hours to prepare, minutes to eat, and seconds to sketch
I turned 30 two weeks ago and we celebrated with a surprise dinner at The French Laundry, Thomas Keller’s legendary restaurant located in Yountville, CA.
My birthday dress had pockets, so I impulsively stashed my sketchbook and a pen (just in case). The amuse bouche and first course passed, and it felt wrong not to take home a souvenir, so I sent for my sketchpad (which was stowed at that moment in my jacket, hanging heavenknowswhere.) I’m so glad that I drew at dinner.
Sketching each dish meant that it lasted longer, that I had more time to observe, and soak in all the expertly prepared details. My memory of the evening is better because of it, and I have a fun keepsake from what was undoubtedly one of the finest meals I’ve had.
Are you curious? Would you like to see what 12+ courses looks like? Well then, let’s start with the menu.
The meal began with an amuse bouche. The first bite looked like a miniature ice cream cone. I can’t remember what it was now, but the center was salty, crunchy, and meaty.
After we ordered, picking between the Chef’s Menu or the Vegetable tasting, the staff offered bread service. The sourdough, pretzel, or other bread options were presented to us alongside a sweet butter and a salty butter. This butter was the jam. (pun intended)
The first course included tapioca, oysters, and caviar.
I knew immediately that I wanted some M*F truffle during dinner, so I opted for the “Polenta” for the second course. It included poulard (aka chicken) rillette, shallots, “Sauce Perigourdine”, and generous shavings of preserved black winter truffle.
Next was the the applewood-smoked sturgeon with tomato confit, celery, pickles, watercress, and mustard.
The most identifiable food in sketch might be the lobster. It came with eggplant, fennel, satsuma mandarin, a black olive purée, and basil.
Then I ate Peking duck, with spinach, beets, and hazelnuts, and red wine-shallot purée.
Prettier than a picture, the next plate included veal tenderloin, asparagus, ramps, lettuce, corn, and a “Bearnaise Mousseline” sauce.
This cheese course was rather unexpected. It had more in common with a cheesecake than a slice of cheddar, but I ate it up anyways. The dish was “Tomme de Brebis Gâteau” along with rhubarb, pistachios, mint, and pea blossoms.
Simply lumped together under the “Assortment of Desserts” title came another 4 or 5 (or 6?) courses, each more decadent than the last. My favorite thing of the whole night came in the form of their take on a Silverado strawberry. What the drawing doesn’t capture is the cream exterior of the dessert, and the bright pink center that oozed after I attacked it with my spoon.
Like I said, I ate it up.
The next delight was their take on a Rice Crispy treat—toasted rice ice cream and a dollop of marshmallow fluff.
My enjoyed the smallest slice of birthday cake ever, chocolaty and rich.
They offered us a treasure chest of chocolates with flavors like s’mores, passion fruit, and salted caramel. I ate two.
We would’ve enjoyed at least one more course, but collectively couldn’t eat another bite. The French Laundry graciously boxed it up for us. In our stash, we got to nibble the next morning on a tin of shortbread cookies, cocoa-dusted and candy-coated macadamia nuts (omg wow), passion fruit macarons, and banana macarons.