Sat. July 20, 2019:
San Francisco to Oakland to Yountville, California:
I was rudely awoken due to poor design. The bathroom door was all frosted glass. So, when Brent went in there and turned on the light, it lit up the room. Who designs something like that?! I thought surely it was the middle of the night, nope, it was almost time to wake up. I was so comfy in my cocoon in bed though. Thankfully I still had an iced coffee left so I didn’t have to wrestle with the capsule coffee machine. In my tiredness i had forgotten to shave my legs the night before and there was no way I was going out like that. Not in my fancy clothes. We looked like we were going to a wedding. When we exited the BART station near Cait & John’s house a lady remarked that we were going to church. As we were walking, John pulled up and gave us a ride halfway through the short walk (he had gone out for supplies). We had mimosas before heading out to Napa Valley. Lunch was at The French Laundry in Yountville. Our Uber driver was clearly a first-timer, she was very unsure of herself. It didn’t help that her minivan was kind of on the crappy side. It was stressful when we hit traffic.
Walking past the parking lot of The French Laundry I noticed some people standing around. One was in chef’s whites and I immediately was like OMG that is Thomas Keller. Brent and John took to searching Google Images to confirm. But by that point the man had turned and we couldn’t see his face. The restaurant was in a beautiful house on the corner of the main street. It was surrounded by beautiful greenery.
We were seated in a small alcove, with a window behind us into the wine cellar and an exposed stone wall. There were only two other smaller tables there so it was a nice intimate setting. Before getting started we asked about the bathrooms. Instead of napkin rings, they used clothes pins with The French Laundry branding (we all kept them at the end). The server led John and I, they were actually outside through the courtyard in a smaller building. On the way, Thomas Keller passed us by, smiled and asked how we were doing. My heart was racing and I mouthed OMG to John and the server, she smiled and confirmed that yes, that was Keller. I couldn’t believe it.
The wine list was on an iPad and it was extensive (over 100 pages). We looked at the list by glasses and when I tried to go back to the main menu, I saw that they had a beer list. What luck! They had Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus! Brent and I were both keenly aware that a sour raspberry beer would not pair well at all, we did not care. It was Cantillon! John also ordered a half bottle of Frog’s Leap chardonnay for the table and Cait had a glass of riesling. We all shared sips. The table looked hilarious, we had so many glasses spread out before us. When Brent tried to order the beer, the server took a second, like what? Beer? And then they brought us Cantillon Gueze- the wrong one- and for the first time ever, we actually had to send it back. It was a Cantillnon but still, the rose one is just so damn good.
Cait had the vegetarian menu, which worked out well for Brent and I as we got to steal bites and sample more options. Looking at the chef’s tasting menu I was worried, I didn’t see the salmon cone. It was the thing I was most excited for! No sooner had I started worrying, the server came by with a tray with the salmon cornetts. It was easily one of the best things I have ever eaten. Salmon and cream cheese and everything bagel spice. Every bite was heaven. We were off to a very good start. None of us ordered any of the supplementary menu items. The Wagyu beef was from somewhere in America- not worth it. The starter had caviar in it, so it was not worth it to upgrade to a different caviar (especially given I doubt I would notice the difference). The oysters and caviar dish was so good, plus it was fun to eat with the mother-of-pearl spoon. The server later told us it is a material that doesn’t react with the caviar (otherwise the taste would get tainted). The pot roast was unbelievable, it had the consistency of steak but tasted like cured ham. It was amazing and we relished every bite. I was not a fan of the beets on the side. Beets always taste like dirt to me. I did eat a carrot earlier in the meal and enjoy it, so the problem with the beets owed to them just being a terrible excuse for a food. The cheese dish was a bit too heavy and no matter how you slice it, I am not a fan of goat cheese.
Our server said that the dessert was like a second mini-tasting menu. We laughed. She said, no seriously. John ordered tea and when the server started telling him about his options and how everything is grown in the garden, I jumped on board and also got tea. He had the lemon verbena, I had the ginger geranium. She was such a fan of the chocolate mint that she brought that one as well. It looked really pretty, the full leaves floating in the clear glass teapots. The mint was better than the ginger but the best one was by far the lemon verbena. She wasn’t kidding about dessert. It was a massive spread: jelly roll cake, mini doughnuts with accompanying cappuccino mousse for dunking, salted caramel macarons, matcha chews, whoopie pies (which were really more like chocolate covered s’mores), sorbet with a cookie and honey from the garden apiary, and a chocolate covered macadamia nut. Just when we thought we were done: they brought out a wooden box and we each got to select a truffle. When they brought the bill (printed on a large laundry tag) they also brought us each a tin of shortbread cookies. The bill had been brought back while I was in the bathroom and apparently in that time they had offered us a kitchen tour. I knew this was a possibility but i thought you had to request it, I didn’t expect it to be offered. Maybe it was because of my excitement earlier at having seen Keller? Who can say? It was a definite highlight of the day, getting to see the working kitchen. The chef was busy with paperwork. Just as busy was the kitchen at Per Se in New York City, there was a live feed via cameras between the two restaurants. We snapped a quick group photo in the kitchen and then headed out. Back in the front of the restaurant we were given copies of the menu and a booklet about the restaurant. She said we could tour the garden across the street- and pick and eat anything we wanted!! I was over the moon at this point. We took a few pictures outside with the sign and headed over. It was really cool to see where the ingredients for our meal had been sourced from. The strawberries were delicious. The apiaries were very busy. It was easily the best dining experience of my life and it was perfectly timed. It lasted four hours but not once did it feel like it dragged on. They timed the courses so well, with a long break before the main and another short break before dessert. There was never a moment of it dragging on, i had lost all concept of time. I remember the first time I looked at my phone, actually being shocked at the time.
We walked the main stretch of Yountville. Passing by Keller’s bakery, the line was out the door and so long. His bistro restaurant was also packed. We had a 4pm reservation at the Stewart tasting room. The way the street was set up was that all the nearby wineries had storefronts where you could enjoy wine tastings without having to trek the distances between the farms. Alas, it meant I only got to see one set of vines that were probably just for show. Brent had the more varied flight and I stole sips. I ordered a glass of Russian River Pinot Noir because it reminded me of Pliny the Elder (the brewery is called Russian River). I was getting tired and my feet were starting to ache. A whole day in heels is tough and I had blisters. We were all tired, John fell asleep on the car ride back.
We decided to hang out a bit more and open the bottle of wine we had gotten from the hotel. We took the drinks outside to the front lawn outside of their building, overlooking the water. We had a blanket and camp chairs and it was nice and relaxing. We didn’t plan it, but we happened to be out there during the dog walking hour. It was a lot of fun calling the dogs over and playing with them.
On the transit ride back, I realized I was actually getting hungry again. I did not think it was possible but there we were. We had just emerged from the BART station in San Francisco and I saw the McDonald’s sign. We split a quarter pounder with bacon and a buttermilk crispy chicken sandwich. It really hit the spot. That had to have been one of the crappiest McDonald’s we’d ever been to. No ordering kiosks, no promo banners. The menu was TV screens that kept changing over, so we couldn’t see what the promotional burgers were. I would have totally ordered the Taste of the World Spanish burger with bacon and some kind of cheese if I had known about it. I cracked open the ice cider and was disappointed to find out it was more of an apple juice wine. Not good. I also still had to pack and it was already 10:30pm.