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www.goodeatsfanpage.com • View topic - French Laundry Courtyard Dinner/Briner Mini-Meet

French Laundry Courtyard Dinner/Briner Mini-Meet

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French Laundry Courtyard Dinner/Briner Mini-Meet

Postby Party Flavor » Thu Jul 25, 2013 10:29 pm

In the spring of last year, I read this article from the restaurant blog of the San Francisco Chronicle, essentially announcing that, on summer nights, The French Laundry would open its courtyard for a single table of 8-12 to dine al fresco.

Jules and I had been to TFL a couple of times before and thought it would be fun to experience it from a new perspective. I asked on Facebook if anyone was interested in getting a group together to dine in the courtyard, got a positive response, and proceeded to make the reservation.

Two weeks ago, Jules and I were joined for dinner by Kathleen (Rockford10) and Denise (DitsyD) and their husbands, Melissa (Missjane), Loren (Swedishchef) and his wife, and a couple of my non-Briner friends.

Several of us started the evening with drinks at Thomas Keller's French bistro, Bouchon...

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... before heading up the street to explore TFL's Culinary Garden, which is directly across the street from the restaurant.

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The garden grows herbs and produce for Keller's Yountville restaurants and throughout the day, one can see members of TFL's kitchen crossing the street to harvest items for that nights dinner. Several years ago, I met Chef Keller in the garden and got to spend a few (very cool) minutes talking with him.

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We took pictures of the plants...

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... and of each other...

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... and of each other, taking pictures of the plants.

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We stopped and admired some of the most pampered chickens in the world...

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... before making our way across the street.

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Most of The French Laundry's guests can't wait to walk through the famous blue door...

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... but we had something more interesting in store.

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While we spent a few moments getting acquainted (or reacquainted, in some cases)...

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... the staff was finishing preparations for our party.

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They soon began to come around with various canapés, the first two of which are iconic TFL dishes. The first of these was gruyère cheese gougères...

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... which was followed by the famous cornets with salmon tartare and crème fraîche.

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Rounding out the hors d'oeuvre were a gazpacho...

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... lobster salad...

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... and a pâté with pistachios.

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We were led to our seats...

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... and found the night's menu waiting for us.

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When the bubbly starts to flow at TFL...

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... you know "Oysters and Pearls" can't be far behind. This is probably the most famous Thomas Keller dish. While the rest of the items on the menu change every single day, this is almost always the first course. "Oysters and Pearls" - "Sabayon" of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar...

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The next round was something I requested for our group, one of two "secret" off-menu courses with which we were presented. White Truffle-infused Custard with Black Truffle Ragout and Chive Potato Chip...

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And we all pronounced it delicious...

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Immediately inside the door behind Kathleen and David is a small office at the entrance to the kitchen, whose action we could observe through the windows behind Denise and Bob.

Bread service started...

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... and accompanied our next course, French Laundry Garden Cucumber Salad - Cherry Belle Radishes, Brokaw Avocado Purée, Petite Lettuces, and Kendall Farms Crème Fraîche...

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Around this time, the sun set and darkness began to fall. Jules looked up from her salad and whispered, "Chef." In the light of the doorway sat Chef Keller in his "office," chatting with staff...

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He'd be there off-and-on for much of the remainder of the night.

We continued with Sautéed Fillet of Mediterranean Lubina - Fork-Crushed New Crop Potatoes, Filet Beans, Watercress Blooms and Caper Cream...

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And then another fish course: Sweet Butter-Poached Alaskan King Crab - Caramelized Fennel Bulb, Celery Branch Salad and Nectarine-Riesling Emulsion...

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Next was Andante Dairy Ricotta "Tortellini" - Wilted Squash Blossoms, Garden Pea Tendrils, "Burrata"...

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... topped with a mountain of Shaved Australian Black Winter Truffles...

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and Four Story Hills Farm Poularde "Rillette" - Swiss Chard "Barbajuan," Grilled Chard Ribs and Brentwood Corn Ragoût.

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Our final savory course of the night was Applewood Smoked Bacon-Wrapped Elysian Fields Farm Lamb - Garden Squash Confit, Stewed Sweet Peppers, Black Olives, Marinated Cherry Tomatoes and Petite Basil.

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The cheese course was Robiola Di Capra "Gâteau" - Sicilian Pistachios, Poached Brooks Cherries, Black Winter Truffle and Endive "Émincé."

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That was followed by Hayden Mango Sorbet - Coconut "Succès," Sichuan Peppercorn Meringue and Compressed Golden Pineapple...

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... and the final course on the menu, "Dark Treacle" - Devil's Food, Valrhona Chocolate "Marquisse," Lyle's Golden Syrup and Marshall Farms Burnt Honey Ice Cream.

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My second off-menu request was then obliged with another famous Keller dish, "Coffee and Doughnuts." The "doughnuts" are of the cinnamon-sugar variety, but the "coffee" component is actually a cappuccino semifreddo.

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We then we served the mignardises, starting with salted caramels (not pictured) the well-known macadamia dragees.

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(Sorry for the fuzzy pic; it was after midnight and the lighting was difficult.)

Our meal was rounded out with a tray of chocolate truffles...

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... and a clothespin-embossed tin of shortbread cookies for each guest to take home.

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Our table captain then came around with a folder for each diner which contained another request Jules and I made for the party, a copy of our group's menu signed by Chef Keller.

We were then invited inside for a look at the kitchen. Much as we observed in our previous visits, the chefs were sitting around the pass comparing notes and planning the next day's menu, which, with the exception of some of the iconic items, is completely changed every day.

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In the back is David Breeden, TFL's new chef de cuisine, who took over from Timothy Hollingsworth in April.

While our table captain described the kitchen to everyone else, I was more taken with Chef Keller's small "office" area overlooking the kitchen. There were a number of cookbooks, including all of his as well as a copy of Modernist Cuisine. There is also a wall signed by several visiting chefs including Jacques Pepin and Georges Blanc...

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(Hey! *I* have a copy of Modernist Cuisine!... Sadly, I lack a wall signed by famous French chefs.)

After our tour was over, we returned to the cool courtyard night to gather our take-home goodies. We then said our thanks and goodbyes and headed our separate ways on the mean streets of Yountville.
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Re: French Laundry Courtyard Dinner/Briner Mini-Meet

Postby DitsyD » Thu Jul 25, 2013 10:48 pm

Thanks again for the invitation and thank you for this replay of the evening. It was amazing.

The "White Truffle-infused Custard with Black Truffle Ragout and Chive Potato Chip" is perhaps the best thing I've ever eaten. It took great will power to not break open that egg shell and lick every lost drop of the custard and ragout. Seriously OMG.

Your food photos are so much better than the few that I took.
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Re: French Laundry Courtyard Dinner/Briner Mini-Meet

Postby Butterbean » Thu Jul 25, 2013 10:51 pm

Oh my goodness! What an amazing experience! Your narrative was lovely, Brandon, and the photos were exquisite.
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I'd like a single plum floating in perfume served in a man's hat.
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Re: French Laundry Courtyard Dinner/Briner Mini-Meet

Postby tj » Fri Jul 26, 2013 12:50 am

As all good prayers do, this should end with "Amen."
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Re: French Laundry Courtyard Dinner/Briner Mini-Meet

Postby carla » Fri Jul 26, 2013 1:08 am

What a wonderful gathering!
Thank you, Brandon, for another great write-up.
Amen.
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Re: French Laundry Courtyard Dinner/Briner Mini-Meet

Postby n8urebabe » Fri Jul 26, 2013 1:31 am

Thank you for sharing this. I love hearing about these experiences. The food sounds wonderful, the pictures are beautiful and it looks like great company.

And I learn something new every time. :)
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Re: French Laundry Courtyard Dinner/Briner Mini-Meet

Postby Jules » Fri Jul 26, 2013 11:59 am

Party Flavor wrote:Around this time, the sun set and darkness began to fall. Jules looked up from her salad and whispered, "Chef." In the light of the doorway sat Chef Keller in his "office," chatting with staff...


Those nearest to me may have actually heard something more like me whispering "Chefchefchefchef. Hey - Psst - turnaroundslowlyyouguysandlookinthedoorway. Rockfordcheckitout. Chef. Chefchefchefchef."
(You'd think I'd never met the man before - heck he signed books for me to give to LadyJ's kiddo and for PF - couldn't have been nicer. But still - knowing he was there and that it'd be a special part of the dinner for all ... yeah, pretty cool.)
I'm impressed ... and happy. Not "surprised" ... but happy.
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Re: French Laundry Courtyard Dinner/Briner Mini-Meet

Postby nolafoodie » Fri Jul 26, 2013 1:00 pm

It looks like an amazing experience was had by all. :)
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Re: French Laundry Courtyard Dinner/Briner Mini-Meet

Postby Nitro » Sat Jul 27, 2013 1:24 pm

Looks fantastic. That's the kind of meal that stays with you a long time. I still think about a restaurant we went to here that was absolutely devine, though compared to French Laundry was just a cheap restaurant.

So are you allowed to keep the clothespin? I've seen people say that they stole it, others say that you are allowed to keep it. I have to admit it would likely go in my pocket.
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Re: French Laundry Courtyard Dinner/Briner Mini-Meet

Postby Party Flavor » Sat Jul 27, 2013 3:44 pm

Nitro wrote:So are you allowed to keep the clothespin? I've seen people say that they stole it, others say that you are allowed to keep it. I have to admit it would likely go in my pocket.


They expect that you will keep it as a souvenir. It's essentially a business card, as their phone number is printed on the opposite side. We now have a small collection of them from our visits and have even used them in one of our framed menu pieces.

After opening gifts on my birthday, several weeks before our trip, Jules told me that I had one present remaining to be picked up in California. As it turns out, she contacted TFL to see about doing something special for me, and was offered the chance to order a set of silver TFL clothespins. I never knew they produced such a thing, so I was very surprised!

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An opinionated non-authority, petit four lover, and backward telescope aficionado

I can explain it to you, but I can't understand it for you.

When a chef tells me he is cooking with his grandmother's recipe, I always wonder why. Did talent skip the past two generations?
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Re: French Laundry Courtyard Dinner/Briner Mini-Meet

Postby okbye » Sat Jul 27, 2013 6:37 pm

How do you know you are an uberfoodie? You have enough TFL clothespins to hang out your own laundry.
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Re: French Laundry Courtyard Dinner/Briner Mini-Meet

Postby Norm357 » Mon Jul 29, 2013 5:02 pm

Beautiful pictures and narrative. Thanks for sharing.
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Re: French Laundry Courtyard Dinner/Briner Mini-Meet

Postby chefshawn » Tue Aug 06, 2013 7:46 pm

I stole the clothespin AND the napkin! Woohoo!!!

Much foodie envy over here...
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