Monday, July 27, 2009

Family Vacation

Today I leave on a 10-day old-fashioned family road-trip vacation.

We are loading up the family truckster and embarking on a 2,500 mile
excursion that will take us through Nashville, Asheville,
Winston-Salem, and up to Washington D.C. with the ultimate goal of
taking my kids to see Paul McCartney in concert. We’ll spend a few
days in our nation’s capital and then swing through Charleston,
Savannah, and Atlanta before heading home.

I am excited about the driving portion of the excursion and look
forward to visiting friends and family at every stop. It seems that
when we travel nowadays, everything is hurried. We are rushing to pack
and leave the house, we always seem to be rushing to the airport, all
of the earlier rushing has left us running late to catch our flight,
and when we finally get there, we’re rushing to cram it all in during
the few short days we’re there.

This trip will be like the ones I took when I was a child— in the car,
taking it slowly, eating our way through the South.

Things are different today. In the 1960s and early 1970s my brother
and I never would have imagined being able to watch movies in the car
during long road trips. All we had were these lame highway bingo
games, and my grandmother’s fudge cake.

We never left home without a wax-paper lined Tupperware container of
her fudge cake. It wasn’t a cake at all. They were chocolaty, chewy,
rich brownies, and my brother and I loved them. It was the one
constant in an ever-changing lineup of vacation destinations. When I
was a kid, I didn’t care about details, itineraries, and schedules. I
just wanted to make sure someone brought the fudge cake

Today, my family makes fun of me, and I guess I have grown a little
more Griswoldian in my old age. I beginning planning a trip months in
advance, and make detailed lists and itineraries of the trip’s
details— hotel confirmation numbers and addresses, telephone numbers,
appointments and the like. But I also compile a detailed list of all
of the restaurants I want to visit in each city along the route.

St. John family vacations place a heavy focus on food. This trip has
an extra purpose, as we plan to add a more worldly focus to our dining
options. Ultimately, we hope to expose our kids— a 12-year old girl
and an eight-year old boy— to a broader range of cuisines, cultures,
and cooking styles.

They have seasoned palates for their age— certainly more than I had at
their age, actually, more than I had in my twenties. But this trip we
hope to push the bar even higher.

It’s easy to venture into foreign and varied cuisines in Washington
D.C, but not so easy in a lot of Southern cities, hence the hyper

This trip the kids will have their first exposure to true Indian
cuisine; they’ll hit Chinatown, and also visit a true Thai restaurant.
We’ll visit Michelle Richard’s new French Bistro, and they’ll sample
Spanish tapas for the first time. Authentic Mexican and Japanese are
on the program, as well as Low Country food, and what has been billed
as the best burger in America cooked by Bravo’s Top Chef winner, Chef
Spike Mendelsohn.

In the end, I wonder if it’s the dining they’ll remember, or the fudge
cake eaten in the back seat along the way.

I will be blogging live from all of the restaurants over the next 10
days and the meals and comments can be viewed on my Facebook page.

Muz’s  Fudge Cake

4 Squares       Bakers Chocolate
2 sticks        Butter
4               Eggs
2 cups          Sugar
1 cup           Flour
1 tsp           Pure Vanilla Extract
1 cup           Nuts, chopped
Pinch of salt

 Preheat oven to 350-degrees.

Melt chocolate and butter together in a double boiler. Once
incorporated let cool slightly. Cooled chocolate should still be in
liquid form.

Mix together the four eggs and gradually and the two cups of sugar
until completely incorporated. SLOWLY pour the slightly warm chocolate
mixture into the egg/sugar  mixture.

Slowly incorporate the flour into the chocolate/egg mixture. Add
vanilla, nuts, salt, and mix.

Line a pan with waxed paper or parchment. Pour in the chocolate mix.
Bake at 350 approximately 30 minutes or until an inserted toothpick
comes out clean.

Remove from oven. Let cool five minutes. Carefully flip the fudge cake
and finish cooling. Once cooled completely, remove wax paper and cut
into squares.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The French Laundry II


For years I have said that if I were ever asked to choose a “last meal,” I would select my grandmother’s leg of lamb.

With all due respect to my late grandmother, I am amending my last-meal appeal. Sorry, Mam-Maw, my last meal is coming from the French Laundry

The beauty of eating a last meal prepared at The French Laundry is twofold: I would be able to eat the most skillfully prepared, best-tasting, unique, subtle, and creative food, prepared by the nation’s most talented chef— Thomas Keller. It would also be an extremely long (in a good way) dinner.

During my most recent visit to The French Laundry, in Yountville, CA, I spent almost five hours eating sixteen courses of the most remarkable food I have ever tasted. If it’s going to be a last meal, it might as well be prolonged as long as possible and filled with world-class cuisine and unparalleled service.

Actually, I have eaten in Thomas Keller’s restaurants in New York, Las Vegas, and Yountville and have always been blown away by the food and service. On this visit, however, the service was more attentive than it has ever been.

We were a group of six, seated in the private dining room on the second floor and the staff was amazing in their efficiency and attentiveness. I am usually “all about the food.” I can always overlook poor service if the food is good. I appreciate service when performed at a high level, but I’m there to eat. On this night the service was— by far— the best I have witnessed anywhere, anytime, in any restaurant.

The menu highlights for me were the Keller classic Oysters and Pearls, where the chef makes a impossibly subtle “sabayon” of pearl tapioca and pairs it with Island Creek Oysters from Duxbury, Massachusetts and caviar. All of the courses were notable, but my other favorites were an egg custard paired with a truffle overdose (again, in a good way), quail with pine nuts and a cherry sauce, and one of the most delicate meat dishes I have eaten— a “Chateaubriand” of Marcho Farms Nature-Fed Veal with applewood-smoked bacon, Globe Artichokes, and “Sauce Barigoule.”

Three years ago, when I dined at The French Laundry, the sommelier noticed that I wasn’t partaking in the wine pairings and asked if he could create a non-alcoholic pairing to go with each food course. The answer, of course, was “Yes,” and what followed were 13 of the most creative beverage pairings I have ever enjoyed. Actually, at the time, they were the only beverage pairings I had ever enjoyed. I had resigned to a life with still water during this type of meal.

As usual, I blogged the meal in real time on Facebook, and all of the dishes can be seen there. The live blogging was a first for The French Laundry, and I’m not sure they knew what to expect. The restaurant’s New York publicist was nervous and sent several emails asking about the process. In the end, the entire staff went way beyond the call of duty to make this one of my top three meals of all time (the entire menu can be viewed on the newspaper’s website).

When it comes to a last meal, I’m heading to California. Maybe with a little pleading, I can add a 17th course and have Chef Keller prepare my grandmother’s leg of lamb.






The French Laundry

Chef’s Tasting Menu

July 15th 2009


Monday, July 06, 2009

The Dinner of A Lifetime


In 2006, I invited three friends to join me at The French Laundry, in Yountville, CA, for what would turn out to be the dinner of a lifetime.

The French Laundry is widely considered the nation’s finest restaurant, a reputation it has earned over the course of the last 15 years. I wrote about the meal and the subsequent column turned out to be a piece that I am still asked about, today. Looking back through my notes from the meal, I wrote, “I have just eaten the best meal of my life. Hands down. Period”

In the column I stated, “At The French Laundry, excellence seeps from of every nook and cranny and percolates from every personality. It exists— actually thrives— several strata above even the finest restaurants in New York. Nothing compares.”

The meal was served in 32 courses, actually 16 rounds of 32 dishes. Following the dinner I wrote, “After eating a meal such as this, a food writer runs the risk of using overly flowery verbiage and exaggerated adjectives to describe the experience. The problem with this restaurant is that any description I would commit to paper couldn’t do justice to actually sitting in the dining room and experiencing the actual meal. From the maitre d’ to the servers, to the kitchen staff with whom we visited after the meal, everyone was at the top of their game. I couldn’t find one single negative in the entire experience, a rare treat, indeed.”

I didn’t plan for 32 courses, Chef Thomas Keller— the nation’s most talented chef— just kept sending out food, course after course, of the most amazing dishes I had ever eaten. The meal lasted five hours and fifteen minutes, and stands, to this day, as the most amazing culinary experience I have ever been associated with, in a long, food-filled, 47-year dining career. It’s also the only meal I’ve ever eaten that needed a halftime break.

I would print the 32-course menu here, but it comes in a 468 words, which is close to my weekly allotment for the entire column. The menu can be found on Facebook, my blog, and on the newspaper’s website.

On July 15th I will return to The French Laundry with the same three friends for a meal I have been looking forward to for two years. I don’t know how many courses the kitchen will send out this time, but I know that when left in the hands of Thomas Keller and his staff, culinary magic happens.

I will be blogging live from The French Laundry, uploading a photo of each course as it is served. Those who follow me on Facebook will be able to follow the meal, in real time, course-by-course. If you don’t yet follow me on Facebook, look me up, and sign in. The meal will start at 7 p.m. Pacific Time on July 15th and will hopefully last long enough to need another halftime break.


The French Laundry

Chef’s Tasting Menu

July 17, 2006



Summer Melons, Mint, and Yogurt



Haas Avocadoes, Cilantro Shoots and Espelette

Laurent Perrier “Grand Siecle” MV

Sparkling Apple Cider, Sonoma Sparkler



with Granny Smith Apples and Black Pepper



with Lime Scented "Gelée" and Fresh Juniper Berry “Tuile”



Beau Soleil Oyster Glaze and Russian Sevruga Caviar



“Sabayon” of Pearl Tapioca with Beau Soleil Oysters and Russian Sevruga Caviar



Vanilla Mousseline, Bananas and Shaved Hazelnuts



Marcona Almonds, Globe Artichokes, “Mâche” and Pedro Ximenez Glaze

Manzanilla “La Guita”



Minced Périgord Truffles and Toasted Brioche “Soldiers”



with a “Ragoût” of Périgord Truffles

Barbeito, Sercial, Madeira 1978

Root Beer, Truffle Syrup



with Apricot “Confit”, Marinated Peppers, and Curry “Aigre Doux”




Baby Leeks, Sweet Carrot “Ribbons,” Red Pearl Onion “Petals,”

Spanish Saffron “Mayonnaise” and Garden Basil

Emmerich Knoll, Gruner Veltliner, 2004, Austria

Lavender and Chamomile “Mimosa”



Black Truffles from Provence and Corn Pudding



with Grated Périgord Truffles

Domaine Boillot, Meursault “Les Perrieres,” 2004

“Chaud Froid,”Corn and truffle Cappuccino



Artichokes, Wilted Arrowleaf Spinach and Lemon



French Laundry Garden Summer Squash, Niçoise Olives, “Fleur de Courgette”

and San Marzano Tomato “Marmelade”

Chateau Simone, Palette, 1998



Maine Lobster Tail “Cuite Sous Vide,” Garden Pea Shoot Salad

and Sweet Carrot Buttons



Green Grape “Confit,” Melted Belgian Endive, Périgord Truffles and

Sauternes-Lobster Coral Emulsion



Medjool Dates, Celery Branch and Pumpkin Seed “Vinaigrette”



with Silverado Trail Strawberry Jam and “Frisée” Lettuce

Domaine Weinbach, Gewurztraminer, “Cuvee Theo” 2003



All Day Braised Hobb’s Shore "Poitrine de Porc",

with a "Cassoulet" of Pole Beans and a Whole Grain Mustard Sauce



“Ragoût” of Golden Corn, Applewood-Smoked Bacon, Piquillo Peppers and

“Béarnaise” Reduction

Radio Coteau, “Savoy,” Pinot Noir, 2004



Spring Onion, Cèpes, French Laundry Green Beans and “Sauce Bordelaise”



“Nameko” Mushrooms, Broccolini, “Kohishikari” Rice

with Sweet Garlic and Ginger-Scented “Jus”

Modicum 2001

Golden Monkey Black Tea



Tomato “Confit”, Applewood Smoked Bacon, Hard-Boiled Quail Egg

and Haas Avocado “Puree”



Slow-Baked Heirloom Beet, Fennel Bulb “Relish” and Juniper Wood-Aged

Balsamic “Vinaigrette”



Marcona Almond “Streusel” and “Gelée de Noyaux”



Marcona Almond “Streusel” and “Gelée de Noyaux”



Caramel Ice Cream and Butterscotch “Crunch”

Toro Albala, Pedro Ximenez, 1971