Let's Invade The French (Laundry)
An unexpected trip to a dining Mecca
Try as I might, I couldn’t get the chorus of Radiohead’s “Creep” out of my head…
What the hell am I doing here?
I don’t belong here
I don’t belong here
I mean, there I was dining at The French Laundry, the exalted Napa Valley eatery hailed by TV’s galloping gourmand Anthony Bourdain as “the best restaurant in the world, period,” and all I kept thinking throughout the 3-plus hour meal was that someone on the staff would eventually get wise to the fact that I’m an underemployed degenerate inebriate from Philly and have me forcibly removed from the premises.
Granted, I was an invited guest of Pernod Ricard’s director of trade outreach and brand education, Simon Ford, who had rented out the entire restaurant to entertain 50 or so of America’s best bartenders. (NOTE: Click here to listen to my interviews with several famous mixologists recorded inside The French Laundry.)
Still, I couldn’t help but notice Ford wince when I showed up sporting a wrinkled Banana Republic blazer over a cheap mismatched button-up and jeans. One can only imagine the level of complete and utter disgust had he only known I was also wearing white tube socks beneath my biker boots.
Additionally, I was concerned about my troublesome history with The French Laundry’s chef and owner, Thomas Keller, who I met a few years back while playing in a golf tournament at Pebble Beach. (For a poor degenerate creep, I sure do manage to insinuate myself into some privileged playpens, eh?) And by “met Thomas Keller” I mean he was playing in a foursome in front of mine, and gave me a hell of a nasty look after I nearly brained him with one of my drives.
He apparently felt I hit up on him on purpose, which is patently fucking ridiculous. I pride myself on sportsmanship, and would never fire a warning shot at anyone anywhere… even if they did happen to be playing slower than a herd of turtles stampeding through peanut butter.
You’re so very special
I wish I was special
But I’m a creep
Keller wasn’t at The French Laundry during our Pernod Ricard-sponsored field trip, fortunately. Probably out on a golf course making some other poor bastards late for dinner. But I gotta hand it to the guy, he sure did create one hell of an amazing restaurant. There’s no two ways about it – my time at Keller’s Yountville joint rates among the finest dining experiences of my life.
We started with a sabayon of pearl tapioca (a cousin of the light, egg-based Italian dessert zabaglione) paired with Island Creek oysters and white sturgeon caviar that had a very if-crack-were-food-it-would-be-this-dish quality to it. I’d eat it seven days a week and twice on Sundays, which – with tip factored in – would run about $25,700.
Oh, and what else? Ah, yes, a sweet butter-poached Maine Lobster Tail with a coffee-chocolate emulsion that was so delectable I almost had a dan-dunn emulsion right there in the dining room. And don’t even get me started on the herb-roasted Masami beef striploin with Bordelaise sauce… no, really, don’t get me started… mainly because the dish is so small that once you get started it’s already gone.
Speaking of which, what is it with places like The French Laundry and their Michelle Bachman’s-intellect-sized portions? Why not take that Salmon Creek Farm pork belly with blackstrap molasses and go all Denny’s on the motherfucker? Why are the fabulously wealthy in America being denied their god-given right to stuff themselves silly like the other 99 percent? Sounds like class warfare to me.
Then again, what the hell do I know. I’m just a creep.
Read the previous installment of The Imbiber.