Monday, August 31, 2015

The French Laundry, Yountville

The French Laundry. Say just those three words to any foodie and you'll immediately elicit a response. Then, tell them you got reservations and the look of awe takes over. Why? Because The French Laundry is one of the most famous restaurants in the world. Having garnered three stars in Michelin rating system for the past six years in a row, having been named by many as the top restaurant in the world, and having maintained a ranking in the Top 50 Restaurants in the World, The French Laundry has more accolades than most restaurants have utensils.

As a classic French restaurant, I wondered if they'd accommodate me and my vegan diet. A quick email confirmed that they would. So, then I had the challenge of getting a reservation. This restaurant is well-known as one of the hardest at which to land a reservation -- not only because of its popularity, but also, its small size. With only 17 tables and reservations taken exactly two months in advance, it's a source of stress if you decide you'd like to attempt to get in. After reviewing many websites dedicated to telling you just how hard this feat will be, I decided to give it a go. I don't have a black American Express card and I wasn't staying at a fancy hotel with concierge service so I was on my own. I made the decision to go to the area 62 days prior to my visit and had only two nights I could dine there, so I had two chances to get in. I knew the phone lines opened at exactly 10 a.m. PST so I got on two phones and began dialing at 1 p.m. EST. After many attempts over 15 minutes, I got through, was on hold for over 30 minutes, then was told there were no reservations. That was a fail.

The next day was my only chance left, so I was on it. I started dialing a minute beforehand on two phones and got through immediately. With my heart beating quickly, I remained on hold for nearly 40 minutes and when the lady came on to tell me she had a 5:15 p.m. or 9:30 p.m. reservation, I could barely breathe. I quickly regained composure, confirmed the experience would be at least three hours and requested the earlier reservation. I held my breath until the email confirmation came through, then danced with joy. It would be a long 60 days of anticipation.

Fast forward to the day of the reservation and there I was picking up my friend at SFO who flew in from Seattle to dine there with me. This, my friends, would be an experience of a lifetime and I'm happy I had a friend who appreciated that. Before going, I did a lot of research to understand Chef Thomas Keller's style and set expectations appropriately. Before we knew it, we were arriving in front of the beautiful vine-covered stone restaurant. The fantastic service started when we arrived as they walked us to our table. The dining room was classicly simple, yet elegant, with white tablecloths and white napkins pinned with the famous French Laundry clothespin -- a keepsake.

They offer a meat-based option and vegetable-based option. Of course, I was being served the vegetable option veganized. This would be a nine-course prix fixe meal for $295 with service included. The hardest choices to make are really which wines to enjoy. Their extensive wine list is on an iPad and it can be overwhelming. Luckily, we both knew what we liked and ordered accordingly. We started with a bit of the bubbly and began our culinary journey.

I'll start off by saying that I really enjoyed everything I had. So, here goes. The amuse bouche was a carrot tartare with olive and a fried potato. Scrumptious.

Our first half bottle of wine was a Gruner Veitliner Reid Lamm Kamptal Reserve 2013. It was crisp and perfect for the first half of our meal. The first course was the Summer Melons "En Gelee." This cold dish was layered with garden mint blossoms, little melon balls and melon gelee with Persian lime salt and port wine granite -- a wonderful combination.

The second course was the Salade Verte. This green salad consisted of compressed garden cucumbers with sweet onion relish, Brokaw avocado mousse, and nasturtium leaves. I loved this dish.

The bread basket came around and they brought me three selections -- sensitive to the fact that I am vegan. The breads were incredible.

The third course was the Champignons a la Grecque. This was a roasted mushroom terrine with hearts of palm, and cherry belle radishes. It was great when spread on the olive bread toast.

We ordered our next half bottle of wine of the Domaine Drouhin Laurene Pinot Noir. Fantastic!

For the fourth course, I had Early Girl Tomato. Marinated sungold tomatoes, wild purslane and corn veloute made up an incredibly rich and flavorful dish.

For the fifth course, there was the Garden Squash Royale. This one was sooo good. A crispy eggplant panissse was surrounded by squash, cerignola olives, toasted pine nuts, and wild arugula.

The sixth course was the Swiss Chard Agnolotti made with braised chard ribs, corn, and popcorn risotto. So creative!

The seventh course was figs with marcona almonds. With this, I ordered a dessert wine as well.

The eighth course was a peach melba with ortese raspberries. Very light and good.

The ninth course was soy vanilla ice cream with blackberries.

But, the food kept coming. Next came ice cream over chocolate cake with chocolate bits.

And finally, passion fruit sorbet with fruit gelees and powdered sugar covered macadamia nuts.

I just couldn't stop eating. As if that weren't enough, we were each given a box of chocolates to take home -- mine made vegan specially for me. They were delicious.

The check came and we just burst out laughing as a four-figure check is always amusing. The total came out to be $1,019 -- a bill for an experience for sure.

After paying, they walked us back to the temporary kitchen as they are under renovation. It was very cool to see the chefs at work.

Finally, they offered to take our picture in front of the door.

How do I feel about this experience? Well, it is iconic for sure. The food was innovative, creative, and classicly good all at the same time. The wines were spectacular. The service was flawless. The sommelier was impressive. The ambiance was perfect. And the tour of the kitchen really sealed the deal. The only thing I thought could have been done better was when they gave me a copy of the menu that included non-vegan cheeses and such. A finishing touch would have been a customized menu showing what I actually ate. Regardless, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most and definitely worth the pricetag. I'm pretty sure life will lead me back here someday, but for now I'll just relish in the fact that I finally got to experience The French Laundry -- a defining moment in my culinary history.

The French Laundry
6640 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599
(707) 944-2380

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Tomato Garlic Soup with Onions and Spices

Seeking another simple soup to make for a cool night, I turned to 100 Best Juices, Smoothies, and Healthy Snacks and the Tomato Garlic Soup with Onions and Spices caught my eye. This smoothie/soup had a lot of the right flavors, but I think the amount of water was a bit too much. I added 1 cup of water to this and in hindsight, I would recommend adding less water or using vegetable broth instead. That said, a mix of tomatoes, garlic, onion, red bell pepper, avocado, and spices really should be a good mix! *sigh* Maybe next time.  Please use my recommendations and let me know how it turns out for you!

Tomato Garlic Soup/Smoothie with Onions and Spices

  • 2 cups tomatoes
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/6 cup onion
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeds removed
  • 1 avocado
  • Pinch of Himalayan salt
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1/2 -1 cup water or vegetable broth (recipe calls for 1-2 cups, but I recommend decreasing)
Blend everything until smooth. Serve with cilantro on top!

Monday, August 24, 2015

doi moi, DC #2

A friend of mine startled me with a surprise visit so we headed over to doi moi to see if we could snag a seat. This restaurant serves Southeast Asian cuisine, specifically from Thailand and Vietnam. It is headed up by Executive Chef Haidar Karoum, who also heads up Proof and Estadio. As this restaurant does not take reservations after 6 p.m., we were hoping for less than a 30-minute wait.

Our wishes were granted! They told me I'd have a 20-40 minute wait, then came back 5 minutes later and said they'd seat us. Spectacular!  I remember the cocktails having been very good the last time I went so I decided to try the Lion's Tail. This mix of bourbon, all-spice dram, lime and angostura bitters definitely hit the spot.

One of my favorite things about this restaurant is that they have separated all vegan dishes onto a vegan menu.  But, what's funny is that they didn't exactly get it all right. The menu specifies vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free. But, some items on the vegan menu are not on the vegetarian menu. Well, sir, I have to tell you, if it is vegan, it is vegetarian. When I mentioned this to the server, she said I wasn't the first to point this out.

I was surprised that many of the same dishes that I had eaten years before were still on the menu. This doesn't give me much opportunity to write about new things, but I did my best and ordered two new items and one old favorite.

The first to arrive was my old favorite -- the Gaeng Par Hed or housemade tofu and wild mushroom curry. This super spicy mix of snake beans, cauliflower, carrots, peas, eggplant, mushrooms, and tofu was in an amazing curry with a strong ginger taste. It was incredibly flavorful and was the table favorite.

Another one I really enjoyed was the Larb Tao Hoo or spicy tofu salad. The tofu in this dish was very different than the other dish as it was cut into tiny pieces and fried to a crisp on the outside while remaining soft on the inside giving it a delightful texture. Then, it was tossed in a lots of fresh mint and cilantro with sauteed shallots and coated in a soy-lime dressing. Delish.

Finally, I tried another new dish called the Kee Mao or stir-fried rice noodles. This dish had thick gooey rice noodles with long beans, Chinese broccoli, carrots, snow peas, basil and trumpet mushrooms. The only thing I didn't love about this dish was that it was super super oily.

The restaurant was packed on this Friday night and service was a little slow. But, me and my friend were so engulfed in conversation that we barely noticed. They recommend two to three plates for a table of two, but we ordered four anyway. It was too much, but it gave me leftovers to take home and I got to try a variety of dishes. At $10 to $15 per dish, you probably don't want to order more than that. All in all, it was a good experience with great food and the vegan menu is like icing on the cake.

Previous Review
December 17, 2013

doi moi
1800 14th Street NW
Washington, DC 20009
(202) 733-5131

Doi Moi on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Crossroads, Los Angeles #2

I had one night to have dinner in Los Angeles and while I had intended to go to a place I had never been before, in the end, I couldn't pass up a chance to dine at Crossroads again. Crossroads is one of the top vegan upscale restaurants in the country. Founded by Chef Tal Ronnen who is known for his bestseller, The Conscious Cook, as well as having catered many high-profile events for Ellen DeGeneres, Ariana Huffington, and Oprah Winfrey. The restaurant is surprisingly easy to get reservations and on this Sunday night, we reserved the private room.

I will preface this by stating that this is not a typical dining experience because not only were we a large party in the private dining room, we also ordered just about everything and it was all brought out pretty much at the same time so by the time I got to try some things, they were not so warm. Regardless, here is what we had.

I think my favorite dish was the Tortelloni filled with almond cheese and served with oven-dried tomatoes, parsley frisee salad, and spinach cream. Fresh made noodles wrapped around creamy goodness. I wanted to take this one home.

The Spicy Meatball is a flatbread that is topped with housemade meatballs, calabrese peppers, almond ricotta, and micro basil. It just melted in my mouth.

The Artichoke Oysters was a favorite I had from last year. Artichoke leaves are topped with artichoke puree, crispy oyster mushroom, yellow tomato bearnaise, and kelp caviar. So many flavors at once -- fantastic!

The Crab Cakes made of hearts of palm, granny smith apples and heirloom beets were show stoppers as was the horseradish aioli that was served with them.

The Spiced Chickpeas was a simple dish of chickpeas with oven-dried tomatoes and parsley. If you could only order a couple dishes, this may not be the stand-out dish you might hope for. In other words, order something else.

A table favorite was the Hearts of Palm Calamari served with house cocktail and tartar sauce. Crunchy on the outside and tasty on the inside, this dish did not disappoint.

I absolutely loved the Pappardelle Bolognese as fresh housemade vegan pappardelle noodles are hard to find and these were particularly excellent.

The Wood-Fired Bolognese Lasagna is fantastic and a meal in and of itself.

My least favorite was probably the Scallopini Parmesan, which is a deep-fried Gardein scallopini patty with a red sauce.

I also love their cocktails and enjoyed the Sazerac made with Old Overholt rye, Peychaud's biters, pastis, sugar, and lemon twist.

For dessert, I tried the Bananas Foster Trifle made with muscavado caramel and almond cream. It was pretty good.

The Lemon Cake was my favorite dessert though as this crusty little cake was made with  Meyer lemon curd and topped with whipped cream and a hazelnut praline. Scrumptious!

What an experience!  The service was great, the food fantastic, and the prices very high. All small dishes ranged anywhere from $12 to $20 each and you typically order several. Although I still haven't eaten at all of the vegan restaurants in Los Angeles, I think this is one of the top vegan restaurants if not the top vegan restaurant in the area. If you can treat yourself to just one meal, go to Crossroads.

Previous review
July 16, 2014

8284 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA  90046
(323) 782-9245

Crossroads on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 17, 2015

Rogue 24, DC #3

Rogue 24 is one of the finest restaurants in DC. The fact that the chef serves vegans is like a gift from above. I've reviewed two 24-course meals at this restaurant in the past and they were spectacular, but now Rogue is offering three- and five-course meals as well. We decided to try the special 4 bites with 4 drinks on this Friday night.

The funny thing was that another vegan couple was having the exact same thing at the exact same time! So, the chef asked if he could seat us all together at the table that faces the fantastic open kitchen. Sure, why not?!

And so the culinary experience began. The amuse was smoked tomato ice -- a cool, refreshing, smoky ice topped with jalapeno and cilantro. Marvelous! This was served with a pickleback drink.

The second drink was an amazing sweet drink with chartreuse and orange peel to complement the dish of dehydrated cabbage with whipped raisins and mustard seeds served on a stone. My friend could not stop raving about this dish. So small, yet so much flavor.

The second bite was probably my favorite -- a fermented mango gazpacho! This dish was pure artwork. Shredded mango in a mango broth with coconut water gelee and puffed forbidden rice -- so you got soft, yet crunchy mango with soft gelee and crunchy rice. It all contributed to phenomenal flavors. The third drink was called the Wild Wild West and was delish -- with Wild Turkey bourbon, angostura bitters, and Swedish punch.

The third bite was also divine! RJ called it a taco, but a traditional taco it was not. This take on a taco had corn, avocado, and tomato in a pumpkin seed soil with a spicy tomato salsa. Could it get better than this?

The final dish was the type of dish I see in fine dining restaurants in top cities outside of DC. The presentation was flawless. A coconut white chocolate with candied black sesame. The flavors of this dish lit us on fire. And it was served with yet another drink.

Be careful -- the dishes are small and the drinks plentiful so you may not be able to walk far.  Be sure to make reservations for the vegan 4 bites with 4 drinks or 3- or 5-course meals at least one week in advance so they can prepare. The price of the 4 bites with 4 drinks is $44, while a 3-course is $55 and the 5-course is $75. Not too shabby and totally worth it. Oh, and the service is spectacular as well. Rogue 24 is a gem in DC and I only hope my vegan friends will patronize it so they will continue to serve amazing, unique, vegan meals.

Previous reviews
January 27, 2014
October 15, 2012

Rogue 24
922 N Street NW (rear)
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 408-9724

Rogue 24 on Urbanspoon