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Ad Hoc The French Laundry Thomas Keller

The French Laundry (with an Ad Hoc chaser)

We went to The French Laundry last year around this time and didn’t think we would be back so soon. But when our friend Simone said she had a reservation for four to celebrate her boyfriend Seb’s birthday on December 20 and asked us to join them, the only real answer was, “Hell, yes!”

The Clothespin

Seb and Simone (S&S) are a great couple to know because aside from being two of the most generous people we know, when it comes to food, they’re hardcore, balls-to-the-wall omnivores and cooks. This was their second trip to The French Laundry, as well, and while we both knew what to expect when we walked in the blue door, none of us had any idea how awesome this day was going to be.

What's behind the blue door?The blue door beckons…

Since it was right before Christmas, the restaurant and grounds were decked out with holiday flair, including a Christmas tree in the garden with clothespin ornaments.

Clothespin Ornaments

We were seated upstairs by a corner window with a view of The French Laundry garden across the street. This location was great because there was lots of natural light for pictures. (It’s also right by the restroom, which is helpful when you’re going to be sitting for a few hours.)

S&S and I got the Chef’s Tasting Menu and my wife opted for the Tasting of Vegetables, which isn’t vegetarian but gives prominence to vegetables. S&S both opted for the wine pairings and the truffle course, while I did a non-alcoholic pairing featuring a selection of by GuS and DRY Sodas and my wife stuck to the complimentary NORDAQ-filtered water.

I don’t want to go into every dish of this meal, but here are some of the highlights. You can also view a slideshow of the full picture set below.

The Vol au Vent de Legumes D’Automne was the second course of the Tasting of Vegetables and it was one of the most beautiful dishes of the afternoon.

Vol au Vent de Legumes D'AutomneVol au Vent de Legumes D’Automne
Romaine Lettuce, Sugar Snap Peas, Fennel Bulb, Radishes and Port Wine Reduction

My third course was the Grilled Pavé of Japanese Toro, and they showed us the slab of fatty tuna they were using before they brought out the dish. It looks just like my favorite luncheon meat in a can! :)

ToroToro or SPAM? Either way, it’s all good.

Here’s the final plated dish:

Grilled Pave of Japanese ToroGrilled Pavé of Japanese Toro
Satsuma Mandarins, Eggplant, Fennel, Nicoise Olives, Arugula, and Pimenton

I’m so happy that Seb & Simone ordered the truffle course because I’m wouldn’t normally break down and get the truffles. These were white truffles from Alba grated over a bowl of risotto, and as you can see, it was a generous helping. (photo by Simone)

Risotto with White Truffles from AlbaRisotto with White Truffles from Alba
Brown Butter

In lieu of a big bowl risotto and truffles, we were presented with a White Truffle-infused Custard with Black Truffle Ragout and Chive Potato Chip, served beautifully in a hollowed at egg.

White Truffle-infused CustardWhite Truffle-infused Custard
Black Truffle Ragout and Chive Potato Chip.

Coffee and Doughnuts are a French Laundry classic. This isn’t on the menu, so make sure you request this when you make your reservation or ask the server when you arrive to see if it’s available.

Coffee and DoughnutsCoffee and Doughnuts
Cinnamon Doughnuts and Coffee Semifreddo.

After the Coffee and Doughnuts, we took a short break to visit the kitchen before the dessert courses started. When we first sat down at around 11:15am, we asked if Thomas Keller was around, and our server Mischa said she hadn’t seen him. It was around 4:30pm when we got to the kitchen, and the first thing we saw when the kitchen door swung open was Keller expediting dishes. It had been two weeks since the four of us first met Chef Keller at the Ad Hoc at Home book signing (S&S were our guests). S&S met him again the next day at Omnivore Books in San Francisco because Seb wanted to buy a signed copy of Under Pressure and get the Keller-authored pamphlet included with his new Polyscience Immersion Circulator signed by chef, too. Ahhh…stalk— I mean fanboys. :)

Hangin' with Mr. KellerReunited and it feels so good…

We reintroduced ourselves to Keller, and he said he remembered us from the book signing(s), which made three out of the four us giddy. Keller gave us a brief overview of the kitchen as Seb and I drooled over the half-size hotel pans fitted with immersion circulators and filled with butter—this is where lobsters spend their final moments.

The KitchenSee those pans filled with butter on the left? That’s where the best lobsters go to die.

There are many cool things in kitchen, but one of the best is the live video feed with the Per Se kitchen in NY. This allows Keller to keep an eye on things at his restaurants, and I read somewhere that a video feed from the Bouchon Beverly Hills kitchen is in the works.

Chef Thomas KellerThe Eye of Keller is on Keller Earth (i.e. the TFL and Per Se kitchens).

I received the daily Ad Hoc menu email during the first part of our meal, and we started joking about going there for a “dessert” of grilled short ribs. We were going there anyway because I had to pick up a couple prizes for Menu for Hope, and when I mentioned this to Keller he seemed surprised yet fascinated by this plan, but I don’t think he thought we would follow through.

We returned to our table jazzed at meeting Keller again and ready to polish off dessert so we could head down to Ad Hoc. We were celebrating both Seb and my wife’s birthdays, so their desserts got an little extra flourish. Here’s Seb’s:

Gateau Saint Nizier Au ManjariGateau Saint Nizier Au Manjari
Mango Chili Relish, Valrhona Cocoa Nibs, Lime Foam, and Coconut Milk Sorbet

And here’s my wy wife’s birthday opera cake:

C's Birthday Opera Cake
Opera Cake
Praline Namelaka, Milk Granité and Coffee Ice Cream

The mignardises included a pecan pie with creme chantilly, a selection of chocolate truffles, and some amazing toasted macadamia nuts that were rolled in chocolate and caramel and dusted with confectioner’s sugar.

Pecan Tart with Creme Fraiche ChantillyMignardises

As we left the restaurant we were presented with menus signed by Keller, some French Laundry shortbread cookies, and the birthday kids got a package of French Laundry chocolate bars—think Nestle Crunch but 1000x better.

Birthday Chocolate Bars and TFL ShortbreadParting gifts…

While our first trip to The French Laundry was an amazing experience, I think I got caught up in the mystique of the restaurant and was really nervous and uptight the whole time. This time I went in with a really laid-back attitude, and it made the experience a lot more enjoyable and relaxing.

Here’s the complete set of French Laundry pictures:

[pictobrowser type=”flickr” userID=”arndog” albumID=”72157623041520340″]

The Ad Hoc Chaser

We left The French Laundry happy and sated, but we weren’t that full so we headed down to Ad Hoc. After being welcomed by Ad Hoc General Manager Nick Dedier and the rest of the Ad Hoc crew, we took our places at the bar and ordered two a la carte orders of grilled short ribs (one for each couple) and four ice cream sandwiches, you know, just to finish off the day with something sweet.

Grilled Short RibsAd Hoc’s Grilled Short Ribs
TFL garden tokyo turnips, French round carrots, red radishes, baby leeks, Colorado rose potatoes

As we were waiting for our food, Keller showed up to drop off a bottle of wine for another party that was dining there. Keller saw us sitting at the bar and said, “Oh, you’re here!” and bid us good eating. Ad Hoc Chef de Cuisine Dave Cruz came out a little later and said, “Not bad. Twice in one day.” (Simone is now convinced that Keller stalked us!)

As I was finishing some of the best short ribs I’ve ever eaten, Nick came over and said something to the effect of “I’m so proud right now.”

Ice Cream SandwichesIce Cream Sandwiches
Chocolate Chip Cookies and Vanilla Ice Cream

Seven hours later, we finally left Yountville a little “food drunk” but blissful and elated at how an unassuming December day unfolded into truly memorable one.

Happy New Year and all the best for 2010!

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Ad Hoc reviews The French Laundry

Memorial Day Maine Lobster Rolls at Ad Hoc

Yeah, yeah…another Ad Hoc post. I know. I’ve been meaning to write about some of the cooking I’ve been doing, including baking my first brioche or my thoughts on liking traditional waffles more than Belgian waffles, but when Ad Hoc’s daily menu email update arrived in my inbox yesterday morning, the words “Maine Lobster Rolls” jumped out at me.

Maine Lobster RollsThis was the full portion for two people.

Ad Hoc recently started doing barbecue nights on non-fried chicken Mondays, but for Memorial Day, they decided to offer the Maine Lobster Rolls to give dinner more of a picnic vibe. Now, I’ve never had an authentic New England lobster roll, but I think I may have spoiled myself by having this one, which features lobster from the same purveyor that supplies The French Laundry, a custom sweet roll from Bouchon Bakery, shaved celery, red onions and garlic aioli.

Maine Lobster RollsThe sweet, housemade pickles were excellent, too.

The meal started off with fried French Laundry chickpeas that were like fried, salty edamame—an amuse bouche of sorts, but they don’t use words like that at Ad Hoc. :)

French Laundry Fried Chickpeas

The leek salad featured more French Laundry vegetables and some crispy Jamon Iberico, what Bac-O’s aspires to be when it grows up.

TFL Leek Salad with Jamon Iberico

The cheese course featured Rogue Creamery’s aged and creamy Caveman Blue, raspberry-vanilla jam and beer flatbread.

Rogue Creamery's Caveman Blue with raspberry-vanilla jam beer flatbread

The toasted lemon pound cake with chantilly cream and macerated blueberries ended the meal on a surprisingly light note.

Toasted Lemon Pound Cake

I was content to spend Memorial Day chillin’ at home and watching Game 4 of the Lakers/Nuggets Western Conference Finals battle, but since the Lakers ended up playing poorly and losing, I’m glad I spent my time up in Yountville enjoying the sublime comforts of a great meal instead of stressing out at home yelling at the TV.

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Ad Hoc reviews The French Laundry Thomas Keller

The Ad Hoc Swine and Wine

Ad Hoc’s fried chicken nights have made every other Monday night in Yountville a lot of fun, but last night’s “Swine and Wine” was so good that Ad Hoc might be the place to be on the last Wednesday of every month. The four-course, prix-fixe dinner featured whole pigs that were roasted Cuban style in La Caja China or Chinese box.

La Caja ChinaStep 1: Put the pig in a box…

The meal was an opportunity for Ad Hoc to showcase some of their purveyors and they were on hand throughout the evening to talk about their products.

Wines were provided by Dave Miner of the Miner Family Vineyard. I’m not a wine expert or aficionado, but I do like them easy to drink, and the Miner wines fit the bill perfectly. Before the first course, we were served a really nice white wine sangria, and the dinner wines were their Viogner (white) and Enigma (red). I also got a taste of their Oracle, a Cabernet Sauvignon blend, and I liked that one too.

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Ad Hoc dessert The French Laundry Thomas Keller

French Laundry Pastry Chef Brings Insights to Ad Hoc

Claire ClarkI recently heard that pastry chef Claire Clark left The French Laundry to go back to her native UK after more than three years at Thomas Keller’s crown jewel. But before she goes, Clark is spending her last few weeks dropping knowledge at Ad Hoc, Keller’s “casual dining” restaurant.

Apparently, she started at Ad Hoc a couple weeks ago and will likely only be around for a couple more, so you if you’re a Claire Clark or Ad Hoc fan, you might want to head up there soon. But even if you miss her, Clark’s influence should have a lasting impression on Ad Hoc’s dessert courses going forward.

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beef musings sous vide techniques The French Laundry Thomas Keller

Contemplating Christmas Dinner

I’m in charge of Christmas dinner again, and I’m still a little torn on what I should make. The adventurous part of me wants to take a rib roast and separate the cap meat (i.e. calotte, deckle) from the actual ribeye…kinda like this:

ribeye-partsFrom left: ribs, eye, cap.
Picture from Ideasinfood.com

Then I can cook the cap meat sous vide to a nice medium rare in attempt to partially recreate this dish:

Calotte de Beouf GrilléeThe French Laundry’s Calotte de Beouf Grillée (12.08.08)

For the center cut, I would oven roast it to medium rare and end up with a sort of deconstructed prime rib cooked two ways.

The other part of me wants to go old school and roast a nice beef tenderloin or standing rib roast. I’ve been successful with rib roasts before but have never tried a tenderloin. But as old school as a tenderloin roast might sound, I’d probably endup cooking that sous vide anyway.

Aside from the main courses, Yorkshire puddings are definitely on the agenda, and I think my wife is going to make her garlic bacon mashed potatoes. I am extremely tempted to make this Macaroni and Gravy recipe by fellow food blogger Lainie as a second entree, and I know my cousin Cristy, who hosted Thanksgiving, has something up her sleeve.

If you’re looking for some Christmas recipes, you might want to give these a try:

I’m not sure if I’ll be posting again before Christmas, but if I don’t, I hope everyone has a happy and safe holiday season!

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entertainment OMG Thomas Keller

Student Challenges Master in Achatz/Keller Showdown

From The New York Times:

Columbus Circle will be the center of the culinary universe for a few hours tonight as two of the country’s most acclaimed chefs—those without my Timesian fear of hyperbole might just go ahead and say “the country’s two most acclaimed chefs”—collaborate on a 20-course, $1500 dinner at Per Se.

Thomas Keller and Grant Achatz are the chefs in question, and tonight’s meal is the first of three they will be cooking side by side. The next will take place on Dec. 2 at Mr. Achatz’s home kitchen, Alinea in Chicago; Mr. Keller gets home-kitchen advantage for the final meal on Dec. 9 at the French Laundry in Yountville, Calif.

Keller v. Achatz(Photos: Nicholas Roberts/Reuters, Peter Thompson/The New York Times)

Michael Ruhlman gives a great analysis of what this matchup means for both chefs:

“Grant estimated that if you got to the source of 90 percent of what he did, its source would be the French Laundry,” said Michael Ruhlman, who wrote “The French Laundry Cookbook” and the introduction to “Alinea.” Mr. Ruhlman met Grant in his first year working at the French Laundry; following both chefs over the year, he’s watched their relationship from a front row seat. “And I’ve always believed that the rigorous technique embraced while at the FL is the main reason he’s been able succeed at the relentlessly innovative cuisine he’s set out to do every night. He knows it, Thomas knows it, and they’re both grateful.”

Is there more to it than that? Is there, lurking beneath the mutual support and praise, a competitive streak? How often do the two chefs check to see who is winning this Amazon Meter?

“It’s probably more complicated from Grant’s perspective,” said Mr. Ruhlman. “Talk about the anxiety of influence, the need to slay the father. Keller looms so tall in this industry, I’m sure he does all he can to stay out of its shadow without alienating the friend and mentor to whom he owes so much.”

Of course, the anxiety can work both ways. “How did Thomas feel when Gourmet named Alinea best restaurant in the country?” Mr. Ruhlman asks. “How could Keller not feel competitive about this? All chefs are alpha dogs.”

My first reaction when I read this was a Keanu/Neo-like “Whoa,” especially for a dinner costing $1500. I honestly hope some of that money goes to a charity of some kind, but this match up is like the Super Bowl of cooking, and we all know how much Super Bowl tickets cost.

At least at this event, the food won’t suck, and it’s guaranteed to be a good game.

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musings SPAM Thomas Keller

The Spam Laundry — Part 2: The Original Text

My last post about a Saveur magazine article detailing Jayson Pahlmeyer’s once-in-a-lifetime SPAM tasting menu at The French Laundry generated a lot of hits on this site, including a comment by Andrew Kubersky, Jayson’s friend and ghost writer for the Saveur piece, who said his original article was much funnier than the edited version that appeared in the magazine. I emailed him back and asked if he could send me the original article so that I might publish it here, and he happily obliged.

After comparing both versions of the article, it’s obvious that Saveur edited the original for style and length, but overall, I thought they stayed true to the vibe of the original submission. What the magazine left out, however, was an expanded paragraph on Jayson’s SPAM lust, some more specific details of both his and the rest of his family’s meal, and a another funny SPAM anecdote that occurred after a subsequent visit to The French Laundry. I’ve done some minor editing and excerpted them for you below.

SPAM LUST

My friends and family know of my Spam-lust. I make no attempt to disassociate myself from it, and quite to the contrary, bellow it with bravado. I wear a Spam tie, a Spam hat and Spam boxer shorts (with apologies to Tom Wolfe, talk about “Spam in the can”). As a result, I have been the target of unending Spam jokes. At my bachelor party, when others were served rack of lamb or fillet of salmon, I was served grilled slices of it on a silver platter. As tears of laughter and pain rolled down my cheeks the Spam was happily removed…

THE MEAL

…It was when we were served Thomas’ small cones (“cornets”) of salmon tartar with créme fraîche that I realized that he had something in store. I didn’t get one and I like them a lot. Instead, the waiter presented me with Cornets of Minced Spam with Sweet Red Onion Cream. I laughed. “This was a great joke, Thomas,” I thought. “This will teach me to be careful what I wish for.” But the joke wasn’t close to being over.

As I ate Consommé of Spam with their Crescents, the family was enjoying Lobster Consommé en Gelée. While I was served Garden Tomato Sorbet with a Crispy Spam Chip, the family was savoring Cucumber Sorbet with Dill Sauce. It went on, and I couldn’t stop it. Yukon Gold Potato Blinis with Butter Spam Emulsion were followed by Perigord Truffle Omellete with Spam “Rissole,” which in turn was followed by Spam Custard Servi En Son Boîte (in its container). It was as though Spam was “The Ingredient” on The Iron Chef television show. Each dish was an ironic parody of a regular (for The French Laundry) menu item.

As my jaw dropped lower and lower, the smiles on Paige and the kids were broadening. They were savoring Jumbo Scallops with Morel Mushrooms and Asparagus Puree, Spotted Skate Wings with Braised Red Cabbage and Mustard Sauce, Roasted Guinea Fowl en Crépinette de Byaldi and Whole Roasted Moulard Duck Foie Gras. They were also relishing my growing discomfort. I was miserable. Despite my heartfelt pleas, the waiters could not dissuade Thomas from his plan.

What could I do? Under the circumstances I had to eat the Spam. To be sure, there was Thomas’ genius in the Spam preparations. But, still, it was just Spam in the Can and we were at The French Laundry, for God’s sake. I love being the center of attention but this time the joke certainly was on me. I paid French Laundry prices for Spam…

HANGOVER CURE

It was about two months later that we returned to The French Laundry and were joined by Andrew Kubersky, long-time friend, gifted home-chef, writer and consultant, and his wife Marita. The kitchen must have prepared 25 courses (no Spam) for us that night. Who knows? I was in no shape to keep track, having hosted a huge Pahlmeyer wine tasting party for half the day, immediately preceding dinner.

Afterward, they drove with us to our place in Napa to spend the night. We weren’t home more than a few minutes when Paige opened a can of Spam, sliced the meat, and started to sauté it for me. It was after midnight. Dinner had lasted about six hours. The appalled expression on Andy’s face was priceless as he watched Paige cook the Spam.

“How can you do this? We just dined at The French Laundry,” he pleaded.

Paige explained that that I found out years ago that Spam would prevent a hangover (due to its fat content). Perhaps this is what Hormel meant in the 1930’s when they marketed Spam as “miracle meat.”

 

Thanks again to Andrew for sending me the original version of the article and letting me publish parts of it here. And cheers to Jayson for being such a good sport about his SPAM obsession. I know I get my share of it from friends that just don’t understand the beauty of SPAM or why we have a SPAM shrine in our home. Luckily, my wife is from Hawaii, so SPAM is always welcome on our plates and in our stomachs.

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musings SPAM The French Laundry Thomas Keller

The SPAM Laundry?

I saw on a recent eGullet Forum thread that Thomas Keller once prepared a SPAM tasting menu at The French Laundry for one of his friends. This momentous event in SPAM-dom was chronicled in the May/June 2001 Saveur magazine by winemaker Jayson Pahlmeyer of Pahlmeyer Wines, who was the (lucky?) recipient of the SPAM tasting menu.

As an ardent fan of both SPAM and Keller, and because I featured newly converted SPAM fan Anthony Bourdain on this site a couple days ago, I went looking for the article but couldn’t find it on Saveur’s Web site. I ended finding a copy of the magazine on eBay for $5, so I bought one and transcribed it so you can read this funny story.

I love that Keller embraced SPAM as a viable ingredient and committed himself to the “joke” by creating an entire tasting menu based on a meat product that is both loved by so many (like me) and reviled by others (most of my non-Asian friends). It shows both his keen sense of humor and versatility as a chef, and I became enamored by SPAM’s potential for greatness in Keller’s hands.

For the record, I still haven’t had the chance to eat at The French Laundry (reservations are probably the toughest in the world), but I am anxiously awaiting the opportunity to experience it first hand. In the interim, visits to Bouchon, Bouchon Bakery and Ad Hoc keep me happy…for now. ;)

(Thomas Keller picture from the Ad Hoc Web site.)