Voluminous reviews have been written on Yountville’s famed establishment, and while there are some aspects of the Wine Country that are considered overdone “Food and Wine Disneyland” this is the antithesis, so if you’re contemplating the marathon effort to book a table (MUST be made three months to the day in advance) and the trek to the unassuming property perched upon a rivulet, my advice is get dialing!!
From the moment white gravel crushes underfoot, you are instantly transported to a place more at home in old school France than the West Coast of Krispy Crème-land. Swinging open the solid timber door, you are greeted with the soft smile and hushed tones of the eminently professional maitre d’, as the staff whizz by in silence and with an air of reverence to their place of employ.
Whisper quiet footsteps lead you to your table, as eyes of seated diners meet yours with a slight nod of the head and inaudible welcome, and as you position your handbag or jacket and settle into the luxuriously upholstered chairs, you sense your appetite’s anticipation of the courses ahead.
Clearly, one of the benefits of dining in the company of two fellow wine industry “professionals”, is, you know the wine selection will be made with great insight and wisdom, but as we agreed, (and you should follow suit) we handed appetites, vinous desires and wallets to the incredibly talented team to board the First Class cabin toward culinary “heaven”.
To read the wine list is to reacquaint oneself with the greatest names in the wine world – and are instantly reminded of why you work in the greatest Industry there is. Bringing in bottles is not totally banned, however you’d best be sure the wine is not on the list in any capacity, and prepare to pay the deservedly hefty corkage fee. But really? Save that behavior for the neighborhood pizza joint.
So with pleasantries and enquiries on potential allergies complete (mine being “bad food”), the degustation began. To me, there’s nothing more boring than reading an extended discourse of some other lucky soul’s dining experience, so let’s just say if it was seared, grilled, double baked, confit’d or stuffed we probably experienced it; and if it was decadent, seasonal, flown-in, rare or endangered, we probably consumed it.
A couple of highlights which simply cannot go unspoken was the fifth course - white truffle custard with a ragout of black perigord truffles washed down with D'Oliveira, Verdelho, "Reserva" Madeira 1973. A wine before my time and complexity of flavors that beguiled my palate.
The other stand-out was course ten - moulard duck “foie gras en terrine” served with sunchoke glaze, asian pear, toasted hazelnuts, watercress and white honey. Accompany that with a tasting glass of 1986 Sauterne from Château Raymond-Lafon and you can pack me up in the box right now.
Needless to say, 16 courses plus sweet treats, and my tummy was full, expanded and sated.
We drifted from the restaurant on a cloud of soporific joy, and as my thoughts turned to my impending birthday, I knew we had experienced a true master in action. Not exactly a weekly occurrence, but surely something everyone who has the opportunity to do, really should take up. And yes, it really is worth the money.
And then again? there are times when all you really crave is simplicity.
That place where fluorescent lights, laminex tables and the incessant blaring of a Vietnamese pop song complements the clunking and clinking of spoons and chopsticks against ceramic white bowls of steaming noodle soup and bottomless pots of Chinese tea is strangely comforting.
Upon making the choice from the numbered bi-lingual menu, by the time you assemble the cutlery and accouterments from the array of smoked, preserved, dried and sweet sauce offerings, your meal has arrived and soon you have sipped, slurped and sucked your way through a steaming bowl of the most delicious Chicken Pho - all for $8.00 including tip!
It may not be French Laundry, but it’s a heck of a lot quicker than the $1 dryers across the road.