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Being a foodblogger, I typically look to other food blogs to tell me where to eat when traveling to other cities. I found a dearth of Orlando food blogs before traveling there, and I was having a hard time finding restaurants in which to dine while there covering the Bocuse d'Or. I find Chowhound and Yelp to be remarkably unhelpful, quite frankly. Searching for a decent sushi joint, I get tired of reading things like "I loved the pecans and peanut butter in the Daytona 500 roll, it was really great, authentic sushi, and a bargain." Of course, I made that up, but this is the sort of thing I always read on Chowhound. I just can't trust the opinion of someone who thinks these kind of ridiculous ingredients belong in sushi. Fortunately, Open Table exists. Something about the description of Luma made me think it would be just right for me. When I looked at the website, I thought it might be a little too chic for a frumpy waitress, but I braved it.
Luma on Park is located in Winter Park, which is a delightfully charming suburb of Orlando. For some reason, I always had this idea that Winter Park was where the elderly overwintered; a chef told me I wasn't too far off, but I thought it was a great neighborhood.
As a single diner, I was offered a seat at the pastry counter, a bar-height counter which overlooked the cold app/garde manger station and the dessert station. There's no better way to make a waitress feel at home them plopping her at a presentation counter where she can engaged in banter with disgruntled kitchen workers. It was so entertaining I never even opened my magazine.
The menu made it very hard to decide, but for an appetizer, I settled on the wagyu beef tartare, which contained so many of my favorite things on one plate I just couldn't resist, just look at its beauty:
This was a very generous portion, and tasted amazing. It was perfectly seasoned; notice how there is no toast or anything - it didn't need any. Topping the tartare are pickled ramps (the chef already had my heart when I saw that on the menu) and a bitter green and herb salad. The red garnish is a puree of pickled beets! Another of my favorite things! And then, just to gild the lily - a soft-cooked egg coated in panko bread crumbs and flash fried. Are you kidding me? I was in heaven.
From out of nowhere came some truffled popcorn, and all of a sudden I had a feeling I had been spotted taking pictures. I usually try to be very, very discreet when taking pictures in restaurants, and I never take notes, but I figured - hey, I'm in Orlando. Who cares? The truffled popcorn was really, really tasty and was topped with shavings of parmesan:
Next up was oxtail ravioli. It had chanterelles and I think ricotta salata. Again, just look at it - these perfectly-made fat little ravioli, filled with pretty much just oxtail; there was no cheap filler. I think I ate this whole bowl in about 2 minutes flat. There were amazing, just my sort of thing:
Because I am powerless to resist Anson Mills grits, I ordered a side of Luma's rosemary grits which, if memory serves, might have been topped with a little drizzle of chorizo oil. As much as I love the flavor of rosemary, it is so frequently misused - there is nothing worse than getting a branch or even leaf of unchewable rosemary. However, these grits had a very nice and pleasing rosemary flavor and I vacuumed the entire bowl down with no yucky bits of rosemary. See? It's the little things which can make such a difference:
Then came a scallop from the chef! Perfectly seared, this scallop was served on a different sort of large-grain hominy grits and was really amazing. Even the green beans were perfect, and if you know me, you know that I have a little bit of a dislike for green beans. They were only lightly cooked but weren't squeaky. Of course, the bacon with the beans helped a lot:
Chef Brandon McGlamery came over and talked to me for awhile. I asked him a bit about his history - because the menu reminded me so much of things Chef Tetzloff (from G Michael's) would cook, I thought perhaps he had done some training in Charleston, but if memory serves, he had worked in Atlanta. He told me that he loved pickling veggies, and he loved to do lots of pickles and relishes when things were in season - hence the use of pickled ramps. Pickled ramps, by the way, make a great foil to rich things, as you will see in a few minutes. Chef Brandon expected his supply of pickled ramps to run out around December, and then it's just patient waiting. I know the feeling. He was also going to be at the Bocuse over the weekend.
Sitting a few seats away from me was another single diner, an Italian who had just moved to Orlando from Cleveland. I tried to explain what ramps were, probably not very successfully, but I did my best. The cool thing was, when the Chef sent me the popcorn and the scallop, he did the same for this other single diner, which I thought was really cool.
When the Chef found out I was from Columbus Ohio, he sent over his sous chef Derek, who was also an Ohio boy. He has lots of cook friends who live in Columbus and work on High Street. So, I'll say hi to all of them on his behalf! For being an Ohioan, he gave me his own foie gras and duck liver (non-fattened) pate, along with more pickled ramps (perfect with foie!!), black currant preserve, and fig jam. A little garnish of salt, pepper, and chives was also on the plate, which reminded me of the Vietnamese "black and white" condiment of salt and pepper mixed with lime juice:
This was a great dinner, and I highly recommend Luma. Chef Brandon seems very passionate about using seasonal ingredients, he loves to can things and make pickles and relishes, and the results of these little touches are amazing - from the pickled ramps and the pickled beet puree (something I've never seen before and would love to see again) to the jams and preserves, the homemade oxtail ravioli - everything was spot on. And I'm not just saying that because I was "made" as a food writer. Chef came over and talked to me - asked me lots of questions about myself, and he was a real charmer (I'm sure if I would have outed myself as a waitress he might not have been so nice; everyone knows chefs hate waitresses).
Luma was a bright surprise in the Orlando area, and I give it an A. A note on the wine list - wines are available by the glass and the half glass, which was really nice because I was driving about 12 miles, at night, in a strange city in a strange car, so I wasn't going to drink very much. I chose a glass of roussane/viognier, and was boggled by the giant pour - it must have been 8 ounces. So it was nice to have the option of getting a half glass of red (a Cotes du Rhone) to go with the ravioli.
I did manage to charm the cold app guy into giving me one scoop of Thai basil ice cream, which came out with candied peanuts and was a perfect and refreshing end to a fantastic meal:
and you know what? The manager even called the next day to ask me how dinner was! That's service!
Info: Luma on Park 290 S. Park Ave Winter Park, FL 407.599.4112
I'm still sorting through all of my pictures (like a thousand in 2 days) and trying to regroup and ponder everything I've seen, heard, and thought about over the past 48 hours. There were several recurring themes throughout the event that I can't wait to mull over and write about. In general, I felt that this event was a good step in the right direction for the culinary scene in the US. But more on all of that later. For the moment, here are some shots of Chef Rosendale and Commis Seth Warren. When I talked to Seth today about how he felt about things, he said he did the best he could and was proud of his performance. I thought that was very Iron Chef Zen of him.
There were 2 parts of the competition; one focused on cod and the other on beef. This set of pictures is just the cod presentation. Stay tuned for beef, which I think is especially funny because Harmut Handke is a judge and his facial expressions are priceless.
Okay, there are a TON of photos in this post, so I am going to do the dreaded click-through, lest the few of you using dial up spend an hour trying to load my home page. I do hope you'll click through, though, because there are some great pictures of the competition which tell the story, I think, of the stress and the madness and the sheer number of amazing chefs just strollling around being normal.
the fishbowl kitchen in which the chefs worked:
like I even need to say anything here, this man is the patron saint of American haute cuisine:
Chef Rosendale hard at work. It was amazing how they never appeared to notice the crowds or the people and chefs judging them:
Chef Daniel Humm, deep in concentration. Wonder what he's thinking about?
He's judging Commis Seth Warren's performance, and I mean all of it - cleanliness, precision, communication, everything. There is an award for best commis which includes a trip to France, and probably a lot of job offers:
WOW. What a day. I saw almost every famous chef in the western hemisphere, stood next to Hung almost all day, saw lots of little girls dressed as various Diz princesses, saw Chef Mickey Mouse, heard John Besh call Hartmut Handke mean and angry looking, ate foie gras on brioche, had free champagne, was given a tin of foie gras (don't worry, Husband, I'm saving it), took 500 pictures, stood in the hot sun way longer than I would have liked, waiting for the shuttle back to the hotel (tomorrow I'm totally driving), and drank beer on the rocks. I met a man whose wife reads my website here in Orlando, and I heard an emcee misprounce Chef Sbraga's name so many times that finally the Philadelphia contingent screamed out "SBRAH - GUH!!"
Let's see, what else - oh! I paid $4 for a bottle of vitamin water so I wouldn't pass out, saw some of the most amazing food preparations I've ever seen, and did I mention took 500 pictures? I think my laptop memory is down to like 1GB. Might have to run out and purchase emergency external hard drive.
I promise more detailed reports later. I am headed to the Ravenous Pig right now for dinner. Here's to having some pork belly. Let's just see how many grams of fat I can consume in one day . . . oh well, that's what being a food writer is all about, right?
Here's a little teaser of my day. . .
What a great, relaxing day I've had. Seriously. It is so nice to stay in a nice hotel, have coffee and write next to a waterfall and a fountain full of ducks. It's nice to have room service deliver a $20 club sandwich (top of post - I know, I really wanted it to be a little more traditional, too) (I know my eyes will full-on pop right of my skull when I get my room service bill) and munch on it while watching Law & Order reruns, decide I need a longer nap and move my dinner reservation, and then, to top it all off, have an amazing dinner, talk to a great chef and other single diner, eat some foie gras with pickled ramps (Chef Tez, I'm looking right at you here), and manage to drive to Winter Park and back without a hitch.
Nice hotels are nice. Hotwire is nice, for giving me this great deal. Otherwise I would have never been able to afford to stay here, but seriously, the hotel is so nice I almost don't want to leave. When I was leaving for dinner, I noticed that the area where I was writing this morning had turned into a lounge with a guy singing and playing the piano and lots of rich old white collar folks drinking martinins. Tomorrow I'm going to have to join them.
The nice thing about nice hotels is the tiny little trivial things - when the valet pulled my car around, the fan was on low and the car was cool, and the radio was turned to soothing classical music. Considering I am probably paying about $20 a day to have my car parked, they should probably offer me a glass of champagne when I get in, too, but that's neither here nor there.
At any rate, I was just informed that Chef Richard Rosendale & his commis Seth Warren will be the first team to present tomorrow, which is pretty cool. Well, I would think it's cool to get it out of the way but I would worry about being the first to be judged.
I will be sending updates as soon as I get to the competition in the morning. I will try to keep my anti D World thoughts to myself.
I can't wait to tell you about the great dinner I had at Luma, and will admit from the get go that I was totally caught taking pictures of my food and therefore might have had a slightly better than typical dinner, but I still think anyone would like it. It's one of the best dinners I've had in a long time, and I'm not just saying that because of the oxtail ravioli or the Anson Mills grits. Okay, maybe just a little . . .
Talk to you tomorrow!
If you only I had this kind of setting from which to write every day. It's amazingly relaxing. So much so, that many of the other people sitting near me are asleep. The waterfall provides so much soothing white noise that you can hear only the tiniest snippets of conversation of people walking past. A nice lady keeps coming to my table and asking me wouldn't I care for a martini? (It's 2:30 in the afternoon - a little early even for a vacationing waitress!)
So relaxing I already need a nap...
Ahhhh. Do you ever have that feeling? After a day of delightfully smooth flights - I slept through both, and the baby sitting next to me didn't cry the whole time. I did wake up long enough to take this picture of something somewhere in North Carolina. Foothills?
I of course got lost trying to find my hotel. This is especially frustrating because I have a pretty good sense of direction and I hate getting lost. It is also kind of hard to find your directional relation when you are driving in the dark in a strange place. And a request to whomever controls the road systems: can we standardize everything from state to state? Every highway in Ohio has mile markers. This is helpful because the exits coincide with the mile markers, so it only takes seeing 2 mile markers to ensure one is on the right track. See how easy it could be?
But I finally arrived at my hotel around midnight (plane didn't land until almost 11, lest you think I was driving around aimlessly for hours on end). I am staying at the Peabody, which is on the Orlando Convention Center compound. I can't think of anything else to call it, because it's an entire area devoted to the subject.
I was so loopy from all of the Dramamine and xanax (probably also contributed to the getting lost) that when I woke up this morning, I had to think for a few seconds if I tipped the valet or not. They should put warnings on Dramamine - might turn you into a drooling idiot.
But I digress. The folks at the Peabody were nice enough to offer me a King sized bed instead of 2 queens, and to put me on a high floor. The windows even open about 6 inches, which is very nice because, even though it flies in the face of conservation, I like to have my room cooled by air conditioning and still have a breeze coming in. Although it was down to 58 last night, so I doubt the air even had to kick on.
My room has TV in the bathroom:
and 7 feather pillows, all white-on-white stripe and embroidered with ducks:
It is probably for this reason that I fell into the bed and slept for 9 hours straight. Something which never happens for me.
Before bed I ordered up a pizza for room service, which was strangely good. Really good. Curious:
I also treated myself to an elf-sized Knob Creek bourbon - these people are so nice, I wonder if they would get me Basil Hayden if I asked?
One complaint - no coffee maker in the room. I like to have that little nip of coffee before I go out into the world to venture out for my real coffee.
At any rate. This morning when I awoke I could finally check out the view from my room, which is a strange mix of nature and construction. The hotel is adding on a sizable addition, so that is happening right outside my window, and then in the distance is a swamp:
Here is a picture of the construction - notice the hard-hat-wearing ducks, which I of course thought were super cute.
Downtown Orlando in the distance:
For some reason, I love cranes:
I will not be attending the presentation of the chef's coats today, because my press pass only begins tomorrow, and I'm just not sure I can face D World yet just to pay $75 to get in and see the drawing of the order in which the chefs will compete. Chef Rosendale's commis, Seth, will be keeping me posted.
So pretty much today I am going to relax. I am sitting here in the lobby of the Peabody watching the ducks splash around, and listening to a waterfall, and sitting just outside of the pools of light coming in from the roof of the atrium, having my morning latte (at 1pm). It's nice. Very relaxing. I love my cats, but it's very nice to not have any walking on/sitting on/or clawing at my laptop.
Oh, and if anyone can tell me how to turn on the interior lights of my rented Ford Focus, I'd really appreciate it.
Later on today, I be posting bios of all of the chefs so that their names will make sense when I starting talking about them. I have requested a few interviews, but there is only a 1 hour window each day during which the chefs will be available, so who knows if my requests will be granted.
Tonight I will be dining at Luma, a restaurant I found on Open Table. I think tomorrow it will be the Ravenous Pig, a gastropub.
Well, I'd best get going - high tea should begin any minute now, and then I have to inspect those 7 feather pillows again; should make it back to the room just in time to doze of whilst whilst watching Law & Order...
First of all, very special, amazing, hearthfelt thanks, because I absolutely WOULD NOT be going to Orlando to cover the Bocuse d'Or without these amazing people, especially Liz Lessner and Walker Evans, who hit everyone up for donations!:
If I forgot you, please please please forgive me, and let me know.
So! I just wanted to give everyone an update on my plans for the Bocuse d'Or. Thanks to the very generous support of lots of super cool local people and business owners, I have just booked my trip to Orlando. I got a great deal at the Peabody Hotel - I booked through Hotwire, and even though I got less-than-stellar travel times, I won't have to get up early, and for $800, I got my flight, a rental car, and 4 nights at the Peabody. To book through the Peabody site, I would have paid $275 per night. Well, I wouldn't have because I wouldn't have spent that much, but with the Hotwire deal, I felt pretty good.
I don't like to fly. For this reason, I prefer to fly with as few stops as possible. So I really wanted to fly Southwest, because they make nonstop flights to Orlando. But once again, my desire to stay in a really comfy hotel with a soft and cushy bed and the thought of a cabana with a TV and wireless right next to the pool won over. it's just like being at home, except there's a pool instead of hardwood and cats! If you know me at all, the very thought of my vast ghost pale white body lounging in a cabana in a swim suit is pretty funny (my nickname as a child was "casper." I was very happy when this changed to "Weezy" around 8th grade); throw in a a cocktail with an umbrella, while sitting within spitting distance of the Magical Realm (I don't know what's copyrighted these days, and I don't have $ for a lawyer), and you have a nexus of irony that just might throw the entire world into chaos. If I come back with a tan, or heaven forbid, go golfing, you'll know it's time to run for cover.
At any rate, I will be in Orlando from Wednesday, September 24th through Sunday, 28th. I will probably arrive too late on Wednesday to eat anywhere interesting, but I'm all in for Orlando restaurant recommendations. Although I have to say, Orlandonians seem to have some sort of fixation on Churrascaria, according to Open Table. Now, while I am far from being a vegetarian, I really don't eat a ton of meat; the thought of going somewhere and getting pounds of meat doesn't really strike my fancy. Unless it's an in-ground pig roast...
I tried using Chowhound, and someone recommended some sort of Mexican restaurant, which we'll call Mexico's, for the sake of the story, and then another "Chowhounder" replied "I used to love Mexico's until Chipotle came to town." Um. I love Chipotle, really, I do - even with their overuse of cilantro - but if I want to eat at Chipotle, there are at least 3 within a comfortable walk and a very short drive from my home. I will not be eating at Chipotle or it's counterpart. I've heard there's some good Cuban in Orlando, so hopefully someone can help me out. There also seem to be a dearth of food blogs in Orlando, so please help me out if you know of some.
I will post more updates as they are available!! Please keep your finger crossed that I will get a press pass. Maybe that will even get me into the "gala" dinner! Hey Amy D, do you do formal wear? For big ladies?
So, Husband is going to be out of town next week, taking his 3rd level Master Sommelier test (keep your fingers crossed!) While he is out of town, I'm planning to visit Columbus as a tourist. I suppose it isn't really visiting, being that I live here, but nonetheless, I am hoping to visit a few spots in Columbus I don't usually frequent. Kind of like being a travel writer in my own fair city.
Is there any place you think I should visit? Any place you've always wanted to visit but haven't and would like someone else to do it?
Any suburban restaurants you think I should visit? Husband doesn't really like to travel further than 5 minutes for dinner, but I don't mind, so I'm thinking of heading out to *gasp* Powell. I promise not to make fun of any suburbanites.
Here a few of my thoughts:
Columbus Museum of Art
Paper Art Museum
Pulitzer Prize Winning Photograph Exhibit @ the Ohio Historical Society
Maca (tapas restaurant in Powell)
Some local parks
Comic Book museum on campus
Franklin Park Conservatory
Take a tour of the Santa Maria
A Somalian restaurant, maybe D'Arbo
Maybe, maybe go out east to Dawes Arboretum
Despite all of the hubbub, I received an email today from a really cool person who wanted to sow the seed for my trip to Orlando to cover the US competition for the Bocuse d'Or!
This sponsorship came from Zoe, a long-time Short North resident and supporter of all kinds of great things, along with Nancy Haitz, owner of the Cookware Sorcerer! (If you came to my June dinner, you might remember the super cool green chef coat I wore, which I bought from Nancy) and, if you ever see Husband opening wine with his fancy schmancy horn wine service, it also came from the Cookware Sorcerer! In addition to the $100 from Zoe & Nancy, I also received a $20 tip from a reader today, so that will also be in the "Bocuse d'Or Adventure Fund." I will be purchasing my trip as soon as I receive my debit card from PayPal, which should be any day now.
Note to readers: this is NOT a solicitation for money. This is an announcement that I am going and am excited. This is a public thank-you to someone who is helping me get to the event. Although, that chef coat did came from Chefwear, a sponsor of the Bocuse d'Or, and I wouldn't turn down a handout from them. A big company with lots of money who clothes chefs.
Please allow me to repeat: I am not asking you for money. I am using Hotwire to try to find a reasonable flight/hotel package and trying to be frugal.
I have emailed the press contact for the Bocuse d'Or and asked if they would be supplying any press passes to new media, so I am keeping my fingers crossed on that front.
It's funny, all the reaction to my original post. When I first received the press release about the Bocuse d'Or, I became really, really excited - what a great opportunity to represent the city of Columbus as we enter the national spotlight. I immediately knew I wanted to go and write about the event. How often do the residents of Cbus actually get a chance to see what their chefs are doing elsewhere? I thought it would be really cool if companies would pay to send me, since at this point I do not have advertising nor do I make money writing, and I was surprised by the harsh comments I received (and relieved by the nice retorts - some of you made me cry in a good way).
The mean comments took the wind out of my sails initially, but I stand behind my comments and do not think I am being self-centered or any of the other things mentioned in the comments. If I were interviewing for a job - say with a magazine or other legit press - to cover the story, I would certainly say "I'm the best person for the job." This website takes a lot of work but I love every single minute of it; I love to eat and write, but I'm not really writing this for myself, I write for all of the people who read - who want to eat, cook and shop in Columbus, who might want to move here, visit, get a job here, have an event, have some fun - whatever brings people to my site, I do it for all of you.
So, although I am calling this my adventure (at the suggestion of benefactor Zoe), it really isn't an adventure for me only. It's an adventure for all of us. I just happen to be able to take the time to go. So, I hope you will be entertained by the journey. I am really hoping to get access to Chef Rosendale as he and his commis Seth Warren prepare for the competition.
At this point, I have no idea what my free time will be like in Florida, but if you have any ideas of what I should do/eat/etc, please don't hesitate to suggest them. I will be there 4 days.
The View of the kitchen from our table at the Zuni Café
Once again, it was time for my last night in the Bay area, and once again, I knew Zuni was the right place to visit. I had been dying for Husband to try it, because I thought it was perfect for him, and I was right. I had originally tried to secure a reservation for our first night in town, and I'm glad I couldn't, because all of our other dining experiences would have paled in comparison.
For the uninitiated, Judy Rogers is a James Beard award-winning chef, if that means anything to you, and her style is simple: use the best possible ingredients and pair them in the best possible way. Simple, but still no mean feat. If Zuni were in Columbus, I would seriously consider eating there once a week. It's that much of a gem - and it's reasonably priced, which is even better.
As is our want to do, we opted for several appetizers instead of an entree. We like to sample the menu without getting bored, which is why, for the last time, we did not get the chicken. Although we were seated in what is possibly the best seat in the house - a table on a tiny little mezzanine which overlooks the kitchen, so I got to see a chef working the wood fired oven, and the chicken did look delicious. This chef immediately looked up and caught me taking pictures (no, I was not using a flash) and I became shy, so I didn't get as many good pictures of his work as I wanted. It was really something to see someone cooking meat in a wood fired oven - people do pizza in a wood-fired oven all the time, and while that takes talent, it can usually be accomplished in about 10 minutes. Cooking giant pork chops and entire chickens, on the other hand, really requires some skill, and we were quite impressed; we both decided that must be the top position in the kitchen (sorry for the bad pic; I was trying to be discreet but he kept spotting my attempts):
Being a Sunday night, they were out of a few things we wanted from the raw bar - the kumomoto oysters, and the periwinkles. Neither of us have had periwinkles before per se (although we have had escargot, and being that both are snails, I suppose we have, but I digress). So we opted for another variety (alas, neither of us can recall what they were). Now, if you hate oysters or you think you hate oysters, take another look at them. It was, after all, at Zuni that I learned to love raw oysters for the first time, thanks to our well-informed server. I was also influenced by a scene in A Cook's Tour, where Anthony Bourdain talks about eating raw oysters in France and the epiphanal experience it was for him. So here's what you do - after, of course, visiting a reputable source for your oysters - bring the oyster to your nose and close your eyes. Smell the first time you visited the ocean, the first time you stood in the shallow water and felt the salty breeze on your face. Eating an oyster is like eating that experience, every time. It should smell salty, and oceanic - not like rotten fish, mind you, but like lots of fish living in the ocean, like vacation. All oysters have different flavors and characteristics, some as a result of their species, but variations are largely due to their location and diet. Oysters are especially savory and delicious because they produce MSG to balance their salt levels in the ocean. (I'm going to quote Ruhlman here - see McGee.) People seem to be divided on accouterments for oysters; traditionally, a squeeze of lemon or a mignonette - an acidic sauce made from champagne vinegar, black pepper and shallots - make for a nice foil to the richness of the oyster. Husband prefers his unadulterated, but I am quite fond of mignonette, and like a little drizzled over. Hmm. Seems I've made this post more about the oysters and less about Zuni. I'll fix that by saying Zuni takes their oysters seriously, they are shucked to order in the wide open, and are served with a lemon wedge and a scathingly acidic mignonette (which, in this case, is a good thing). Our oysters being shucked:
And our oysters:
Next up was a frisée salad with rabbit in a saffron vinaigrette. This was a salad so nice, we hadn't finished the first one when we had to order a second. Seriously - it was one of the best things I have eaten in a long, long time. And again, amazingly simple and well-balanced. Just the simple ingredients - the frisée, the perfectly sweet vinaigrette, the rabbit loin, and then little rabbit lardons - perhaps a confit of belly or leg, rendered to resemble bacon, and just a few chopped almonds to lend sweetness and texture. Because frisée is so bitter, it requires more than just a good dressing: a good dose of salt will completely transform the bitterness. Many times when presented with a frisée, I find I have to add salt for myself to balance the bitterness. Not so here. It was truly amazing:
Of course, we had to order a bowl of polenta, which was perfection - molten hot, so that the mascarpone topping it just melted right in, adding creaminess. Heaven. I love polenta. For years, I worked with a Chef who was a polenta/grits master, and I miss eating the leftovers at the end of the evening (my waistline doesn't, to be sure, as Chef thought equal parts cream and stock should be used in the cooking of the cornmeal, and then about half as much butter should be stirred in. Yikes. Yikes, but Yum.) I didn't take a picture of the polenta, because I had it on my previous visit, and it looks about the same.
We also had housed-cured anchovies, along with shaved extra aged Parmesan, celery, and house cured niçoise olives (I detected a curious but tasty note of vanilla in the olive brine. Very interesting). I hate to beat a dead horse here, or anchovy, or whatever, but again - the closest attention paid to the simplest ingredients, everything treated remarkably well. It can be so difficult to do correctly, it takes such an innate and correct understanding of each ingredient as an individual and the dish as a whole. It can be difficult, and yet Zuni manages to hit every note:
And then there were the ricotta gnocchi. Oh.My. I am going to try to replicate these at my earliest opportunity, although I remember a friend trying to do it and calling me in a panic because they didn't call for flour, and seemed impossible. Husband and I surmised they might make their own ricotta at Zuni, or else they use a very dry version produced somewhere especially for them. It's very hard to find drier ricotta, which is why it's really hard to make a proper cannoli filling. Again, the simplicity was the big winner here - the heavenly, lighter-than-air dumplings were swimming in a light broth of lemony butter, with spinach to cut through the richness:
And then there was a plate of thinly sliced Serrano ham, rich and salty, paired with a celeriac slaw and pomegranate seeds. Again, a fine pairing of perfect, simple ingredients. Something I hope to attempt to recreate for my Christmas party, for anyone lucky enough to be invited:
And then, alas, we had come to dessert. Typically, Husband refuses to share or participate in any sort of dessert. Usually this means I don't get anything either, but whilst on vacation I decided to order whatever I wanted. Furthermore, the Zuni Café cookbook is the source for a very fine chocolate pot du creme recipe which I have made several times, so when I saw the caramel pot du creme on the menu, I knew I had to have it. Ethereal. I have no idea how they get the texture so amazingly smooth and flawless, but it was really, really good. A perfect match with Husband's Germain Robin brandy, but not so great with my grappa (which I did kind of realize upon ordering). Such is life:
Don't you just hate a glowing review? The bartender was almost comically snooty. Seriously, the typical fussy, accented European maitre d' sort of snob, who could barely summon the desire to even pour us a glass of wine. Table service seemed a little uninspired, compared with my last visit; actually the foodrunner/backwaiter was much more personalable than our server, so I would ask the managers of Zuni to promote the friendly backwaiter with the buzzed hair, and apologize that I couldn't find you to give you some extra grease at the end of our dinner. But, to close on a positive, the bread at Zuni is fantastic - I believe baked in house in that wood oven - and they give you salt! as they are marking the tables. Not that I really needed to add salt to anything (except the very good butter), but I'm always comforted knowing it's there if I need it.
I almost hated to begin with our last meal, but the truth is, I didn't take a lot of pictures of food on this trip (our host will certainly laugh at this, as he was amazed by how many times we automatically paused before eating to photograph our food; it's a habit by this point); I hope you won't be too disappointed if I have to use nothing but my words to recreate our experiences, I just wanted to relax and take a vacation.
I hope to have the rest of the trip written up very soon! I would encourage everyone to purchase the Zuni Café cookbook; it's really great (it taught me everything I know about roasting a chicken). It's full of precise tips and instructions and practical kitchen advice.
Info: The Zuni Café 1658 Market St. 415.552.2522
After 6 wonderful days on the West Coast, I am heading back to our fair city. And how fair she is. We spent most of our time north in Napa, with only a few stops in Berkeley (on a
Sunday, alas, when nothing was open) and a quick trip (filled with wrong turns – San Francisco is a little hard to navigate when one is used to a city built upon a strict grid). As I am writing this, I am sitting in the Oakland airport, but you won’t be able to read it until 10pm tonight, because the Oakland airport does not have free wireless, and I am too cheap to pay $8 to use it for the one hour I will be sitting here, and, by that point the Xanax and double dose of dramamene will have kicked in, rendering me only slightly less coherent than normal, so it’s probably best if I write now and proofread later.
What a trip we had! No rest! By the time we returned from Napa to Berkeley yesterday, we were ready for a long nap with some football in the background, which is pretty much how we spend every Sunday. Here are a few things I learned on this trip:
There are lots of fruit flies involved in wine making, even when you are in a cave 180 feet below ground.
One can get by wearing the same jeans, tees, and Simples every day in Napa.
White grapes (primarily viognier) are sometimes blended into red wine (usually syrah)
Wine caves smell delicious – like oak, yeast, and musky fruit
Bouchon bakery still has the best croissants I’ve had, but not the best macarons (by far)
There are a lot of homeless people in San Francisco. A lot. As progressive as the city is, I am surprised they don’t have a better handle on this social issue.
It is really hard to find free wireless in Berkeley. See above for confusion on this issue.
Guy Fawkes was a guy who planned to blow up British Parliament on November 5th, 1605. More on that later.
I have found my literary calling. More on that later.
Emulsification is, indeed, a word. I’m still not sure what separates it from “emulsion,” but I was disappointed to discover that all those time I’ve yelled at the TV when Emeril or Mario said it, it was I who was wrong. When Rhulman used it, I had to hit the dictionary.
There is actually a point when I can reach maximum gluttony. Until this trip, I wasn’t sure that was possible, but after eating so many great meals in such a short time, by the end of the trip I was begging for a sushi restaurant. Denied. Oh well.
San Francisco (and its surrounding areas) might have the worst radio station selection of any major cities in the states. It’s pretty bad when you’re reduced to listening to the hard core Latino rap station.
There is a lot of really good wine being produced in California, and I’m not talking about all of that overextracted, overoaked, overbearing crap. I’m talking about wine made by great winemakers who listen to the grapes and the ground, who make wines with restraint and finesse – thought-provoking wines, which are very food-friendly. Of course, much more on that later.
I am sexist when it comes to women writers. I blame Kate Chopin. More on that later.
Okay, so more on all of those things later. (my attention span is starting to wane, and I am getting very, very sleepy)
So, what about the Skybus experience? Not bad, actually. It’s very nice to have a direct flight from Columbus to Oakland, which is hard to find. I’m not the best flier, and take off is the worst time for me; so the fewer times we have to do it, the better. I slept through most of the flight, and there was a moment on the flight so bizarre that when we landed, I said to Husband “I have this really weird memory of some flight attendants standing at the front of the plane, selling Hugo Boss perfume. Did that really happen?” Husband confirmed that indeed, some poor hapless boy named Ed was unfortunate enough to be waiting for the bathroom when he was attacked by two flight attendants (It can’t be too bad; all of the flight attendants on Skybus were young and attractive) and asked to smell some Hugo Boss cologne. He then had to stand between these flight attendants while they hawked the cologne. This moment was so surreal that had Husband not been awake to view it for himself, I would have just assumed I was dreaming and thought nothing more of it. The flights are crowded, of course, so there’s no chance of the luxury of having three full seats between you and your one traveling partner. I was, of course, stuck in the middle seat. Husband did trade me about halfway through so that I could be near the window. During this time, the gentleman sitting on the aisle seat proceeded to remove his shoe, sock, and foot brace and commence picking at his naked foot. I’m glad I slept through that. I didn’t eat anything on the flight out, but I feel as though it’s my duty to checking something out on the return flight. Maybe they have some warm cookies or something.
Speaking of warm cookies: another first for us on this trip was the use of Hotwire to book our hotel. We only spent 2 nights in hotel this time around, and I didn’t really care what sort of hotel it was, as long as it was clean, close to the freeway, and had a comfy bed. When using Hotwire, you don’t know what hotel you will be getting until you pay, and we ended up with the Berkeley marina Doubletree for around $75 a night, which seemed pretty reasonable after the other hotels I had been looking into. When you check in to the Doubletree, they give you warm cookies. And they are really tasty. Even so-called cookie-hating Husband proclaimed it a tasty cookie.
Okay, so that's it for now. I have so many meals and wineries to write about, I have 2 book reviews coming, and even more yet to come. I'm so happy to be back with you all! And my kitties, pajama pants, and sofa. Oh, and I'm happy to be near beer. A week in wine country is a lot of wine, even for me.
I have so much to tell you all!! Unfortunately, I don't have reliable wireless access (at this very moment, I am sitting outside of a very nice bar called Downtown Joe's, stealing their free wireless. Although I did have a beer there last night, so I have given them some money.) At any rate, I just wanted to give you an update. Here's a nice picture of a fish at Robert Sinskey:
Tonight we are dining at Angele (thanks for the tip, Oeni Meani!!) I will try my best to find a signal tomorrow and do some catching up before I forget everything.
I was really charmed by Philly, I have to admit. I've been before - in high school for the usual tourist spots, in college to visit friends at Drexel, but this time we pretty much stuck to downtown. Husband had to laugh when we were driving our gas-a-saurus into the city and crested a hill - "There's Independence Hall! Just sitting there!" (We don't have that sort of history in Columbus, and if we do, we take it for granted.) I suppose it's similar to going to DC for the first time and realizing that indeed, all of those monuments are clustered together and huge, just like in the Catastrophic-End-of-World movies.
Driving around Rittenhouse Square and the surrounding neighborhoods, we were impressed by the number of dogs! Everyone had a dog, it seemed, and we had fun pointing out the cutest and the wieneriest. Philly was also a pedestrian-heavy city, which again, is pretty cool coming from a place like Columbus, where we will drive from one neighborhood to another less than a mile away and then drive around cursing the lack of parking. (Just in case you were wondering, we were actually staying in King of Prussia, which is why we were driving.)
The best thing about Philly was the bustling downtown, after work. Again, for those of you who don't live in Columbus - we have a rather lackluster set of options after hours in downtown Columbus. Everything pretty much happens slightly south (Brewery District), slightly northwest (Arena District), slightly north (Short North Arts District) and north (University District, which the locals call "campus," but I started with the districts and thought I'd just keep going). I'm just letting non-locals know, in case you're thinking about coming to Cbus for a visit.
What am I discussing here? Oh! Of course, our second dinner.
Friday, our last night in Philly, we stopped first at Monks for our disappointing mussel & frites experience, and, based upon our stellar dinner at Amada, we thought we'd try their Basque sister restaurant, Tinto. Now, Husband and I are restaurant folk, which means we are never in the position to be trying to eat in a restaurant at 7:30pm on a Friday night. As we were walking over, I said "you know, we might not be able to eat without a reservation." Sure enough, our only option was waiting until 10pm. We hoped to be heading back to the hotel by that point, so we decided to take a reader suggestion and visit Alma de Cuba, which we had walked past earlier.
Alma de Cuba, despite its rather unassuming facade as a three-story townhouse, is an enormous, rambling, maze-like structure (to get to the bathroom - two flights up, down a hallway, and down another wrap-around, catwalk-like set of narrow stairs: don't ADA laws apply in Philly?). Alma de Cuba was happy to accommodate us at one of their last tables, in the lounge. The restaurant is meant to feel light and airy, like a bar in Havana, where one might be dining with a man in a seersucker suit. No seersucker for us, alas. The lounge did feel Havana-like (I'm guessing here, of course, because I have not yet had the pleasure of traveling to Cuba), but the effect would have worked better if it weren't so dark. Can I really be getting that old? It was so dark there wasn't a hope of a picture turning out with my little camera.
We decided to go with a selection of appetizers and salads, and with the generous portions, we didn't even need the black beans and rice I thought we needed to sample.
We started off with a caipirinha - a cocktail made from cachaca, a sugarcane-based liquor, which is muddled with lime and sugar. Too sweet for me, but it matched the decor. Then it was all about the food. Our server encouraged us to try the ceviche, which was very wise, but I'll get that later.
The bread at Alma de Cuba was amazing: sweet little crumbly rolls. I don't know how they make those, but I'm going to try to find out.
First up, dueling empanadas. The first was filled with veal cheeks (powerless to resist veal cheeks), which were rich (veal cheeks are incredibly marbled, which equals tasty, and rich) and delicious. My only complaint was the misplaced hit of truffle oil. Not only did it seem completely un-Cuban, it was totally superfluous in the face of the rich veal. I might have actually hit it with lemon juice or another acidic component. All things considered, though, it was really good. I was glad we started with it and moved on to the lighter ceviche. Our second empanada was filled with smoked tuna and peas. It was my first experience with smoked tuna, although smoking tuna makes perfect sense. The empanada was presented on a bed of tuna tartare, which made a lovely juxtaposition, although the flavor of the raw tuna was a little lost behind the rich hot empanada. A pea shoot salad also garnished the dish, and I thought it was a neat touch - the hot smoked tuna and peas, and the cold tuna and pea shoot salad. Overall, a clear winner.
And then it was on to the ceviche. We chose a trio of tastings, which came on a big, ice-filled boat. It was super cool, and I had to at least try to take a picture of it, but it didn't turn out at all: all apologies. The ceviche was definitely solid. We chose an Ecuadorian ceviche of shrimp with roasted tomatoes and corn nuts, which provided a surprising textural component. Next was a big-eye tuna Tiradito with oranges, wasabi espuma (foam), avocados, and soy. This was the only one I wasn't crazy about - there was a lot of sesame oil-laden wakame (seaweed), and the flavors were too overpowering for the tuna. The hands-down favorite was the lobster and crab coconut ceviche, which was amazing. Large chunks of sweet lobster and crab were bathed in chiles and coconut milk. It was really great. A little bit of ginger and lime sorbet accompanied, actually serving the purpose of adding extra tang and acidity. Too often, when served with savory dishes, sorbet is added for some sort of weird wow factor, and doesn't actually play a part.
We also had an interesting "sarsa salad," peppery arugula and watercress were served with queso frito (fried bits of fresh cheese) and peanut dressing. I loved the queso frito but I was getting really full by this time. A side of black beans and rice was properly executed, but I couldn't eat another bite. Fortunately Husband is a bean man and pretty much took care of those.
The Alma de Cuba space, as I mentioned before, is huge - it must seat 300 people or more. There are about 4 different dining rooms on three floors, including a loft-like space which, with a little fireplace, seemed as though you were eating in someone's home. It added a coziness which could have been lost in the vastness. An interesting design touch in the lounge was the bright red pressed tin ceiling peeking from under the false ceiling of wooden panels - made to look like a tobacco-drying barn. At first, I was scandalized that they would cover up such a treasure (I'm a total sucker for a pressed-tin ceiling), but I grew to love it, just that hint of red around the edges of the room. Service was well-polished, helpful, and knowledgeable. In addition to our server, we had a foodrunner who stayed at the table to announce and describe each dish as it was presented - no mean feat on a busy Friday night. One interesting note, all of the staff members were listed on the menu, along with their position in the restaurant. There is certainly no shortage of proper training, a refreshing change of pace.
And that's it for our dining in Philly experiences, but we'll be back - I didn't get to go to the Mutter museum or the Reading Terminal Market this time around, so I have to go back. Not to mention, Philly is only a $58, 1.25 hour flight away (on Southwest, anyway); it's also a really charming city - it's not the dirty Philly I remember (well, the drive from the airport is like driving into Cleveland to the 5th degree); it was relatively clean and walkable. The Walnut street area is full of shops, restaurants and people. Our fair city could learn a thing or two from Philly. We can only hope.
Oh, and just for the record, our trip was a success - Husband passed his second Master Sommelier test! so, you can feel free to buy him drinks and pat him on the back. And when he takes the third one next year, I'll be sure to keep you posted on wherever we eat on that trip, too.
info: Alma de Cuba 1623 Walnut St. Philadelphia, PA (downtown) 215.988.1799
A few months ago, I received the call that every food addict traveling to the West Coast crosses their fingers, waiting for with suspended animation: I had secured my French Laundry reservation. Or rather, through a network of wonderful and interesting people, one was secured on my behalf. The date was set, the dining partner secured, and all was a go. Like a 7-year-old the night before her first visit to Disneyland, I waited in breathless anticipation for the next 2 months. Fortunately, the night before the actual dinner was filled with enough foie gras to induce a comatose state long enough for a good night's sleep.
We went to Yountville in the day and took a few nice pictures of the outside of the restaurant, their lovely little patio, and the garden (mostly harvested) across the street:
Although it was mid-November, it was 80 degrees that day - too hot to have our morning coffee sitting outside.
For the purposes of preserving my sanity, I have eliminated all of the absurd quotation marks from the menu - when did this whole thing start, anyway? Is or is not the pork belly on lentil ragout? Why is it on a "ragout" with "lardons"? Is it bacon cut into batons? Indeed, it is. But I digress. Let's get it on. . .
The first thing one notices about the French Laundry is that the exterior is meticulously manicured. There isn't a dead flower or gravel pebble out of place. My dining companion mentioned that she had the urge to throw a cigarette butt onto the gravel walkway that surrounds the building, just to see how long it took before it was soundly whisked away.
The building is quiet and unassuming on the outside, where you feel free to stroll a little through their outdoor dining area:
(alas, by the time we arrived it had cooled a bit, although they still had the tables set with candles, making you feel welcome) and peek into the kitchen through the many windows:
Once inside, we were a little taken aback by the silence. Granted, our reservation was for 6:30 on a Tuesday, but one walks into a little lobby/bar area and is greeted with only the whisper of one's skirt. There is no background music, only the hush of genteel conversation and the occasional clink of silverware.
The wine list at the French Laundry is so extensive that if Husband and I ever have the opportunity to visit together, I will bring him to the restaurant 2 hours ahead of time and park him in the lobby, where he will be instructed to peruse the list at his leisure, so that by the time we get to dinner, he can focus his attention on his lovely wife, and not the lovely wine list. The list comes in a leather-bound binder, and contains 80 card-stock pages (they use very nice paper at the French Laundry), with about 30 selections per page. The list is intuitively constructed, beginning with half bottle selections, and then continuing on an extensive world tour of wines. We began with a glass each of champagne - Shraumsberg? Funny that now I can't remember (I knew I should have written this the day I got back), as champagne is usually the one wine I remember above all others.
Here's one thing about the wine list at the French Laundry: yes, there are an intimidating number of selections, and yes, some of them are priced outside of my range (or the range of myself and several friends combined), but there are many selections for under $100 a bottle. Here's a secret about most sommeliers - while they do pride themselves on their ability to secure allocations of fabulous, hard-to-find wines and vintages, and to offer verticals (consecutive vintages) of the best the world has to offer, most sommeliers also pride themselves in searching out great values.
Here's a tip if you are unsure of what to order and don't want to feel misled or intimidated by the sommelier or server. Point to a few selections that are in your price range and ask for some suggestions. The server should take the que you've given and should stay within $10 or so of the range you offered.
We selected a half bottle of Dr. Lossen Riesling ($45), the bottling a French Laundry exclusive and perhaps one of the best Rieslings I have ever had (and, Riesling being the queen of grapes, I've had a few). For the heartier courses in the meal, we selected 2001 Edmonds St. John's Wylie Fenaughty, a great syrah from a great guy, Steve Edmonds (more on him at another time).
One of our many servers (there seemed to be about 5 - the guy who talked to us about food, the guy who talked to us about wine, one person who ran the food, another to refresh our memories by describing the dishes after the food runner set them down, and then later, a coffee boy who came out of nowhere to offer us coffee and then disappeared forever, along with our coffee).
First off came the champagne, accompanied by gougeres (little savory puff pastries, typically made with Gruyere or other cheese), still hot from the oven; next up, the ubiquitous smoked salmon cone - I say ubiquitous as though it's everywhere, but what I guess I mean is the trademark smoked salmon cone, far more delicious than I might have imagined. (I tried to make these once, from the French Laundry cookbook, and let's just say that I didn't succeed the way Thomas Keller's lackeys did.
We opted for menu two, although the next morning we decried our decision for not choosing - at least one of us - the seasonal menu or the vegetable menu. We were caught up in a moment, I guess, and were powerless to turn down the server's suggestion that we choose a particular menu. The menu we chose had many of the French Laundry "standards" (and I do use the quotations with tongue firmly planted in cheek), including "Oysters and Pearls."
First of all, a note about pictures: I really did not find it appropriate to take pictures; although I have a tiny camera and don't believe in using a flash, it has a distracting red sensor beam and takes forever to capture an image in low light. There were 3 other tables near us, and servers everywhere, and I just couldn't take the pictures. I apologize to all of you who are waiting to see the pictures, but the best I can offer you is a link to Pim's French Laundry birthday lunch - she had the advantage of being relatively famous and dining with French Laundry regulars.
The only picture I took was of the Oysters and Pearls; Sabayon (custard) of Pearl Tapioca with Beau Soleil Oysters and Russian Sevruga Caviar. Salty, creamy and delicious, this was like a savory dessert. In retrospect, it reminds of of the way Chef Kimura of Kihachi matched the textures of custard with soft cod roe. Here, Keller matches the textures of tapioca and caviar, marrying them with a comforting and savory custard.
Next up, Warm Salad of French Laundry Garden Beets, Yukon Gold Potato Bouchons, Wild Arugula and Whole Grand Mustard Aigre Doux (a sweet and sour sauce). The perfect fall dish, all of the beets and potatoes turned perfectly into little ovals, the arugula appropriately peppery.
There was a choice here, for $45, to select the risotto with shaved while truffles from Alba; I probably should have splurged (even more), and had them, since I don't plan to be in Alba in the Autumn anytime in the foreseeable future, but alas. A few tables around me did get the truffles, however, which included a presentation of the truffle box, the truffles inside, and the dramatic shaving thereof. This supplement to the menu seemed to also include an extra course of Keller's famed truffled custard in egg cups with the potato crisp sticking out the top, which looked exactly as it does in the cookbook. I have to admit to being a wee bit jealous.
Sauteed Fillet of Gulf Coast Redfish, with Globe Artichokes, Fennel Bulb, Sweet Pepper Tapenade and Bouillabaisse Reduction. Again, a nice seasonal dish; the fish expertly seared, all other ingredients in perfect harmony.
Now came the bread service, which consisted of fun little miniature versions of the bread sold at the Bouchon bakery. Tiny little baguettes were all lined up on a tray and served with wonderful butter.
Caesar Salad (here is one place where the quotations belong, as this dish resembles a Caesar salad as much as I resemble Pamela Anderson, that being we are both female): Maine Lobster Tail Pochee sous Vide (Sous Vide is a French method of cooking whereby the item to be cooked is placed in a vacuum-sealed plastic pouch and then gently poached, which allows for no loss of flavor or volume) with Caramelized Heart of Romaine Lettuce, Sweet Garlic-Parmesan Crouton and Bottarga (dried, salted mullet roe) Emulsion. This also came with an at-table grating of bottarga, which added an intense saltiness that matched the dish perfectly.
Crispy Pave of Hobb's Shore Poitrine de Porc, Ragout of French Green Lentils, Applewood Smoked Bacon Lardons and Spiced Musqee de Provence Pumpkin Veloute. My only disappointment of the evening, as pork belly is one my "favorite things I never get to eat." Everything here, the lentil ragout and the pumpkin sauce, was really nice, except the pork belly, which had the texture of something that has been braised way too long - the meat becomes dry and almost crumbly. It seemed strange that something typically so succulently layered between fat ribbons could be so dry and mealy. This dish, sadly, was a miss, but the next almost made up for it.
Snake River Farm Caloote de Boeuf Grillee, Stir-Fry of Maitake Mushrooms, Scallions, Pea Tendrils and Crepes Juliennes with Sauce Japnonaise and Freshly Grated Marin County Wasabi. Reading the menu, I guess this might have truly been my first fresh wasabi experience, although wasabi is in quotations, so who can really know for sure. I didn't experience any scathing wasabiness, so it must have been used very judiciously. Made from American Kobe beef, this was truly the best piece of beef I have ever eaten, and made me rethink my prior feelings about Kobe, which I felt to be a little too chewy for my tastes, not justifying the price tag. This dish was absolutely perfect, and I doubt I will ever be able to eat steak in a restaurant again; not really a steak, the cut was the upper rib eye, which had been grilled in a larger piece and then sliced, it was cooked to a perfect medium rare. The stir-fry underneath, fully of interesting textures such as the crepe ribbons, and my favorite, maitake mushrooms, provided a lovely and composed foundation to showcase the flavor of the well-salted meat. Divine.
It was time for cheese; Pleasant Ridge Reserve (an aged raw milk farmhouse cheese from Wisconsin) Wildflower Honey Mead-Poached Sierra Beauty Apples, Telicherry Peppercorn Shortbread and Cutting Celery Greens. Here again, a study in perfect harmony and a well-thought-out cheese course. The shortbread was a great alternative to crostini or crackers, and the seasonality of the rustic, sharp cheese matched perfectly the poached apple and celery greens.
Barker's Feijoa (pineapple guava) Sorbet Aux Agrumes D'Automne et Feuille de Bric Croquante (with autumn citrus and a layered sweet crisp). Here, a study in citrus fruits was more than just sorbet, including a small gellee, flavored intensely with grapefruit. I reminded me that I keep meaning to make some fruit gellees (think of a really great soft gumdrop).
Valrhona Chocolate Dome, Wildflower Honey-Sicilian Pistachio Nougat Blanc, Cocoa Nib Coulis and Cerceaux de Sugre (curlicue of sugar). An indulgent chocolate dessert with a crisp sugar ring, a rich nougat filling, everything put in its place, however, by the cocoa nib (unsweetened nibs of cocoa beans) coulis.
We were coming to a close, and our check was presented with the Mignardises, a tray of cute little sweet things, here all chocolates in all shapes, sizes and flavors. We both selected the rosemary scented dark chocolate and were very pleased. This reminded me that I keep meaning to make chocolates. . .
As we were leaving, the hostess presented us with keepsake menus, tucked in a little presentation folder with a clothespin embossed on the front; I managed to wrangle two out of her, because I had promised to bring menus back for Chef.
All in all, it's hard to write about dining at the French Laundry - I couldn't take pictures, I couldn't really whip out my notebook and start jotting down taste sensations, and as yet, I don't have a super-cool spy styled recording pen. Thus, one has to rely on memories only, and one has been plied with much wine and food, causing a certain amount of dining befuddlement.
I hope to return one of these days, hopefully in the summer when I can take half the meal outside. I think the best way to dine at the French Laundry is a way that very few people can do - become a regular. The whole dinner had a very "food-tourist" feel that smacked of a less-than-genuine experience. I don't think there's a way to overcome that feeling at this point of the French Laundry's existence, but when you become familiar with chefs in restaurants about town, you always get the best experience, something I love about certain restaurants in Columbus.
Info: The French Laundry 6640 Washington St Yountville, CA 707.944.2390.