Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Colonial Diet at Gadsby's Tavern

Ever since moving to DC over five years ago, I have been looking for an excuse to try Gadsby's Tavern, the quirky Old Town Alexandria landmark established in the 1770s, and famous for purportedly serving George Washington.  When I heard about a benefit dinner that showcased Yard's Beer paired with four courses for $85 a person, I thought I had found the perfect opportunity to sample this institution and enjoy a night of good food and great beer.

Wrong!  And here is why:

The night, which began in the adjacent museum, started with an incredibly strong fowl "Is it rude if I hold my nose odor" that was so pervasive it lingered all night.  That odor, from what I could tell, a combination of body odor and dirty clothes, was none other than the Yard's Brewery representative.  His stench was truly vile.

Gadbsy's Tavern: Roasted Duck with Whipped Potatoes and Mixed Vegetables
And the food was not much better than said stench.  After being treated to Colonial cuisine (euphemism) all night, I am proposing a new diet based on this fare.  As a woman that loves to eat, I would be a size 0 if all I had to eat was bland potatoes, salty, tough duck, and rubbery, flavorless vegetables.  It was disgusting. 

The other issue was the beer pairings were really small--we were poured four 6 oz beer samples throughout the three hour experience.  If there was ever a night where I would have appreciated large mugs of beer -- didn't they have that back in the day? -- it was this one.  The beer may have helped mask the blandness ofthe food and allowed us for a minute or two to forget about that odor.

Gadbsy's Tavern: Spruce Custard over Gingerbread
The best part of the night was Dairy Godmother's creation of Yard's Spruce Ale custard.  Finally, some flavorful, savory food and not a bit too soon!

It is safe to say that I have had my fill of Gadbsy's.  Stop by for the history, but save yourself the misery and the money and head to one Cathal Armstong's many offerings in Old Town Alexandria for some truly terrific eating and drinking options.

Gadsby's Tavern on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving: Greeting the Day with Pumpkin Chocolate Goodness

Eating Around DC Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins
As you readers may know, I blog a lot (and by that I mean about 75 to 1) more about my eating exploits outside the home than within.  But B and I love to cook, and over the years, I am proud to say that have become a decent baker.  But unless its holiday time, I find cooking more rewarding than baking and a lot less exact!  So while I am not One Vanilla Bean or the Cupcake Avenger -- both offer great recipes and baking exploits -- in the spirit of the holiday I wanted to share one of my favorite holiday recipes.

I have been making these treats since I had my first kitchen to call my own, right out of grad school in a miniature galley-like space in Boston.  The recipe was given to me by a colleague and the best part, no special equipment needed.  The results are moist and delicious, and I usually whip up a double batch.

Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins
Makes 1 Dozen Muffins
1 2/3 Cup Flour
1 Cup Sugar
1 Tbsp Pumpkin Pie Spice
1 Tsp Baking Soda
1/4 Tsp Baking Powder
1/4 Tsp salt
2 Large Eggs
1 Cup Plain Pumpkin
1 Stick Butter Melted and Cooled
1 Cup (6 oz) Chocolate Chips

Heat the over to 350.

Thoroughly mix the dry ingredients:  flour, sugar, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda, baking power, and salt in a large bowl.

Break eggs into another bowl.  Add pumpkin and butter (once cooled).  Whisk until well blended.  Stir in the chocolate chips.

Pour over dry ingredients and mix with spatula or wooden spoon until well blended.

Scoop batter in paper-lined muffin cups. 

Bake for 25 minutes (cooking time will vary based on your oven; check to ensure with a toothpick; when it comes out clean, they are done)

Best when allowed to sit 1-2 days.  They also freeze well.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Rustico's New Arlington Outpost Still a Bit Rustic

Dining Room at Rustico Ballston
Arlington's Orange Line corridor is fast becoming a haven for beer lovers.  Clarendon has had decent selections of microbrews for a few years at Boulevard Woodgrill, Liberty Tavern, and Lyon Hall.  With the opening alone of Fireworks Pizza this past fall in Courthouse, the beer scene grew by some 30+ plus taps of rotating microbrews available in growlers to go.  And now, Greg Engert and the team beyond the fabulous Birch and Barley have opened a second Rustico location (the original is on the outskirts of Old Town, Alexandria) in Ballston.

Beer-wise, Rustico is a welcome addition to the neighborhood.  Its 40+ beers on tap include rare finds and cask ales.  The beer menu (yes, they take the beer seriously here, including a dedicated menu) is laid out in the same fashion as Birch and Barley, with each beer grouped by category and descriptions of brewery information, ounces poured, and glass-style.  And as is becoming the norm, a trend which I love, you can get the beer in either the full pour or 4oz tasting sizes.
After dining there this past Thursday night though, they are not yet on track to add something new to the dining scene in Ballston, an area which is in desperate need of some decent restaurants. 

First off, the service is still working out its kinks.  While waiting for my friend to arrive, I asked to be seated.  What I assumed with an easily-accommodated request was denied and similarly so for the party waiting behind me because of Rustico's policy to only seat complete tables.  While I understand the policy during busy times, you will note in the picture above that the dining room was quite literally empty!  And while the adjacent bar area was bursting at the seams, common sense among the staff did not seem to be prevailing.

Finally, with friend in tow, we were seated. Our waitress's nerves were visibly shaky throughout the meal, as was her hand, as she spilled an entire glass of (fortunately) white wine all over the patron next to us, but quickly and nervously cleaned up and remedied the situation.  Servers were slow to greet tables and drinks are either served right away or seem to be on an endless wait.  But this place is brand new, and based on my experiences at other restaurants in this group, I would bet that this is  a growing pain that (hopefully) soon will be overcome.

Second, the  menu has a few reasonable options, like a juicy burger and thick-cut french fries served with two varietals of homemade ketchup for $12 -- perfect price for a casual dining spot and they had me at two types of ketchup!  But other entrees which go up to $32 seem misplaced in this cantankerous dining room.

Third, the infrastructure needs work.  The night I was there, two out of the three women's restrooms were out of order and it was only 7:00.  This is the recipe for disaster at a restaurant that prides itself on its beer options!

I think this is a great addition to the neighborhood, but the menu seems to miss the mark for the casual space.  I will most likely be back if I find myself in the dining wasteland that is Ballston, but for the service and a rival beer selection (admittedly within walking distance of my condo), I prefer Fireworks and the food and atmosphere at Birch and Barley are worth the trip to 14th Street.

Rustico on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Bayou Bakery Brings NOLA to Arlington Courthouse

Let the good times roll!  Bayou Bakery is at last open in none other than my 'hood, Courthouse in Arlington. Well, almost open.  This morning they hosted a soft opening in which the majority of their menu was available gratis, accepting donations for Best Buddies. I suppose the idea behind the concept is that it allows guests to experience a taste of what Bayou has to offer, and alleviates some the pressure on the staff, all while contributing to a good cause.  I thought it was a great idea and they will be doing the same on Monday, November 22nd.

I am almost giddy and B is over the moon as Bayou Bakery brings the classics of his college city to Courthouse.  Bayou offers breakfast (and let's face it, the all day goodness) of beignets and chicory coffee by Counter Culture.  Lunch and dinner selections include Gumbo, Po' Boys and Muffulettas.  Beer and wine are available, including Abita Amber on tap.

The space is surprisingly light filled with New Orleans accents laced throughout -- fleur de lis, alligators, street cars -- oh my!  Iced tea (sweetened or unsweetened) is served in mason chars and the air is filled with New Orleans music, but at a volume suitable for conversation.

Bayou Bakery: Gumbo
At $4 a cup, the Gumbo was almost as transportive as a trip to the Big Easy, with a subtle heat and thick, Gumbo Shop base.

Bayou Bakery: Muffuletta
Not quite Central Grocery clone, albeit a more manageable portion, the "muffa-lotta" has a zesty tapanade and includes the addition of Virginia black forest ham.

Bayou Bakery: Beignets
At $3 for 3 beignets and all that powdered sugar goodness, I am worried about the proximity of my house to these fried treats.  Cafe Du Monde they are not, but they are the closest I have had outside of New Orleans.

Yes, there are some quirks.  The Camille's sign of the former occupant of the space on the corner of N. Courthouse Road has not been removed.  The baristas are still getting into the groove.  But so far I am both impressed and excited about this addition to the neighborhood.  Last year at this time, we were in New Orleans, and this year no trip, but still a taste of the Big Easy.

Bayou Bakery on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Femme Fatal: Cafe Atlantico Women and Wine Dinner

A women-in-wine themed evening promised a world renowned chef from a well-regarded DC restaurant and wine poured from the winemakers themselves. It had all the makings of a great night.  But the Wine Entre Femmes, Beautiful Side of Wine Tour tasting dinner at Café Atlantico on Wednesday, November 10th failed to live up to expectations.

I was originally on the wait-list for this $95 per person dinner inclusive of wine but exclusive of tax and gratuity. I got the call the day of that a space had opened up; thrilled with the prospect of a midweek excursion, I quickly called another wine lover to take advantage of what sounded like the perfect evening. Neither of us had tried Café Atlantico and were looking forward to sampling Jose Andres’ creations which included scallop, quail, duck, short-rib, and venison -- a seemingly hearty, fall menu -- paired with wines from the Napa Valley.

From the moment we arrived, I had my doubts. All attendees crowded into the bar and were painfully, slowly seated upstairs in the cramped main dining room. The menus describing the pairings looked as though they were printed by a not-so-into-their-job intern; what was supposed to be a booklet was instead a stapled, unordered mass.

And that hearty menu? Ridiculously small portions, many of which missed the mark, leaving my friend and I ravenous, and looking forward to breakfast. While the short rib and venison were both excellent, and the rum cake Mini-Bar inventive, it required immense effort to flag a server to figure out the nuances of each dish.

I usually revel in the intimate experience of wine dinners, and love to learn about the wine, the food, and the thought behind the pairing choices. But in this case, this educational element was almost non-existent, with zero explanation of the food and only a haphazard attempt by a few of the winemakers to discuss the pairings over the din of everyone’s conversation. While the winemakers did circulate table-to-table by the end of the evening, it was too late, as many of the 12 wines were long-drunk and those tiny portions, long-devoured.

I expected more from Café Atlantico, and will not soon be back.  Fortunately, my favorable impression of Jose Andres returned later that week with a Friday-night dinner at Oyamel. More to come…

Café Atlántico on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

J&G Fishhouse (?)

Eating Around DC is back from the west coast and has a back(b)log of DC food experiences to share.  First up: J and G Steakhouse.  After a hectic week, B and I chose J and G not for the obvious, but for the fish options.  As any DC'ite can attest, it seems we have more steakhouses per capita than we have Starbucks outlets!  And B and I are steaked out

Having loved our experience at Jean Georges' Kauai Grill last spring, and given the rave J and G reviews, our expectations were high.  But the modern, club vibe (house music pumps throughout the lobby bar) of the W DC upon walking in gave us abit of leeriness about the relaxation factor, if not the crowds.

I am happy to report that our fears were assuaged and expectations exceeded.  The whole J and G experience is one that I hope to repeat.  The ambiance was modern but unfussy; soaring windows and larger-than life suede banquet seats.  Both our server and the sommelier were attentive, friendly and exceedingly knowledgeable.  The pacing was spot-on, allowing time for us to savor each dish.  And every element from the cocktails through to the dessert was thoughtfully prepared, inventive, and full of flavor.

J and G Steakhouse: Grapefruit Gimlit
Made from grapefruit vodka produced in small batches in Napa Valley (wish I knew about this a few weeks earlier), this was a tart, refreshing apertif.

J and G Steakhouse: Calamari with Yuzu Dip
The calamari appetizer was fried so delicately that it almost melted in your mouth.  The CO2-infused dipping sauce added to the levity with its airy texture and citrus notes.

J and G Steakhouse: Seared Atlantic Cod Scallion-Chili Sauce
I challenge any steak to stand up to the rich flavor of this cod fillet, which was meaty without the meat and enhanced with a wonderfully pungent spicy sauce.

J and G Steakhouse: Glazed Short Ribs with Crunchy Cheddar Grits
And for the record, we did not completely forsake meat. The short ribs were oh-so fork tender. The playful package of phyllo-wrapped grits was not only creative, but the crunch yielded to both sweet and savory goodness. 

Our evening also included bacon-wrapped shrimp and the ubiquitous half-baked chocolate cake.  Both of which were spot-on flavor-wise, if a bit less inventive.

J and G is another one of those places that is not inexpensive, but it is not unreasonable and delivers a wonderful experience from start to finish.  On this particular trip we brought our own wine, but the sommelier had us sample a fabulous Napa Cabernet, Faust, that we hope perhaps to enjoy a full bottle of next visit.  Dinner with two cocktails, two appetizers, two entrees, dessert, corkage ($25), tax, and tip was $200.

J&G Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Food Field Trip Carmel: La Bicyclette

The French Village -inspired Dining Room at La  Bicyclette
As a planner's planner, it is rare for me not to have all my restaurant reservations--if not a list of options--lined up weeks if not months in advance of our travels.  But this past trip, we found ourselves in Carmel-by-the-Sea at lunchtime as we drove down the coast, with (gasp) not only no reservations, but no idea whatsoever of where to eat.  Thanks to smartphones, we were able to access a few Chowhound recommendations, and went in search of the much chattered about Casanova.  But after a few wrong turns, we stumbled upon a charming storefront cafe, Le Bicyclette.

Given that we were on the earlier side of lunch, the cafe was still empty, so we originally dismissed the option.  Serendipitously, we did ask the hostess of La Bicyclette if she knew the best way to get to Casanova whereupon she informed us (and as luck would have it), that this was their sister restaurant. So we stayed put.

Before I delve into the details of this find, I want to note that our dining state of mind at this point in the trip can best be described as leery.  The night before, we had reservations at the much hyped casual no-frills Monterey Fish House.  This meal was horrendous in every way, but the kicker was that all of the fish we asked about were from places far, far from Monterey, ranging from New England, to Indonesia to Washington; perhaps the name should have been Everywhere in the World but Monterey Fish House.  The food not only lacked care, flavor, and quality, but also resulted in a minor case of food poisoning for B, who since has refused to give a favorite dish prior to this experience (sea scallops) another try.  But I digress.

So long story short, we decided to give La Bicyclette a try, and were pleased; our good food Karma had returned, our leeriness vanished. The setting was adorned with French country kitsch in a way that was actually warm and charming.  And the incredibly knowledgeable, friendly, and busy hostess-waitress was delightful and efficient, even as the dining room quickly reached capacity a mere thirty minutes after we sat down.

Given the experience the night before, we did not imbibe (but we rarely do at lunch).  I did notice that the wines by the glass listed on the chalkboard provided all local (and thus tilted heavily towards white or pinot) options. The local, seasonal ingredients, presented in French country style, were pleasing to the eyes and proved oh-so delicious.

La Bicyclette: A Steaming Pot of Sunchoke and Bacon Soup
The soup was served in a copper pot, similar to a homestyle meal we had last fall at Les Papilles in Paris, so right away we were smitten.  This cream-based soup showcased the seasonal vegetable of the trip that seemed to crop up at nearly every meal (the sunchoke), whose earthy flavor was complimented by the smokey bacon.

La Bicyclette: Root Vegetable Gnocchi
One of my favorite things about French cooking is that when done well, the intense flavors mean that you do not need to consume large quantities to be fully satisfied.  Case in point was this celery root, sweet potato, and beet gnocchi combination above.  I was not able to finish anymore than 2/3 of these pillows of rich, earthy goodness, offset by appropriately bitter spinach and a sweet cream sauce.  This was hands down among the best gnocchi I have ever tasted, and its rainbow of natural colors by far the most beautiful I've seen.

La Bicyclette: Smoked Salmon Omelet with Mixed Greens
I've found that eggs--particularly omelets or poached--are actually very hard to find cooked right, but this omelet was textbook Parisian style, buttery and smooth, with a rich smoked salmon filling.  B was impressed.

I loved this cafe so much that on our next trip to this area, we will consider staying in Carmel-by-the-Sea instead of Monterey in part so that we can enjoy dinner here.  The price for the appetizer, two entrees, tax, and tip was $40 -- not an inexpensive lunch, but a great value!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Food Field Trip Napa: Ad Hoc

Ad Hoc Menu: Monday, October 25, 2010
We were fortunate to have not one but two Thomas Keller dining experiences while in Napa.  Our experience at The French Laundry was no doubt the highlight of all highlights, but Keller's more causal neighborhood eatery down the street Ad Hoc also won me over.  While the respective purpose--and atmosphere--among the two could not have been more different, it was clear that Ad Hoc shared the same focus on quality ingredients, preparation, and attention to detail.  It's not quite as daunting as the process as scoring a French Laundry reservation (chronicled here in a previous review), but Ad Hoc does fill up quickly; reservations --just as with its big sister restaurant down the street--are available two months to the calendar date.

Ad Hoc is actually a restaurant that was never meant to be.  Thomas Keller and his staff, as the story goes, began serving up seasonal fixed family-style dinners as a temporary endeavor while he planned for the opening of a gourmet burger joint for the space.  But the popularity and attention of this concept caused him to jettison these plans and his ad hoc concept stuck.  Dinner, served Thursday-Monday, consists of a seasonally rotating $49 four course pre fix.

When we arrived for our 7:15pm reservation the small street-front dining room was packed, and reservations were a bit backed up.  The staff was harried, and getting a drink at the bar was not easy; the bartender was busy tending to the folks eating at the bar (where according to insiders you can order a family style meal for one--if that makes any sense--and share the plentiful portions between two people).  It took a good ten minutes before we were acknowledged, but once seated, the experience was soon forgotten, as we were in for a fabulous meal.

Our waiter, a chubby, beer-loving Thomas Keller disciple, was a bit awkward at first, but really knew his stuff. After ensuring we did not have any allergies or alternative food preferences, he knowledgeably helped us select our wine, and later in the meal showed us where in the Encyclopedia-sized Ad Hoc cookbook it details how to make the finest caramel I've ever tasted.

Each of the generously portioned four courses was sublime.

Ad Hoc: Salad of Little Gems lettuce, cucumbers, olives, poached carrots, and Point Reyes blue cheese dressing
Fresh, crunchy, and sweet best describes this simple salad.  I loved how the saltiness of the olives was showcased and at the same time offset by the tang of the blue cheese dressing.  The lightly poached baby carrots added great color and flavor.

Ad Hoc: Pigfest with porchetta, pork loin, jalapeno corn bread, salad of fried sunchokes, watermelon radishes, rapini, and BBQ spaghetti
Mondays are barbecue night at Ad Hoc, and this course was one where the portion size and sheer variety was a challenge, but we persevered!  The pork loin was fork tender, succulent, and juicy, the porchetta, while a fattier cut benefited from the rich seasoning. The cornbread had a nice heat and a whole lot of butter.  Even the BBQ spaghetti, which I originally thought sounded like a slightly disgusting combination, had a great tangy/hot flavor which when tossed with the al dente spaghetti was quickly devoured (we were later told this dish can often be found at BBQ places in Memphis).  And despite the competition of ingredients on this plate, it was the vegetables that were our favorite.  The lightly fried sunchokes (the root of a sunflower) from the French Laundry garden were earthy, crunchy, and reached perfection with the punch of sea salt.  And the vibrant watermelon radishes made the whole plate pop.

Ad Hoc: Vermont Ayr atop fried potato cakes with pepper jelly
I am a huge fan of cheese courses.  But when tangy cheese is paired with fried potatoes, I have discovered that I am a fanatic. This was like cheese fries on steroids and according to my ears and eyes consistently drew raves from all diners within ear- and eye-shot.

Ad Hoc: Apple fritters with caramel sauce
Though we reached the last course already beyond full, dessert was so fantastic, that my stomach somehow made room for the crispy apple fritters, coated with cinnamon and sugar and complimented by the finger-licking, and apparently famous, caramel sauce.

For the value, I think Ad Hoc is the best casual dining bet in Napa I've yet to find.  As long as you are willing to go with the flow, and experience whatever the night's menu holds, you are in for a real treat.

Ad Hoc on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Food Field Trip Napa: Michael Chiarello's Bottega

Bottega is Michael Chiarello's nearly two year-old restaurant in an old winery building smack in the center of Yountville.  It has great energy, fantastic ambience, wonderfully attentive service, and a vibrant sense of fun--Michael himself is there most nights, personally greeting diners (as well as barking out orders to the kitchen staff)--but the food, regrettably, is not up to par with the stiff competition along these few blocks of culinary Mecca.  Of course, this particular strip in Napa Valley does include the best of the best: Ad Hoc (review to come), Bouchon, Bistro Jeanty, and Redd.  And this doesn't even count some of the other fantastic places the next town just north a few miles up the main drag through the Valley.  If only Bottega's kitchen could match the execution of the food with the service and space, then this restaurant would fit right in...it just needs some sort of spice!

Bottega boasts Yountville's largest dining room, which is beautifully conceived with its restored brick, high ceilings, and larger than life brass chandeliers.  In addition to the two main dining rooms, there is huge bar, and even bigger enclosed and heated porch (with its own fireplace).

Our service was flawless. The wine director was fantastic, allowing us to taste three of the Chiarello family wines, available in individual two-glass carafes.  The Chiarello wines were excellent, priced the same at the table as they are retail at the chef's store, Napa Style, next door.  The Petit Syrah had the robustness and fruit-forward flavor that the area is known for; I enjoyed the wine so much, that I went back the next day to to purchase a bottle ($52).

Presentation on all the food was top-notch.  It was the coming together of the ingredients in the overall flavor and taste of most dishes that somehow missed the mark.

Bottega: Burrata with roasted mushrooms, butternut squash, and caviar
The burrata appetizer began the meal on a high note, and I wished the rest of the plates were as well executed.  The sweetness of the cheese coupled with the salty caviar and woodsy vegetables was a treat.

Bottega: Artichoke two ways: with bitter greens and shave Parmesan
The artichokes were very good and I could have eaten a bucket full just of these paper thin fried wisps.  But the greens were far too bitter and overpowered both ways of the artichokes.

Bottega: House-made egg pappardelle veal, pork & porcini mushroom Bolognese, rosemary, parmigiano
The way the pappardelle stuck together gave it quite the gloppy texture; the bolognese needed something: maybe more heat? more richness?  Not sure, but more something!  Maybe another original Food Network alum can help out, lending some of the Babbo pasta secrets.

Bottega: Housemade pasta, rabbit ragu, and mascarpone cheese (I think...)
This pasta held up better, but again, the hearty meat sauce was calling out for more seasonings, and even that generous dollop of mascarpone could not save this dish.

For me though, the highlight of the evening turned out to be not the food, but a one-on-one with the chef.  And I freely admit I probably was not the most articulate--bordering on gushing--when B and I got to meet Michael Chiarello, and discuss his wines, the food, and his former Food Network show.  Michael clearly thrives off the energy of this venture.  He was so gracious with table after table of diners, including the throngs of cougars that troll the dining room and gawk at this "cutie patootie" (their words, not mine).  And according to our waiter, the presence of Michael at his restaurant is par for the course -- certainly a nice treat for diners and fans like us of the (original, not the current) Food Network.

Cheese: Meeting  Michael Chiarello
I really wanted to love this restaurant. Despite the pluses on atmosphere, passion, elaborate choreography of service, wines, and local ingredients, the food just does not click.  But I  should also note the prices are some of the most reasonable (take this for what it is worth, Napa is not inexpensive) in the area -- two appetizers, two pastas, dessert, wine, tax, and tip came to $155.

Bottega on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 1, 2010

Food Field Trip: The French Laundry

The French Laundry Garden
It feels surreal for me to type a review of The French Laundry.  This 4 1/2-hour long event not only seemed to fly by, but more importantly, proved a veritable art-form in all counts of food, wine, and service. 

Let me say up front that since this experience was full of memorable surprises, out of respect for both the institution as well as food lovers reading this, I will discuss my recent outing to the French Laundry in mostly general terms--the details of specific dishes, as well as their visuals, can only be properly experienced first-hand.

French Laundry Chef Scarecrow
The two big things to know before you even attempt to dine here are the reservations process and the cost. French Laundry takes reservations two months to the calendar date. With only sixteen tables, this is not an easy reservation to score.  Phone lines open at 10 Pacific time, and getting a table requires perseverance and a ton of luck (a few friends with the number on speed dial could not hurt either).  I tried two months in advance for three days, calling hundreds of times.  On the first day, I got through about twenty minutes after the lines opened, but my hopes were quickly dashed as the reservationist politely stated they were already full for the evening, but could but my name on the waiting list.

And on the Third Day, a miracle occurred.  Two minutes after the lines opened, they answered.  And there was a table.  I was elated.  The French Laundry apparently also releases one table for two and another for four on Opentable.

Next the cost.  This is likely a once in a lifetime dining experience, with prices to match.  The nine course tasting menu is $250 per person inclusive of service, and the wine list is incredible, but also priced luxuriously.  So a safe bet is that it's pretty easy find a comma in your check.  But if you love food, can afford the splurge, and are lucky enough to score a table, it is something every foodie should try.

French Laundry Entrance
We arrived early to do a photoshoot around the modest grounds, and met another equally excited couple there to celebrate their 30th anniversary.  Upon opening the blue door, I was so nervous--would this experience live up to expectations?  My fears were quickly assuaged as we were ushered to a table upstairs overlooking the garden.  From the moment we sat down to our after-dinner (requested) kitchen tour (where we met Tim Hollingsworth, the current chef de cuisine), the staff put us thoroughly at ease. Our server, the sommelier, and the countless other staff, provided thoughtful and thorough explanations of each dish as well as the wine pairings to match both the food (and our budget). 

Each of the nine courses and the several off-menu surprises were entertaining, unique, and tasted extraordinary.  The French Laundry does not repeat an ingredient throughout the meal, and each course, while never what we pictured -- always far more inventive than I could ever conceive -- elevated all ingredients into a mini-work of art.   The Foie Gras (a supplement) was quite literally flawless, the sorbet palette cleanser anything but ordinary, and the lobster, rabbit, and beef ingredients the best I've ever tasted.

I look at the experience like a private night at the theatre.  I can honestly say this is the best meal I have ever had, and (somewhat surprisingly) proved both unpretentious and unstuffy.  I am so thrilled that I was able to experience Thomas Keller's vision, and cannot say anything more than I highly recommend this one-in-a-lifetime experience.

French Laundry on Urbanspoon