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The French Laundry

The first time I heard there was a restaurant in Napa valley called The French Laundry, I had a bit of a laugh.  After all, I had never associated fine dining with dirty linens. But then, my friend told me that it was considered the best restaurant in the United States, if not the world and that it strictly accepted reservations 2 months ahead (and took a mere 15 minutes to become fully booked).  Not surprisingly, right then and there I made it a personal priority to go as soon as I possibly could… in the end, thankfully a bit wiser, it took 4 years. The French Laundry is in a small, very humble-and-easy-to-miss 2-storey building in the now foodie capital of Yountville, Napa Valley.

 頭一次聽到有關在美國Napa Valley一間名為The French Laundry的餐廳,我真的想笑出來。畢竟,實在想不到有什麼可以把fine dining跟污穢衫拉上任何關係。但是我的朋友告訴我,她是全美國,甚至全世界最好的餐廳。通常需要預早兩個月訂位,而且每天短短的15分鐘內便會被訂滿。知道這之後,我便馬上盡我所能,希望第一時間可以去試一下這間如此出名的餐廳一試,但到最後,經過了四年的時間我才一嚐所願。The French Laundry位於美食天堂Napa Valley Yountville。那是一幢毫不起眼的兩層高房子,經過的時候,就算錯過了也不出奇。

In an excellent book by Michael Rhulman “The Soul Of A Chef”, I learned that it was once a brothel like the ones you see in old western movies but that it did house a steam laundry maintained by French people.  In 1976, the building which had been vacant for years was purchased by a couple who decided to turn it into a restaurant and keep its nickname “The French Laundry” and in 1992, Thomas Keller, unemployed and cash-strapped, found out it was for sale.  He was able to convince the owners to keep it for him until he was able to secure the funds and turn it into his dream restaurant. Ruhlman devotes 1/3 of the book on Thomas Keller and his philosophy and it was well worth the read before going.

在看過Michael Rhulman的著作《The Soul of a Chef》後,我才知道那從前是一間妓院,就像那些在西部牛仔片中看到的一樣,而且也曾經是一間由法國人經營的洗衣房。1976年,有一對夫婦把這座丟空一段時間的房子買下,開設了一間餐廳,並保留「The French Laundry」作為餐廳的名字。1992年,Thomas Keller機緣巧合下看到到這間餐廳正在頂讓,但當時他正失業,也沒有足夠的資金,但以他的熱誠,他請求店主留待他籌得足夠的金錢然後讓給他,最後他終於成功,把她轉變為自己心目中的理想餐廳。Rhulman在書中花了三分一的篇幅去講Thomas Keller的故事及他的理念,我認為是一本值得推薦的書刊。

The French Laundry is, unfortunately, for many people a thick mark on a list of things they want to do before they die.  Thankfully for others though, it is the ultimate temple of food pilgrimage where food is elevated to a god-like status.  The whole dining experience is focused on the food, giving it full priority and deference.  In fact, Keller’s philosophy is all about purity of and respect for the food.  Nothing goes to waste and each ingredient is used to their pure and absolute maximum effect on combination and flavours all the while obsessively striving for perfection in order to, ultimately, make people happy.  Simple enough?

很多人都把到The French Laundry用餐列為在死之前一定要做的事。她而經成為美食界中的殿堂級經典,食物也被譽為到達神級的境界。整個美食體驗,都集中到食物上面,而Thomas Keller的理念是講求純正及對食材的尊重。不會浪費,盡量把食材的每一部份都用來作菜,以達到最完美的表現。這種對味道的百分百追求,是為了把他那尊重食材的心,把食物獨有的複雜性帶給客人,希望客人滿意欣賞。這是最簡單不過的。

Two chef’s tasting menus were on offer: the meat menu and the vegetable menu.  Of course, foodie as I now am, I had to have the foie gras (yes mom, foie gras..), and the pigeon, and the lamb, and the oysters…  for the wine, I let the sommelier decide on pairings to each of my courses.

 這裡有兩款Tasting Menu,一款為肉類的菜單,另一份則是素菜的。我當然選擇前者,有我最愛的鵝肝,乳鴿,還有羊,還有蠔,而酒方面,我讓那裡的品酒師幫我決定那些配搭。這實在是一個充滿驚喜的飲食體驗,我尤其對她們的服務及對細節的著重印象深刻。

An amazing food and wine experience. Supplemented by a superlative service and attention to details…

總括這是一次難忘的美食經驗,尤其那細心體貼的服務,對細節的注重。

In fact, I had a buzz the whole night not unlike the buzz I get each time I see a Cirque Du Soleil representation.  In those, acrobatics, colors, and sounds defies my imagination and awes me that the human body can achieve such feats.  At The French Laundry, every bites, every sips awed me that human beings can create, from ingredients provided by mother nature, such sensations, such pleasure, and such feeling of well being.

 整個愉快的晚上,我都好像在看太陽馬戲團(Cirque Du Soleil)的表現般令人感到驚嘆,無不叫好。就是那些精彩的特技、繽紛的色彩及聲效都一一超越我的想像,也超越我認為可以達到的壯舉。在The French Laundry,每一口食物、每一口美酒,都使我驚覺原來人可以從大自然的原材料中創造出如此驚為天人的快感、完美及幸福的味覺感受。
Tasting Menu and wine Pairings:

Oyster And Pearls (A Classic) – Sabayon Of Pearl Tapioca With Island Creek Oysters And White Surgeon Caviar

2001 Scramsberg Vineyards, J. Schram, Napa Valley

Moulard Duck Foie Gras Au Torchon – Belgian Endive, Green Grapes, Toasted Oats And Mustard-Verjus Emulsion 2005 Becker Gewürztraminer Estate Auslese, Pfalz

Cuisses De Grenouilles Croquantes À L’aigre-Doux – Cauliflower Fleurettes, Crispy Capers, Red Chili, Cilantro Shoots And Marcona Almonds

2004 Toni Jost Riesling Bacharacher Hahn, Mittelrhein

Sweet Butter-Poached Maine Lobster Mitts – Yukon Gold Potato Purée, Sugar Snap Peas, Baby Corn And Black Truffle Sauce

2004 Patrick Javillier Les Tillets Meursault Burgundy

Scottish Wood Pigeon Rôti En Cocotte – K&J Orchard Chestnut Purée, Sunchokes, Watercress And Pomegranate Jus

2000 Auguste Clape Cornas, Rhône Valley

Ribeye Of Elysian Fields Farm Lamb En Persillade – Petit Salé, Cassoulet Of Jacobsen’s Farm Beans, Garlic Chips And Sauce D’agneau

1998 Azelia Bricco Fiasco Barolo, Piedmont

Tomme Brulée – Fennel Bulb, Sweet Peppers, Niçoise Olives And Arugula

2004 Martinelli Zinfandel Jackass Vineyard Russian River Valley, California

Diane St-Claire Buttermilk Sherbet – Pain Perdu And Huckleberries

Domori Sambriano Chocolate Mille-Feuille – Tahini Ganache, Sesame Seed Cake And Shiso Sorbet

1968 D’oliveira Bual Madeira, Portugal