Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Doing the Laundry

Question: What Napa Valley restaurant can feed 60 guests with two perfect brussels sprouts, one heavenly ripe tomato, 0.5 ounces of sushi grade tuna, a couple of sun chokes, charge what equates to your monthly mortgage payment and still leave each guest feeling like they had the best meal they've ever eaten?

Answer: The French Laundry

For the unaware, The French Laundry is not the name of a local high end dry cleaning establishment. It is a restaurant. A restaurant named for a laundry. I ponder if the name is a little tongue in cheek reference to the sensation that you have when paying the bill? Get it?? Taken to the cleaners? But if that's the inside joke, you can put me on the whitest-white cycle you can find and don't bother me until I've been triple rinsed. If you have the chance to go to this place - do not pass GO. Do not collect $200. Just. Say. Yes. It's that good. As a friend of mine used to say, "It's all that and a bag of chips too!" Except in this case, it's all that and some beautifully wrapped home-made short bread cookies to go.

Sometimes restaurants like this have a tendency to rest on their laurels. They get a lot of hype, they believe their own press and things get shoddy. Not the case here. It takes 3+ hours to get through the menu. 3+ hours of being wowed by each diminutive, flawlessly prepared course. 3+ hours to fervently pray that the 3+ hours were even longer - especially when you started out thinking that you were going to need a snickers bar when the culinary journey was over. I mean, how could you get full on a continuous stream of teensy little courses, no matter how loudly the angels sang as you took each bite? And yet, when the end comes and they hand you your to-go bag of those otherworldly squares of short-bread - the thought of taking another single bite of anything seems an impossibility.

(Note: Sure, I was exaggerating about the two perfect brussels sprouts. Mathematically speaking, it would be impossible to feed every diner with just two. But, assuming that each sprout has 10 good tiny leaves - and each exquisitely prepared "hand rolled parsnip anglotti" course requires 2 faultless leaves - that's five diners per sprout. Calculating that they seat around 60 per evening (as far as we could tell) and half would select this "side" of the menu - - they'd have to have at least 12 brussels sprouts total on hand- realizing that at least a full 1/2 of the miniature little sprout heads might contain less than ideal leaves. It's easy to see where those production costs add up - heh heh heh)

You can see the whole menu at www.frenchlaundry.com Enjoy just looking at it and imagining having about two to four sumptuous bites of each thing as it is presented using stacks and stacks of impeccable white china which simultaneously make the delectable morsels look even smaller - yet more highly desirable. Awe-inspiring. I posit that this type of presentation also gives the dishwashers a hell of a workout every night. I counted the dishes below one of my courses. There were five. I get the main plate and the charger. What are the names for the other 3? It boggles the mind.

And my last observation about this particular culinary adventure? The Laundry is located in Yountville, CA. It's about 8 miles or so from Napa. The town's name is derived from the name of early pioneer George Calvert Yount. Yount was considered responsible for establishing the first vineyard in the Napa Valley. Presently, Yountville is home to not one, not two but three of Thomas Keller's restaurants. I know there are other restaurants NOT owned by Keller - but I think you have to really exert some energy to finding them. I'm starting to take odds on when the name will officially be changed to Kellerville. It has a ring to it, doesn't it? Their motto, "Kellerville: Where Foodies Come to Die."

Bottom line. Great meal. The perfect surprise by George the Elder for my 50th. He's a peach that way.

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