Monday, July 26, 2010

Our French Laundry Extravaganza

As promised, here is my recap of our trip to the French Laundry in Yountville, CA during our mini-moon in May. My only regret (besides the lack of plentiful pictures I lamented in my last piece) is not asking our server for a copy of the night's menu, as a neighboring table did. Since the menu changes daily, the staff doesn't mind letting their guests take theirs away as a souvenir of one of the most expensive meals they've ever had...had I been woman enough to ask, I could've had a great reference piece to use for this story. As is, I will have to rely on my wine-fogged memories of the evening instead.

We decided to walk to dinner that night, since our hotel was literally across the street from the French Laundry. Just our luck, the slight misting in the air turned into a full-fledged torrent, and we entered the restaurant looking like two drowned foodie rats. First bonus point of the evening: we weren't made to feel like utter fools in our bedraggled state - the staff was all uber-courteous and pleasant right from the start, and not the least bit intimidating (always a fear of mine when visiting a fine dining establishment).

Arriving promptly at our reserved time of 5:45pm, we were quickly escorted upstairs to our romantic table for two and greeted almost immediately by our first of many servers. The menu was presented to us - you have your choice of two pre-set, nine-course menus, either the standard option or the vegetarian. Both my new husband and I opted for the regular menu, but whenever we had a choice between two dishes we made sure to avoid what the other had chosen, so that we got to try every dish available to us.

The first dish to arrive at our table was am amuse bouche which wasn't included in the nine-course menu - after more dishes of this sort arrived, we determined that the meal was closer to thirteen courses than a measly nine. The amuse bouche was a tiny, delicate cone wrapped around a dollop of something that resembled the best sour cream you've ever tasted and topped with a perfect mound of salmon tartare. It was one of the most mouth-wateringly amazing bites I've ever had in my entire life. This was followed by a delicious, if not quite equally astounding, fresh diver scallop, seared perfectly, served with beets. I'm a big scallop fan, and I'd never tasted one that had been cooked with such care - SO sweet and succulent.

Next up was our fish course - and here is where I bemoan my lack of the menu, because for the life of me I cannot remember exactly what kind of fish were in these two excellent preparations - grrr! The first was a seared fish that exploded in your mouth with juicy flavor, and the second was an absolutely to-die-for Japanese fish served in raw cubes with tiny tempura-fried vegetables and stellar dots of sesame cream.

I should mention at this point that we were already moderately buzzed - the wine sommelier made some excellent pairing suggestions for us to enjoy throughout our meal, and each glass or bottle arrived precisely at the start of the course to which it was coupled. We began the night with a glass of champagne, moved into a half-bottle of white for the fish courses, and then had a very interesting but tasty pick for our "salad" course - I had a rose (typically not my style but very, very good) with the salad and my husband, at the behest of the sommelier, had a glass of sweet dessert wine to go with his foie gras (you must pay extra for this option) - and believe it or not, the tastes were so complementary that I felt I could've died and gone to heaven right then and there.

We had never eaten foie gras before and probably never will again - I'm not entirely approving of the methods behind the product. However, I knew it was something I wanted to try just once in my life, and what better place to experiment than the top restaurant in the country? It was served with a warm brioche that was replaced as soon as it began to cool, as well as a trio of fascinating salts - a Jurassic salt, a sea salt from France, and my Lord I cannot remember the third, but all were a total delight. I couldn't stop trying each option with the foie gras atop a moist bite of brioche - the salt enriched the foie flavor and popped on the tongue. Delightful.

For our first meat course, I opted for the quail while hubbers got the rabbit terrine. I found the quail a bit underwhelming and sort of dry - by far my least favorite dish of the evening - but the rabbit was a revelation, buttery and full of salty bacon.

The other meat course was a phenomenal piece of beef from Snake River Farms that was cooked to divine perfection - I've never seen a meat cooked so evenly, medium rare throughout and red to the very edges on each side. I only wish this picture were a little brighter to do the dish justice - the light was beginning to fade by this point of the meal and I didn't have the heart (or the guts) to turn on my flash in such a classy joint.

By this time, we were on to a bottle of extraordinary red to finish off our meal. The dessert course seemed to last a lifetime - first we were treated to the desserts we chose from the menu (which I cannot recall - yes, this is when the wine coma truly began to set in), then we were presented with a bowl of chocolate and powdered-sugar coated macadamia nuts, THEN we were given a tiny tray of miniature chocolate truffles. And lest we forget, you are also sent away at the end of the night with a bag of the French Laundry's signature shortbread cookies. Just in case you're still hungry - ha.

I apologize for not hitting every course - I really do have a rather broken recollection of our evening. I know I missed describing the fabulous bread course (served with both salted and un-salted butter, of course) and the infamous oysters and pearls - a perfect, tiny oyster served with tapioca pearls and caviar, eaten with a miniature mother-of-pearl spoon - but it would be impossible to describe each and every nuance of this night. Suffice to say, it was and will always be one of the most exciting, experimental (for me, anyway), and downright delicious meals of my life. A bit on the expensive side, to be sure, but I can't recommend a night at the French Laundry enough for someone looking to have an incredibly special dinner out.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Yes, I ate at the French Laundry. Be jealous.

My only regret from our recent trip to the French Laundry is the lack of pictures - oh, to feel uninhibited enough to use flash photography in a room full of really disgustingly rich people!!!

We do have a few pics, but the camera is currently dead, so I'll post those at a later time.

All I can say is, the hype exists for a reason. As does the cost...though I hesitate to say that ANY restaurant on this Earth deserves a price tag quite as hefty as THAT one, but if anyplace does, it's Thomas Keller's ode to all things delicious.

The menu consists of nine courses. You are actually served something closer to 13 or 14, once you count the two separate bread courses, the amuse bouche, and the plethora of desserts that just seem to keep going and going and going...

There is no set wine pairing menu as some people suggest - the menu changes daily and therefore they don't set the wines in stone - but one of our, oh I don't know, 18 servers was more than happy to make wine suggestions to us for the evening. Actually, I'm fairly certain he was the restaurant's sommelier, now that I think about it, reaching back through the wine-induced haze that ended our evening.

The decor is elegant and not overly stuffy - though some of the clientele certainly makes it a bit more so.

I think I'm going to stop myself from writing about the actual food until I'm able to get at those pictures...but let me just say, if you have a special occasion coming up, and you have a big ol' soft spot for food (and a sizable savings account), you should absolutely, 150% check out the French Laundry.

And if you go, why not stay in the LOVELY hotel across the street that we did - you can walk to dinner and it is a GORGEOUS hotel - one of the best I've ever stayed at. The Vintage Inn in Yountville, CA. Do it. You won't regret it.

(And did I mention that the Vintage Inn hosts a gigantic breakfast buffet EVERY DAY? With a live OMELET STATION? And CHAMPAGNE? Free for hotel guests. I die.)

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Quest for the Holy Macaroni: Part One

My first "official" foray into the quest began last night at the Backstage Bar & Grill in Culver City, CA. I had tried the mac & cheese here before - and loved it - but I wanted to try it anew in order to report the flavor in fuller detail.

Let me say first and foremost that the Backstage has the best food you'll ever get at a bar. Period. Now, I'm not comparing to places like the gastropub Bar*Food in West L.A., as I consider that more of a restaurant that just happens to have a cool bar...the Backstage is a true BAR, a dark, dingy and windowless cavern where people come primarily to drink and the food is only a peripheral. You can read my full review of the Backstage on my page.

But back to the matter at hand. The mac. We ordered the appetizer portion, which is still huge and only $6 to boot. The over-sized macaroni noodles are cooked to perfection - not too gooey, not too tough - and the cheeses are nicely melted throughout the dish rather than lying atop the mountain of pasta like a rubbery mat (as I've seen at numerous other joints).

It's a tiny bit oily, but not nearly as much as you might expect. The dish definitely has some garlic going on, which I adore, and a lot of pepper, which you can actually see sprinkled liberally throughout the dish. It may be a bit on the peppery side for some, but I think the seasoning is just delish and really helps to cut through the smoky cheese flavor.

I give this mac 4.5 stars (out of 5) for both taste and affordability. A pretty strong contender, wouldn't you say?? And the best part is, if you live in the area, the Backstage does food to go - you can swing by to pick it up and eat it at home if you don't feel like hanging with the barflies watching the game.

Have another suggestion? Email me at and I'll give you a shout-out if I choose your suggested locale!

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Great Los Angeles Macaroni and Cheese Quest

Being a good, humble Midwestern girl, there's nothing I love more than a giant helping of gooey macaroni and cheese.  I'm usually content with making the boxed version at home - there's something very comforting and inexplicably delicious about that powdered cheese, is there not??  It's one of life's great mysteries.

But my friends also know me as a true macaroni and cheese connoisseur.  Sad but totally true.  They know darn well that if macaroni and cheese is on the menu at any given restaurant, it's almost certainly going to end up in front of me.

I've had countless versions of this classic dish: varieties with unusual cheese choices (goat, blue, manchego) and/or unique additions (pancetta, lobster, corn), as well as many much more 'standard' dishes (straight up cheddar is hard to beat!).  But I feel I have yet to find the BEST restaurant macaroni and cheese out there.

So my quest begins.  Living in L.A., most of my hunt will take place here, although I'm certainly up for trying options whenever I take a road trip!

But I could use some help!  So please - chime in, voice your opinion - let me know whose mac I just HAVE to try.  I'll come back here and report on my findings.

Let it begin:  the Quest for the Holy Macaroni!

Friday, June 12, 2009

How to Introduce a Friend (or Yourself) to Sushi

Sushi.  It's the biggest trend in the restaurant world, with sushi bars lining the streets of every major city across the country.  But although it's incredibly popular in urban areas, the appeal of sushi has yet to spread to less citified areas.

This is not without good reason, primarily because fantastically fresh fish is more difficult to procure in more rural arenas.  And the last thing you wanna do is eat less than stellar raw seafood.

Being from the Midwest, I know how rare a good sushi restaurant can be - and perhaps more prevalent, how staunchly opposed many people are to being indoctrinated into the cult of raw fish.

Believe me, I get where you're coming from.  True, I am part Japanese and grew up eating teriyaki-flavored strips of seaweed as a snack, but sushi wasn't a regular part of my diet until I moved to California.  And even now, being the everyman's foodie that I am, there are still some things I just don't want to try - like this.

But not only is sushi incredibly good for you, it can also be one of the most delicious meals you'll ever eat - trust me.  I realize there are some out there who I won't be able to reach, who find the prospect of sushi so revolting that they'll never stray from their chicken teriyaki bowl, thank you very much.  To them I say, I understand.  There are things I refuse to try, too.

But if you're someone who has never eaten sushi and would like to give it a whirl (or perhaps you have a squeamish friend you're trying to gently goad into the world of sushi), then I've come up with a few guidelines to help ease you onto the path.

1)  WATCH WHERE YOU EAT.  You should never eat sushi outside of a major metropolitan area.  Unless you find a true diamond in the rough, most sushi bars in the sticks carry fish that isn't quite sushi grade, and eating a smelly, fishy piece of salmon is going to keep you off the sushi train for years to come.  Stick to your nearest city hub for the freshest of fish, and typically, the most knowledgeable of sushi chefs.  Check sites like yelp or citysearch to find a restaurant with good customer reviews.

2)  START SLOW.  There's no reason to puff out your chest and order sea urchin on your first foray!  Instead, start with something easy - in fact, I suggest foregoing the raw component altogether for your first trip.  Instead, stick with something like a simple california roll (usually crab, cucumber, & avocado) or a shrimp tempura roll (the shrimp is cooked, and no, there are no heads attached!).  And if you'd like to try actual pieces of sushi (instead of rolls) that aren't raw, bars usually offer Tamago (cooked egg) and/or Kani (cooked crab).  This will get you used to the feel of eating sushi as well as the taste of the seaweed that is typically used to wrap your sushi rolls.  Don't forget to start learning to use those chopsticks!

3) EASE INTO IT.  Once you've tried a few non-raw options, gradually move yourself into the deeper end of the pool.  Don't jump right into sashimi - slices of raw fish served without any rice - but rather start with a roll or two that includes a type of fish you normally like cooked, like tuna or salmon.  Two great starter rolls that include raw fish are a Spicy Tuna Roll and a Philadelphia Roll (usually salmon with cream cheese and cucumber or asparagus).  I should note, however, that some sushi bars use smoked salmon in this roll, which wouldn't qualify as raw fish - but it's still a good start!

4) ASK THE CHEF!  Most sushi chefs are more than happy to answer your questions and guide you along your path - just make sure you let them know that you're a novice!  Otherwise they're likely to put something on your plate that has eyes and tentacles.  Sit at the bar rather than a table, where you can more easily interact with the chef.  He or she is also going to know exactly which cuts of fish are the freshest.

5) TAKE A FRIEND.  It's always less daunting to have a buddy to lean on, especially one who already knows how this stuff works.  Don't let yourself feel intimidated by your more knowledgeable friend - instead, trust them to help you find items on the menu that you'll love.  After all, if they can get you into sushi, they'll have a new sushi buddy to hit the town with.  I only WISH all of my friends loved sushi as much as I do!

6) TRY NOT TO DOUSE EVERYTHING IN SOY SAUCE.  A common blunder for novices, a piece of sushi dripping with soy is guaranteed to make your chef frown.  Soy sauce, while in existence in Japan, is really more of an American addiction - the Japanese use it very sparingly, to keep the pungent salty flavor from overpowering the delicate fish.  It's not an absolute no-no...the waitress has seen too many people dunk their rolls to be shocked by you!  But try to keep it on the light side - just a hint of soy to bring out the other flavors of the dish.  Avoid it altogether once you move up to the sashimi phase.

If you follow these simple steps, you should find yourself eating raw fish in no time.  And if it ends up not being the thing for you, well, that's okay too - at least you gave it a shot!  Feel free to comment with any questions, and happy eating.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Welcome to the Journeys of the Everyman's Foodie

An Everyman’s Foodie is someone who has a deep and abiding love for all things food, yet they wouldn’t characterize themselves as a true gourmand.  The Everyman’s Foodie can appreciate a great fast-food hamburger every bit as much as they adore a well-aged steak at a five-star restaurant.


The Everyman’s Foodie is always on the hunt for the ultimate in comfort food – the creamiest macaroni and cheese, the crunchiest fish n’ chips, the spiciest taco – but also isn’t afraid to venture into territory that their friends & neighbors might avoid…raw fish, anyone?


At the same time, the Everyman’s Foodie isn’t particularly well versed in frou-frou cuisine – they don’t know exactly what a pig trotter is, and they’re not exactly itching to find out!  The Everyman’s Foodie likes to try new things and has a varied palate, but for the most part they’re just fine without the tripe or sweetbreads, thank you very much.


So whether you’re a like-minded foodie looking for a restaurant recommendation, or perhaps a timid soul in search of guidance in your attempt to boldly experiment with a foreign dish, the Everyman’s Foodie is here to joyfully share with you the love of good food…as long as it’s not too strange.

And be sure to check out my articles on L.A. Cheap Eats Examiner!