Bringing a little Napa Valley to Chicago: The French Laundry @ Next Restaurant
Even though it's been almost ten years, I remember it like it was yesterday. We were driving to Yountville, sipping champagne and exchanging stories about dishes we'd heard about and speculating on what the experience would be like. It was almost as if we were kids in school gossiping about what took place on the playground. Quite possibly the shortest 45-minute drive I've ever taken. We made it. I looked out the window and saw the iconic stone-faced building covered with ivy and flowers. I was still in complete disbelief that I was spending New Year's Eve dining here. While I could recount every detail about that day I will simply say that meal and meeting Chef Thomas Keller were turning points for me and the way that I would view food going forward.
Once Next Restaurant announced in 2015 that their final menu of 2016 would be their interpretation of The French Laundry, I immediately called my best friend and told her that she MUST meet me in Chicago for this. No excuses. I couldn't wait to share this experience with her since we were together the first time.
As we were ushered to our table, I had flashbacks of how anxious and excited I was to be dining at The French Laundry for the first time. Thinking to myself "please don't let me spill anything or knock anything over!" At our table was a lovely story sharing Chef Grant Achatz experience at The French Laundry. His is a story of perseverance and passion which was demonstrated repeatedly throughout the evening. The dishes that evening emulated Chef Achatz's first meal at The French Laundry in 1996 as well as highlighting his seasonal favorites that he cooked with Chef Keller during his tenure. Each dish reflects the core philosophy and attention to detail that has defined The French Laundry for over twenty years.
Our meal began with a parade of canapes that accentuates the exceptional detail Chef Keller has in each of his dishes. While the most famous canape was th Cornet of Atlantic Salmon (think a delicate but crunchy cone filled with Salmon tartare), my favorite had to be the Black Truffle Custard (yes, I know I am a sucker for anything truffle)
As soon as the final canape was cleared, our flatware was exchanged for a dainty mother of pearl caviar spoon. I knew then one of my favorite and most iconic Keller dishes was arriving, Oysters and Pearls. I remember this dish so clearly as it was the very first time I had caviar in a restaurant. It was the beginning of a very bad habit ;) Carefully placed atop a bed of Pearl Tapioca was an Island Creek Oyster topped with Golden Osetra Caviar. The texture of the tapioca was perfectly paired with the osetra caviar creating a truly harmonious dish.
Still basking the deliciousness of the last course, we were presented with Hawaiian Hearts of Palm. This dish was quite refreshing and light compared to the previous dish and what a beautiful presentation. The frisee salad was gingerly placed upon a bed of Hearts of Palm surrounded by a pool of Medjool Date Vinaigrette and Cilantro infused oil.
As our meal progressed into heartier and savory dishes, the Pompano "Amadine" was served. A delicately seared white fish with Orzo, Pole Beans and a touch of Preserved Meyer Lemon garnished with almonds. Such a gorgeous presentation!
Keeping with the maritime theme, our next course a combination of land and sea. Placed in a port poached fig sauce was a hearty portion of lobster topped so gingerly with Moulard Duck Foie Gras. Each decadent bite was better than the last. It was like I had died and gone to gastronomy heaven.
Our next course was Storey Farms Chicken served with a red pepper reduction, confit Biyaldi and fine herbs. I really enjoy when restaurants plate entrees in this manner because it allows you to create your own "perfect bite" while exploring all the flavors and spices independently before creating your own composition. Notice the salt and pepper kiss at the bottom left portion of the plate? How charming!
Concluding our savory courses was the most opulent dish of the evening, Pot Au Feu. Surrounded by baby root vegetables, this splendid short-rib was topped with a bite of sauteed bone marrow. Literally, every bite melted in your mouth.
As we progressed from savory to sweet, a lovely presentation of Chaource was brought to the table. Charouce is a French cheese made with cow's milk and typically produced in the Champagne-Ardenne region. This course was served with Bartlett Pears and a brilliant piece of Lolla Rossa. Let's face it, I wish all of my lettuce was this gorgeous and frilly! The acidity of the pear coupled with the creaminess of the cheese was the respite for my palate.
Finally, the barrage of desserts made their way to our table. We were served a delightful Northern Spy Apple Sorbet with a honeycomb overlay and Chef Keller's famous Coffee and Donuts. This dish is rather deceiving to the eye as it consists of foam topped cappuccino semifreddo served with cinnamon sugar dusted donuts. Seriously, how can you go wrong with either choice?
As if we hadn't indulged enough throughout the evening, an assortment of mignardises was left at our table to enjoy with our espresso.
Next Restaurant does a remarkable job recreating The French Laundry experience while allowing us to take a trip down memory lane with Chef Achatz as he reminisces about his time under Chef Keller. As I reflect on my various meals as a season ticket holder, this was by far one of my favorites. It reminded me how far I have come in my food journey and what appreciation I have for chefs and their creativity and tenacity.
The French Laundry experience has been extended until January 15, 2017. You have a few more days to grab tickets and indulge in this experience.
Click here to make your reservation. Bon Appetite!