Monday, June 28, 2010

And At Last, The French Laundry

My husband is, in my estimation, a good-looking man. But I have rarely seen him look as handsome as he did on the night we ate at The French Laundry, dressed in a black pinstriped suit and glowing with completely unrestrained joy. If good looks were measured by such things as happiness, in fact, I do believe he was the best-looking man on Earth last Wednesday.

It was an epic dining experience, with foods I had never seen before and flavors pairings that I could not have anticipated. Each course made me catch my breath and wonder how something so beautiful could be created with little more than a knife, a flame and a steady hand.

We arrived a half-hour early and were received as if the hostess wanted nothing more in the world than to make us comfortable. We were treated graciously, without a hint of pretentiousness, by everyone who stopped by our table, as if we were honored guests. The nine-course tasting menus were presented, and when the dishes began to arrive, I watched Chef Matt's giddy adrenaline rush relax into a profound appreciation of what was clearly a genius at work.

With every bite, he turned his face upwards, like someone soaking up a warm sunshine. My understanding of cuisine complexities is not as sharp as his, but I, too, found myself savoring the few precious bites of each course with a deliberate intention to commit each flavor to memory.

We discussed each course at length -- oysters and caviar in a luxurious cream sauce, buttered lobster with sweet peaches, crispy pork belly with black truffles, creamy foie gras with bing cherries, graceful apricot sorbet, and the very best of them all, a slice of unbearably tender steak finished in a warm butter bath.

At the end of the meal, finished with a dessert labeled "Happy Birthday" in chocolate script and steamed cream for my coffee, we were invited to tour the kitchen. We accepted, very nearly tripping over ourselves in excitement, and viewed what was likely the cleanest working kitchen in America. Its surfaces gleamed like brand-new, and the chefs set to their tasks with a serenity I had never seen before in any restaurant. The sous chef autographed our menu and acknowledged our thanks with humility. We left, three hours after entering, laden with parting shortbread cookies and a full camera, and just stared at each other a bit in wonderment.

To many people, I suppose this seems like utter nonsense, getting so weepy over a restaurant. But I'm happy to be nonsensical in return for the best meal of my life, the best service ever encountered, and the pleasure of seeing my husband alight with inspiration. The restaurant business can be relentless, demanding and unforgiving, but our evening at The French Laundry restored my faith that it can also be positively magical.

1 comment:

  1. Jessica, I love that you got to experience something as wonderful as that. The "words don't do it justice" thing I get, but at the same time I hate. If words did a meal justice, then it isn't worth eating. The point of an experience like that is that it defeats words. It's the rush of being on stage, the joy of a crowd's cheer, the adrenaline of doing something perfect. In this case, it was lending your trust to a genius and in turn, well, eating. Taking it in, to be more poetic.

    BTW, I'm eating my jealousy right now.
    Love/Hate you,