For those who aren't aware, French Laundry offers two tasting menus, one vegetarian and one non-vegetarian. Supplements are available to upgrade individual courses, which can nearly double your bill if you get all of them.
I ended up getting the normal menu without any supplements. Here's an overview of the meal.
1) Amuse-bouche - cheese gougère and salmon tartar cornet w/ creme fraiche
Then we go on to the actual tasting menu.
2) Oysters & Pearls - Sabayon of Pearl Tapioca w/ Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar
This is apparently another famous French Laundry dish, oysters & pearls. I cannot describe this dish beyond the fact it was amazing. I've never tasted anything like it before. It was rich and creamy and salty w/ the caviar, just incredible. By far my favorite course of the night.
This beehive butter is the fanciest butter I've ever seen.
I guess the somewhat gelatinous stuff underneath the celery was the compressed Philo Gold Apples. Overall, this was a very tasty and interesting dish, I've never had something like this before.
5) Charcoal Grilled Gulf Coast Copia, Roasted Ruby Beets, Romain Lettuce, and Brokaw Avocado Puree
The avocado puree with the fish was delicious. The waitress said this fish (which I've never had before) was in between a white flaky fish and a meaty fish, and she was correct. I normally dislike meatier kinds of fish, but this was really good. Also, notice the little starred radishes (I assume radishes) in the picture.
6) Sweet Butter Poached Maine Lobster, Sunchoke "Ravioli", Black Mission Figs, Watercress and Marcona Almond Pudding
The lobster was very good, not overly tough like you normally find in most restaurants. I thought it was interesting that they cooked it so the tail would curl up like that. Normally restaurants want the lobster tail to be long for presentation.
7) All Day Braised Salmon Creek Farms Pork Breast - Caramelized Brussel Sprouts, Quince Puree, Garden Turnips, Toasted Pecan Jus
The pork was the softest pork I can recall ever tasting. Guess that's what happens when you sous vide pork all day.
8) More Bread
Before the final meat course came some more bread.
There were several options but I chose the pretzel bread because I had never had it before. It's not what one normally thinks of for bread for dinner, it was very different. In hindsight, I think it was a poor choice because it is a heavier bread and I was going to get stuffed as the meal went on. I think it would be wiser to just skip this second bread course (or minimally not eat all the bread).
9) Elysian Fields Farm Lamb "Rib Eye" Forest Mushroom "Pain Perdu", Royal Blenheim Apricots, Cauliflower and Swiss Chard Leaves
Another tasty dish. I'd never had lamb rib eye before, my recollection is it wasn't as fatty as beef rib eye. Those who know me know that I hate mushrooms, it's just a personal dislike of mine. However, the mushrooms in this dish were ok. I actually said the phrase, "It's edible", and my group said they would send that review back to the chefs in the kitchen. But to me if someone can make mushrooms edible to me, they've already done quite good.
10) "Tomme De Savoie" K&J Orchards Plums, Young Fennel, and English Walnut "Tapenade"
I normally love cheese, but for some reason this wasn't the most memorable. I do prefer softer cheeses so that might be part of it. It's also possible I was stuffed at this point and my ability to judge taste was waning. It was getting late so maybe I was also getting really sleepy, perhaps it was good and I just don't remember, hah.
Then came out the desserts
11) Peach Melba
12) cookies & creams ice cream with cookie crumbles
13) rocky road w/ marshmallow & nuts
14) cappucino ice cream
The macarons were delicious as was the donut. The truffle candy was also very creamy and rich.
Finally, the restaurant gave us a few things to take home.
The shortbread cookies were really good.
Overall the experience was wonderful. I got to try a lot of new interesting things and things that I know can't be had almost anywhere else. I'm not 100% if I'll want to go back anytime soon, as I think I'd rather try some of the other nice restaurants in the bay area first to see what dishes they serve (Restaurant at Meadowood, Benu, Atelier Crenn, Baume, and Quince to name a few) before going back to compare.
People have asked me, "Was it your favorite meal ever?" It's a hard question to answer. I feel that tasting menus at some of the fanciest restaurants in the country are more of an experience. It's about tasting different ingredients and textures and tasting something new. Unlike a la carte menus, you can't pick ingredients for your meal. You have to hope the restaurant does something you like. Inevitably, your experience there is going to depend highly on your familiarity with an ingredient, your general like/dislike of an ingredient, or your flat out love/hate of an ingredient. The feeling of something being delicious is much more related to your personal prior experiences and even memories of an ingredient in the past.
Earlier in the year I had the opportunity to eat at Saison, a two Michelin starred restaurant (update: now it's 3 star) in the city. Some dishes were definitely out of my knowledge range and I didn't know what to make of them. With more tasting experience I'll be able to judge better. I've jokingly told friends I need to train at 1 star Michelin restaurants before going back to two or three star ones, haha.
As another example, the following is a dessert I had from Chez Panisse.
This was a "Wild blackberry and lemon verbena meringata". Basically blackberry sorbet, lemon gelato, on top of meringue, with berry sauce, and a bunch of fresh berries around it.
This dessert is probably the greatest dessert I've ever had in my life. I enjoyed it more than the desserts at French Laundry. Does that mean that Chez Panisse and its chefs are better chefs? Absolutely not. Why? The answer is Chez Panisse got lucky.
A) Berries are my favorite fruit. I enjoy strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries over virtually any other fruit out there. When I get frozen yogurt, I get blueberries and strawberries on top. When I get a smoothie, it's berry based. A freeze at a bubble tea shop? Strawberry flavored. Fruit to eat for breakfast with yogurt? Guess. You get the idea.
B) Berries were in season.
C) I like sorbet more than ice cream, I just prefer the tartness
D) I like gelato more than ice cream, I just prefer the "iciness"
E) My second favorite flavor of gelato? Lemon
The stars aligned and Chez Panisse created about the greatest dessert I could ever enjoy. They could easily make a horrible dessert for me the next time I'm there if the dessert contains a large amount of marshmallow.