone.

I've heard good things about Chef Brock Kleweno's tacos. He's the chef at the Yamashiro Restaurant. I don't typically fawn over Mexican cuisine but I can dig these gourmet Asian-inspired tacos.

There were three taco options (miso-sake cod, short ribs and duck confit), priced at 2 for $8.

Miso-sake marinated cod, and Hoisin duck confit with Santiago Farm white nectarine and cherry salsa
The tacos were standout. The duck confit was tender and flavorful. With each bite of the taco, I got a mouthful of juicy duck and sweet cherries and nectarines. I thought the fruit pairing was quite unique. The amount of duck in the taco was generous. In fact, I had every intention of ordering two tacos AND a currywurst but I was already full 1 1/2 tacos in. The cod was flaky and absolutely delicious with a salty miso marination. It was topped with spicy wasabi guacamole. I liked that the tacos were flavorful and left you wanting more. I even enjoyed the fresh chips and spicy salsa.

To round of the Oktoberfest festivities, Best of the Wurst was on hand to offer a nice selection of brats. And for the vegetarians, they also offer portabello schnitzel.

Pork Bratwurst was the "simplest" of the lot but the most popular. The juicy brat was topped with a heap of sauerkraut that tasted very homemade.

The market shuts down at 9pm so we took our drinks to the bar area at the Yamashiro Restaurant. I haven't been to Yamashiro in almost ten years and back then, it was rather quiet. It was good to see an influx of people at the restaurant, which I think is largely due to the overflow from the Farmer's Market. I really enjoyed the event and only hoped that I had attended more of these, especially when the weather was warmer. I liked being able to sit outside with a drink and a delicious taco while catching the sunset. If you're looking for something fun to do this Thursday, the Yamashiro's Farmer's Market is the perfect venue.

Yamashiro Garden Market
Thursdays 5-9pm
1999 N Sycamore Ave.,
Los Angeles, CA 90068
(323) 466-5125

Friday, October 22, 2010

Terroni- Italian comfort fare. Just like in Naples.

On a cold Fall night, I made my way towards Terroni. Towards a bowl of fresh pasta. Towards a night of wine and good company in dianatakesabite and funwithkate. It didn't matter that I had stuffed my face with chicken vindaloo just a couple hours prior. It didn't matter that I didn't wake up in time for pilates that morning. It didn't matter that I was supposed to be on a loose diet in preparation for my 9+ course dinner at The French laundry this weekend. No, I knew tonight, I was going to indulge in a carb fest. And I was going to enjoy every strand of pasta. Guilt free.

Terroni is a restaurant specializing in Southern Italian cuisine. They are known for their fresh pastas and pizzas. Unfortunately with their strict no modifications/changes policy to the menu, it makes it difficult for a person like me who prefers their pizza "light on cheese". The pizzas are served Neapolitan style - thin crust and not pre-sliced. That means you have to cut it up with your fork and knife, or preferable tear it apart yourself. Just like in Naples.

There are no reservations so you'll need to wait for your whole party to arrive before being seated. But that's not an issue, they have a relatively decent sized U-shaped bar with very friendly bartenders.

Diana managed to finagle a wine tasting from the bartender which included a selection of reds.

I opted for a glass of Rose.

As we waited at the bar, we were served a stuzzichino of zucchini, eggplant, salami and mozzarella. It was very tasty with well seasoned zucchini and eggplant, and a nice kick of spice from the salami. I also enjoyed the buttery pastry that held everything together.

Apart from the regular menu, Terroni offered a couple items on their specials menu.

Bread was served with olive oil. You can request their signature spicy pepperoncini, which is an absolute must. I'm not a big fan of bell peppers so to my delight, this tasted more like minced chili peppers. They definitely packed a spice and were really addictive. Terroni also sells these in jars in the market section of the restaurant.

Ricchia - Arugula, Fresh Mushrooms, Shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano, Lemon and Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
The peppery arugula paired well with the salty cheese and was adequately dressed in a light citrus dressing. I really enjoyed the simplicity of this salad and it goes to show that only a few fresh ingredients are sufficient to create a satisfying dish.

Arancini (risotto balls) topped with shaved Parmesan.

The arancini was filled with piping hot risotto, meat, gooey fresh cheese and tomato sauce. This was the epitome of comfort food. It almost tasted like a lasagna croquette.

Spaghetti ca’ Pummarola N’Goppa - Homemade Spaghetti in a Fresh Tomato Sauce with Basil and Garlic
A simple pasta dish which unfortunately, was just that. Simple. The pasta was thick and starchy. The sauce was simply D.O.P. San Marzano. Just like in Naples.

Capunti al Ragu’ d’Agnello - Handmade capunti pasta with slow cooked lamb ragu and pecorino shavings
The ragu was not as delicate or crumbly as I had expected. In fact, coupled with the thick capuni, this was a rather hearty dish. A good choice of pasta as the crevice of the pasta held sufficient sauce and meat in every bite.

Linguine alle Vongole e Bottarga - Homemade linguine pasta with clams and bottarga in a white wine sauce
Don't even ask for Parmesan as it is not served with seafood dishes. Just like in Naples. Even though the pasta was fresh, it seemed to clump together and was hard to pull apart. It's interesting that they served this dish with a fork and knife so I ended up using my knife to cut through the mountain of pasta. The pasta was intensely flavored with seafood essence. It was absolutely delicious. Every strand of pasta was salty and briny, and covered with tiny specks of bottarga. I could not put my fork (and knife) down. This was definitely what I was looking for - good ole comforting pasta.

For the most part, I was pleased with the dishes especially the arancini, salad and the linguine vongole. Unfortunately service was lacking. Granted service was attentive and friendly at the bar, but the waiters serving our table were curt and aloof. No smiles, no welcome, no asking if we wanted to start with a glass of wine, no inquiring if we enjoyed our meal or if we needed anything else. There was also a long wait for the dessert menu and for the check. But then again, maybe this is how it's done, in Naples.

Hits: vongole, arancini
Misses: service
Rating: ***

7605 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 954-0300