Friday, March 6, 2009

Courses 8-11

1969 Sercial d'Olivera
A madiera, a sweet wine that has notes of vanilla, oak and caramel.

Course 8: Chestnut maple souffle with truffle sauce poured over the top. For this, it is a simple souffle, with a base of chestnuts, flour, sugar, maple syrup and egg yolks. Then, egg whites are whipped with sugar and folded into the the base. The truffle sauce is made with truffle stock and veal sauce.

This was so delicious. A light, slightly sweet fluffy souffle topped with a luxurious truffle sauce. Perfect pairing with the madiera.

Vina Godeval
The grape varietal is godello, a Spainish grape slightly like Chardonnay.

Veal heart with pistachios, romaine, sour cherries and cocoa pudding.
The veal heart brined for 24 hours and then vacuum packed and cooked in a 174.9 degree water bath for another 24 hours. This makes the heart extremely tender. It is sliced very thin and reheated in duck fat. The romaine is lightly dressed with olive oil, and the cocoa pudding is made with chocolate, cream and egg yolk.

Next, I was served a butter roll from the Bouchon Bakery down the street with two different butters. On the left is the Andante dairy butter, locally made. This was cut into 36 gram portions and then hand shaped in cheesecloth. On the right is Diane St. Clair butter, which is from Vermont. This butter is slightly tart, like a buttermilk flavor.

Salad: Sunchoke, compressed apple, toasted marcona almonds with a spicy mustard gastrique. The sunchoke is the root of the sunflower. These are turned (meaning carved by hand with a knife) and blanched. The apple is compressed in a vacuum bag. The gastrique is a blend of sugar, vinegar and mustard seed.

A very nice salad to cool down the palate.

Gargamelli, gidori duck egg, iberico ham, asparagus, and shaved black truffle from Provence.
Gargamelli is a type of pasta that is made in house. The ham is from Spain, where the pig's diet is primarily acorns. The asparagus is blanched in salted water.

When I received the plate, there was no truffle on it, but then a server came with a small black box with a lock on it, and pulled out a black truffle and shaved about 10 slices on top of my plate. Truffles have a very powerful aroma, earthy and funky; so incredible.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Courses 3-7

"Clam Chowder"
Geoduck clams with house made bacon, potato balls, spring onions and micro parsley in a toasted corn consomme.
If you don't know what a geoduck is, look it up, they're crazy clams, with a great flavor.
The clams are broken down and the meat is blanched. The potatoes are scooped with a parisenne scoop and cooked slowly in clarified butter.
The toasted corn consomme was one of the highlights of this dish. Amazing sweet, toasty corn flavor in a perfectly clear broth. The corn is toasted and cooked in a vegetable stock (which is something I used to make at 5:30 in the morning!). This vegetable stock has carrots, leeks, celery, onion and turnip in it, with garlic, button mushrooms and whole peeled tomatoes as the aromatics. After the corn is cooked in this stock, it is clarified with a egg white raft, which collects all the proteins in the liquid, making it perfectly clear.

I didn't think of it when I was eating it, but one of the chefs came by and asked me what I thought, and he said, "clam chowder", and I thought, "of course!"

At many fine restaurants they give you a spoon that is only used for the caviar, and this is one of them; made entirely of mother of pearl. Mother of pearl has a completely neutral flavor, whereas steel does not, which would take away from the flavor of the caviar.

Pig's head with nusturtium flowers, creme fraiche sauce and California white sturgeon caviar.

Pig's head is such a great thing. Here, all the meat from the head of the pig is carved off (cheeks and such), wrapped in cheesecloth in a cylinder and cooked sous vide for 8-12 hours. It is then sliced, battered and fried, giving it a crunchy texture on the outside and meltingly tender on the inside. So incredible. The creme fraiche is a very simple sauce, maybe whipped with a little bit of agar or gelatin to make it a little thicker and seasoned.
The tartness of the creme fraiche was a perfect complement to the sweet meat from the pig. And then the caviar! For all of the dishes, every individual component is incredible, and then when you taste them all together, also incredible. I made a point to taste every single component as well as all the components together, and it was awesome.

Uni with seawater snow, cucumber, and sesame sorbet and micro green garnish.
Uni is sea urchin. The French Laundry gets this from Japan, where it is a very sought after product. It has a very tender texture, and cannot be cooked. The cucumber is cooked sous vide and cut into perfect small dice. The sesame sorbet is made with sesame paste, a little bit of sugar and milk, then put through the ice cream machine. The seawater snow, I believe is made by putting salted water through the paco jet, which is a machine that will quickly freeze any liquid while whipping it at the same time. It was a great way to salt the dish.

The uni was salty and sweet, it was great. The sorbet was incredible, such pure sesame flavor and creamy.

Halibut wing with cured trout roe and microparsley.
This was like no other fish i've ever tasted, so perfect. It was so meltingly tender, I believe it had to be oil poached, at a very low temperature. The trout roe were cured, so they were very salty, little explosions of flavor in your mouth.

This dish was incredible. The halibut was so tender, so flavorful, I love fish, but I didn't know fish could be this good. The roe was such a perfect complement. The eggs would be in my mouth and I wanted to explode every single one of them just so I could taste them. I remember thinking, "I don't want these to just go through my digestive system without tasting them in my mouth!"

Fried Japanese squid with watercress, pine nuts, rice and a ponzuri sauce.

I've seen the chefs process the squid, and it's incredible. The tube is flattened out and scored on a diagonal to create the markings that you see on it in this picture. When it is fried, it curls up. Watercress; the most perfect leaves, picked by hand so there are no blemishes. Rice is cooked in a rice cooker and ponzu sauce is added to it. Ponzu is soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, lemon juice, kumquat and dashi, a japanese paste.

Awesome looking plate, great texture on the squid and such a flavorful rice. The little bits of kumquat in the rice were awesome; the little citrus bits in there with such intense flavor.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

My Foray Into Fine Dining.

My three months at The French Laundry have come to a close. I am both sad and ecstatic about this. Ecstatic because I will now begin my career in the restaurant industry, sad because it was one of the greatest experiences a person could have. Every single person at The French Laundry was so passionate about their career and so incredibly welcoming to me. This is such a great environment to learn in. I was pushed so hard by every single person in so many different ways. The things I have learned will stay with me for a very long time, and those things are so pervasive they have permeated every aspect of my life; effecting how I do every task in my life.

To finish my time at The French Laundry, I received the privilege of dining at The French Laundry, but not just in the dining room, but in "The Box", which is Thomas Keller's tiny office walled with windows looking right into the kitchen. And i'm not saying I can just see the kitchen, I can see every plate that is made and what every person in the kitchen is doing at all times. It was an incredible experience. Dining here was such an incredible feeling, with all the chefs and waiters coming by and saying hello to me and checking in on me.

Coming into the front of the restaurant (instead of the back door to the kitchen) was definitely different, but it felt right, and everyone does everything in their power to make you feel like the most special person in the world, and this feeling lasted the entire five and one-half hours I spent dining at The French Laundry.

Because my meal consisted of 20 courses, it's going to be impossible for me to do this in one post, so stay tuned, this will all come out in the next few days.

As you can see, my view of the kitchen is quite spectacular, here with my Ployez-Jacquement champagne, bottled specially for The French Laundry.

My first course was a Gruyere Cheese gougere. To prepare this, one must made pate a choux dough, which involves cooking butter, water, salt, sugar and flour in a pan until it becomes sticky. Eggs are then added to the dough, then it is piped onto a pan, covered with grated cheese and baked for 7 to 8 minutes at 350. They poof up when baked, so they are slightly hollow in the middle.

Next course is a Thomas Keller classic; a dish imagined before Thomas Keller's French Laundry was even born. This "cornet" is topped with salmon tartare and filled with red onion creme fraiche. To produce this dish, the commis make the dough for the cones at 5:30 in the morning. This is a simple batter of flour, sugar, salt and butter. It is rolled on a cone when still hot to make that shape.

For the salmon tartare, the salmon fillets are minced very finely by hand with a very sharp knife. Then olive oil, lemon oil, minced chives, minced shallots, salt and pepper are added.

To make the red onion creme fraiche, the red onions are finely minced and dried. The creme fraiche is whipped to soft peaks, and then the onions, salt and pepper are added.

To finish, the creme fraiche is piped into the bottom of the cone, and the salmon is scooped with a small spoon and placed on top. Then a chive tip is placed right on top of the salmon.

Courses to come: "Clam Chowder", Pig's Head, Uni, Halibut, Squid