Friday, September 05, 2014

Shaklee 180 Bars

Shaklee is a company that I can't quite figure out.  The marketing line is that they create products for a healthy life.  But their goods span beauty products, household cleaners, and a weight loss program.  The weight loss program sounds a bit iffy, comprised of smoothies, snacks, shake mixes, special teas, and dietary supplement pills.  For snack foods, they make bars and crisps.

I really have no idea how, but I somehow got sent one of the snack bars, a Shaklee 180 bar (they also make more substantial meal replacement bars).  I think the "180" name comes from the transformation you make as part of their program?  I have no idea.

Anyway, I'm certainly not about to follow their program, but I had a free bar to try out, so, why not?  The products are all non-GMO, gluten-free, contain no artificial flavors, sweeteners, or preservatives, etc.  Designed to be "guilt free".
Toffee & Chocolate Crunch.
The bar I had was the "Toffee & Chocolate Crunch".  Sounds ... possibly good right?

And of course, since part of a weight loss program, it was pretty decent nutritionally, 9 grams of protein and only 7 grams of sugar, so not too high glycemic.

Of course, that is because it was mostly just a bunch of soy crisps.  As I mentioned last week in my review of Carnation's breakfast bars, I'm just really sick of soy crisps.

I don't have much to say here.  It was really just soy crisps.  The toffee flavor wasn't bad, but the promised chocolate was totally missing, just little chips, so really, all I tasted was soy crisps. Meh.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Ice Cream and Cookies from Over the Moon

Original Review, May 2014

A new ice cream place just opened up down the street from me, replacing Yogorino (which, apparently I've never reviewed?  Whoops.  I liked the unique texture and flavor of their "Italian" frozen yogurt).  Anyway, Over the Moon has taken Yogorino's place, in both of their locations.  I visited the smaller location in Embarcadero Center, but they also have a shop in the Marina.

Over the Moon's concept is ice cream and cookies.  Ideally, they want you to pick a type of cookie, pick an ice cream flavor, and have them as a custom ice cream sandwich.  But I'm not really into ice cream sandwiches, or even cookies, so I went for just ice cream on my first visit.

Most of the ice cream is hard ice cream, house made.  The flavors are pretty standard, the most interesting was Peanut Butter & Jelly, but I tried a sample and found it to be highly unremarkable.  It tasted like what I could get at the grocery store, and was slightly crystalized.  They also offer plain soft serve froyo and a single soft serve ice cream flavor.

On the cookie side, they are supposed to be fresh baked.  There are about 5 types of cookies, all very basic looking, although the aroma of the cookies baking in the toaster oven is quite enticing when you walk in.

Service wasn't particularly friendly on any of my visits.  No offer was ever given to sample any flavors, although they have buckets for sample spoons on the counter, so samples are encouraged.  No description of anything was given.

I saw no reason to return here, and I can't quite figure out who they are trying to appeal to.  Our city is full of places offering exciting flavors like Humphry Slocombe or Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous, or fun technology like Smitten Ice Cream, and there really is nothing to set Over the Moon apart from any run of the mill scoop shop, at least on the ice cream front.  And, as I'd later discover, the cookies aren't great either.
Small Dulce de Leche Sugar Cone (sprinkles on the side). $2.85.
Ok, first, lols.  Just take a moment to admire this cone.  Who swirls ice cream like this?  I think you could put any random person in front of a soft serve machine and they'd do better than this.

After she swirled it, the girl told me that it was very soft, so maybe she should put it into a cup instead.  Um ... yes, it was soft, it is soft serve, but this was definitely user error as well.  I ordered soft serve, in a cone, because I love the experience of licking a soft serve cone.  So I said it was fine this way.

I really wish I had asked to try this flavor first, as I would have never gotten it.  It was crazy sweet.  Seriously, seriously crazy sweet.  I love sweet things, but I couldn't really handle more than a few licks at a time.  I had to alternate with sips of water to clean my palette.  The consistency was good though, it really wasn't too soft, even though it was falling all over the place, it didn't melt too quickly.

The cone was a standard sugar cone.  I had the option of a cake cone as well, or, for an additional fee, a waffle.  None were house made.

Another integral component of a soft serve cone for me is sprinkles.  Depending on the flavor of the ice cream, rainbow or chocolate.  Over the Moon offers a bunch of candy toppings, including sprinkles, so of course I asked for sprinkles.  But when she went to add the sprinkles, the server got scared, and offered to put them in a cup on the side, rather than tipping this cone upside down into the sprinkles.  The sprinkles were standard rainbow sprinkles, and she gave me a rather hilarious amount of them, literally, half a large cup full.  In the end, this ended up being awesome, as I could just re-dip my cone every few licks, and didn't ever run out of sprinkles.  But, sigh.

I made a mental note to try their hard ice creams on my next visit, which I think is the focus of the shop.  I certainly wouldn't get this again, although, I did somewhat enjoy it, only because I got to have soft serve, with sprinkles, in the sun, not because the product itself was good.

The price of $2.35 for a small fairly generic soft serve seems high, but that is because I grew up somewhere with plentiful soft serve ice cream, usually only $1 for a small, where the smalls are much larger than this.  Compared to froyo places, or homemade hard serve around San Francisco, the price was fine.  The extra $0.50 for a topping makes sense for more expensive toppings like heath bar, but less so for sprinkles.  I always find it crazy that people pay the same topping price for sprinkles as they do for say hot fudge, or candy.  Places where I grew up also charge less for sprinkles, or, more often, they are included for free.  Anyway, given that I got a giant cup full of sprinkles, I surely got my $0.50 worth!

Update (11/14): They no longer offer soft serve ice cream, only plain frozen yogurt.  And smalls are now $3.
Peanut Butter Cookie.  $1.25.
Ojan was with me, and didn't want ice cream, so he opted for a cookie.  They had several varieties available: chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, peanut butter.  Snickerdoodle were coming out of the little toaster oven while we were there.  I admit, the aroma from the freshly baked cookies did smell good.

This was an incredibly unremarkable cookie.  It wasn't too crispy or anything, but it didn't really taste like much of anything at all.  It really seemed like it came from a mix, and didn't seem to contain chunks of peanuts.  Perhaps it would have been good warm?

Update (11/14): They now offer far more varieties of cookie, including "oreos", oatmeal chocolate chip, butterscotch, and cookie's n cream.  And I've never seen, nor smelt, them being fresh baked any more.

Update, September 2014:

I said I wasn't likely to return, except I did return, when I saw they were running a PayPal promotion.  $3 free!  While I wasn't impressed on my first visit enough to give them any real business, I'd certainly give them another shot for free!  Since I wasn’t impressed with the soft ice cream, I intended to get the soft serve yogurt instead, but sadly, the machine wasn't working.

This time, service was friendly.  I was offered samples instantly.

Rather than leave empty handed, I decided to try the hard ice cream, even though I’m generally opposed to getting hard ice cream at ice cream shops, since it is no different than what I have in my freezer at home.  I tried a few flavors, like salted butterscotch, which did have a nice salt level, but had considerable ice chunks, even in the little sample I had.  Just like the PB & J on my previous visit.

But, that tempting sounding Peanut Butter and Jelly looked like a fresh batch.  I tried a taste, and the peanut butter flavor was fantastic, so I went for it.

I'll now amend my review.  The PB & J ice cream was really quite good, but, they clearly have issues with the way the ice cream is stored.  It shouldn't be all full of ice crystals unless you get a fresh batch.

So, in the future, I'd try it again, but I'd stick with flavors that are clearly fresh.
Small Peanut Butter & Jelly Ice Cream $2.35 + 1 Topping $0.50.
This flavor was far more creamy than any other I tried.  It wasn’t freezer burned or crystalized, and I think the fresh container of ice cream was key.  Perhaps they should consider making smaller batches, as the others were all very crystalized.  Even my home freezer doesn't ruin ice cream this badly.

Anyway, the base was creamy peanut butter ice cream, always a winner.  It had swirls of grape jelly throughout, adding little pockets of additional flavor.  What I really loved was the way it melted.  All ice cream seems to melt differently, but this just got better as it got a bit softer, it almost even reminded me of soft serve.

I added sprinkles, because, sprinkles.

Definitely a good pick, and I'd get it again (if it were a fresh batch).  Update: I did get it again, and the next time, it wasn't nearly as creamy.  The age of the batch really matters.

My small was huge, an amazing value as it was totally free, but even if it wasn't, it was at least a two scooper.

Update, November 2014:

I've stopped back in several times since my original reviews, as they've had additional PayPal offers.  But each time, the hard ice cream just didn't look good.  The containers were never full nor fresh, and when I tried samples, it was always icy.  I didn't want this ice cream, even for free.  And the soft serve machine stayed broken for weeks.
Cookies N Cream Cookie. $3.
I tried several other cookies, but apparently didn't take notes, as they were all unremarkable.  They tasted like any generic cookies from a mix.  $1 is a great price, but, meh.
Small Plain Frozen Yogurt. $3.
Finally, one day, the soft serve machine was working again.  And now they offer only one kind: plain froyo.  I tried it, mostly out of curiosity since it had been broken for so long, and had no expectation that it would be remotely good.

But ... it was!  It was a strange combination of both tart and sweet.  Not "natural" flavored and just tart, but not too sweet.  It was quite unique, and I really enjoyed it.  I think it would pair nicely with both fruit based toppings if you want to feel healthy, or candy or sauces for sweet.  Most yogurt is either tart and would be strange with candy toppings, or is sweet and doesn't work well with fruit.  Points for them on creating this unique balance.

The texture was also perfect.  It was sooo creamy.  Clearly not non-fat.  It didn't melt too fast either.  Just really kinda perfect.

I'll definitely return for this again.

The price for a small is now $3 for both the frozen yogurt and the hard ice cream.

Update, March 2015:

I've returned to Over the Moon several more times, as has Ojan.  We learned that the soft serve frozen yogurt is actually Yogurino brand mix, which we used to love when we had it previously.  Such a unique tart flavor!

But I've continued my quest of trying the hard ice cream, whenever it looks fresh.
Small Funfetti. $3.
On this visit, the Funfetti was fresh.  I asked to try a sample, and it was quite sweet, but rather delicious.  Exactly like Pillsbury Funfetti, and it reminded me of a sweet Funfetti Chex mix my mom once made that I adored.

After the sample bite, I decided to get a cup of it, rather than the tart froyo.  But ... wow, what is good as just a single bite, doesn't necessarily turn into good in larger quantities.  It was just way, way too sweet! Maybe I just wasn't in the mood.

The consistency was perfect though, so light and fluffy, and it melted beautifully.  I liked the texture the bits of rainbow sprinkles added.  But it had actual Funfetti mixed into it, and it was just too sweet for me.  Neither Ojan nor I wanted more than a few bites of it, although we both loved our initial bites!

Ojan went for the Andes Mint flavor, with a light chocolate base.  We both thought it wasn't that chocolately, nor that minty, but the texture was light.

Over The Moon Creamery on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

The French Laundry

I finally did it.  After years of experiencing Michelin star cuisine, I finally, finally made it to what I expected my ultimate meal: The French Laundry.  I was saving it intentionally, for a special occasion.  I didn't have an occasion in mind, I just knew I wanted to save it.  But I was finally convinced by friends that you don't need a special occasion to go there.  Just going IS a special occasion.  Plus, they are about to close for several months to expand the kitchen, so that makes it extra special too, right?

The French Laundry is obviously heavily reviewed by just about everyone, ranging from professional food critics, wannabe food blogger like myself, Yelpers, and uh, even 4 year olds.  I went there not planning to write a review, since I figured I had very little that I could add to the vast amount of information already published about the experience.  So unlike usual, I didn't take notes.  I did of course still snap a few hasty photos.

But once I returned home everyone kept asking about it.  They wanted photos.  They wanted to hear all the details.  So, I jotted down what I could remember.  This review is no where near as thorough as usual, but I hope it gives a glimpse into my experience.

I went for lunch, on a Friday, with Ojan, Emil, and our friend who regularly visits TFL.  It was because of her that we were able to so easily get a reservation, right before my birthday.  I think she said it was her 5th visit in 4 weeks!  The staff clearly knew her, and treated us to some extra dishes in her honor.  Thank you!

My anticipation level was obviously very high.  I actually stopped speaking to Ojan in the car once we entered Yountville, as I couldn't deal with holding a conversation and containing my excitement all at once.

The experience as a whole was indeed quite amazing.  It was clear that we were at an incredibly high calibre restaurant.  The execution of every dish was flawless.  The plating was exquisite.  But, to be honest, it was not my top meal.  I felt that my experience at Chez TJ was actually a league above TFL.  Ojan was certain that he liked Keiko à Nob Hill more, and I think I agree.  I had dishes at Clio in Boston and La Table de Joël Robuchon in Tokyo that were more memorable.  The biggest issue for me was that for the most part, the dishes simply were just not ones I would have picked, which is always a risk with a tasting menu.  The menu changes dramatically with the seasons, and I thought summer was the best time (and I think it was for the vegetarian menu), but not for the regular menu.

The staff were amazing.  It was my birthday, and it seemed that every member of the staff knew this, and knew who I was.  Every time a new member of the staff interacted with us, be it at our table, or even when I got up to use the bathroom, I was wished a happy birthday.  I know TFL is often a special occasion place, so it is incredibly common to be celebrating a birthday/anniversary/etc, but they did an phenomenal job of making me feel special.  They were also friendly and totally comfortable, not at all what I was expecting, as others had told me they found the service stuffy.  They also gladly accommodated all of our requests, be it menu changes, a break mid-way through the meal, or a kitchen tour (more on all of that later).

That said, the service was not without flaws.  Dishes were delivered to our table without explanation.  When I got up to use the bathroom, my napkin was taken away, and never replaced.  Our wine ran out at one point, and our next course arrived before we were able to get anything to pair with it.  In general, I've found the service at Alexander's to be slightly more polished.

It was a good meal, don't get me wrong, and a fantastic experience that I am so glad to finally have had, but it was not my "meal of a lifetime".
Ojan, Emil, and Myself.
The setting is one thing that sets The French Laundry apart from anywhere else I've been.  Yountville is scenic itself, but the building housing the restaurant is absolutely charming.

The interior is broken up into several small rooms, upstairs and down, so even though there are 17 tables, the space still feels intimate.  We were seated in a semi-private room overlooking the wine cellar, with just two other tables.
The countryside surrounding Yountville is gorgeous, and TFL embraces it, with a tranquil courtyard as you enter.
More Courtyard.
We stood in the sunshine in the courtyard for a few minutes before entering, but we also took a mid-meal break to return to the courtyard.  I obviously did my research before going to TFL, and had read many recommendations from others to take a mid-meal break.  I also recommend this.

The pacing of the meal was good, with a new dish arriving every 10-20 minutes, but our entire dining experience did take 4.5 hours.  It was really nice to get a break to digest a little, plus, by going at lunch time, we were able to enjoy the sunshine of the absolutely gorgeous day.

Our request for a break was clearly not abnormal, and was easily accommodated.  We simply asked to have a break midway through the savory dishes, as one course was getting cleared away. (Obviously, don't ask once your next course has already been fired by the kitchen, just let them know that you'd like to take a break, and they'll advise when the best time to do so.)
Frolicking in the Garden.
We also took time to explore the impressive gardens across the street.  They grow as much of the produce on site in the 3-acre garden as possible, and it shows.  The story is that every night the head gardener gives the chefs a list of what is available, and they write the menus for the next day based on it, changing things slightly day to day based on availability.  The vegetables you eat during your meal are actually picked just hours before, including the greens and garnishes.  And it shows.  The vegetables were the highlight of most of the dishes.
Inside the Kitchen.
My final tip is to ask to see the kitchen, another common request, and one they obliged with no problem.  As everyone says, it is immaculate, shiny, and the tv screen showing the kitchen at Per Se is a cute touch.
Custom Birthday Menu: Chef's Tasting Menu.

Since it was my birthday, they printed a custom menu, complete with "Happy Birthday Julie" on top.  Our menus were given to us in a folder when we left.

The menu is prix fixe only, although there are two full menus to choose from, the "Chef's Tasting Menu" or a "Tasting of Vegetables."

Both are listed as 8 official courses, for $295.  Service is included, as are non-alcoholic drinks.  Of course, we received far more than 8 courses.

Within each menu, there are a few opportunities to upgrade: meat eaters can swap out the lamb for kobe beef (+$100) and white sturgeon caviar for royal ossetra (+$75).  Everyone can opt for truffles (+100).  For each of the upgrades, they replace another dish completely, rather than add-on.

Besides the upgrades, no options are given.

On the menu, you can see the signature French Laundry clothespin, and also, their 20th Anniversary Logo, which found its way into many areas of the meal.  They are clearly quite proud of the accomplishment!
Custom Birthday Menu: Tasting of Vegetables.
Ojan, Emil, and I all selected the Chef's Tasting, but our other dining companion went for the Tasting of Vegetables.  This was great, because it meant that we got to see all of the options, not just the ones from the single menu.  And because our friend was generous, I also got to try nearly every dish offered!  In many cases, I actually preferred the vegetarian dishes, which I never expected.  It may sound crazy to to go TFL and order a vegetarian menu, but, they really aren't treating the vegetarian offerings as second class.

Emil went for all of the upgrades (kobe, caviar, and truffles), while myself and the vegetarian got the truffles.  Ojan opted to go without upgrades, and share some with me.

Of course, just because the menu doesn't say there aren't more options, it doesn't mean that there are not.  Since I don't like lamb and didn't really want the Wagyu upgrade, I opted to swap out that dish for one from the vegetarian menu.  There was no problem in doing so, and I was encouraged to pick whatever dish I wanted.  The only downside to mixing up the menus is that they are crafted in a particular way so that you never experience a repeat ingredient and my doing this did actually result in me seeing turnips in two dishes.  (I know, the horror!)

I really appreciated how flexible they were, even given the prix fixe format.  Since I'm allergic to avocado, and one dish had avocado, I was also easily able to have that eliminated.
Amuse Bouche #1: Gruyère Gougères.
Our parade of food began with two amuse bouche, both of which are standard items for the restaurant.

The first is warm gougères, one for each of us, served on a little platter.  We were instructed to start with them since they were hot.

The choux pastry was light and fluffy, filled with molton gruyère, which is obviously delicious, but I still dream of the ones from Cyrus, which I liked much more.  Still, a good way to ease into the meal.
Amuse Bouche #2: Salmon Cornets.
At the same time, a little cone was placed in front of each of us, filled with salmon tartare for the regular diners, avocado for the vegetarian.

It was an adorable play on an ice cream cone!  The tuile cone really did taste like a sugar cone, slightly sweet.  I loved the crunch from the cone.  Filling the tip was a (red onion infused?) crème fraîche, which obviously goes great with salmon tartare, and reminded me of the chocolate tip in an ice cream Drumstick.  I had that exact moment of glee in discovering it that I have whenever I reach that part of a Drumstick cone too.

My third favorite of the savory courses.  This dish I'll remember for its uniqueness, taste, and the playful experience of eating it.

The place setting when we arrived is shown here under the cone, and you can see that the plates are from the special anniversary celebration, "made in France from pure white Limoges porcelain, the plate's rim features an original logo consisting of a platinum roman numeral 20 and the iconic clothespin in The French Laundry blue".  You too could own one of these for $225 each!
First Course: Oysters & Pearls.
Next up was the first course from our menu, a signature French Laundry dish.  The plates arrived with a dome covering the contents, so I wasn't quite sure what lay underneath until the dome was removed to reveal the goodies inside: "Sabayon of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters & White Sturgeon Caviar".  Served with a mother of pearl spoon, of course.

Now, besides tapioca, these are not ingredients I gravitate towards.  I like caviar, but I certainly don't appreciate it, and I've really never liked a (non-deep fried) oyster.

The tapioca were a smaller size than I've ever encountered before, and the preparation reminded me of a very rich risotto, just with a more interesting texture than standard rice, clearly cooked with plenty of heavy cream and egg yolk enriched sabayon.  I liked the brightness the chives added.

I also really liked having the salty caviar to mix into the rich tapioca base, but as expected, I didn't really care for the slimy oyster, although they were nicely poached.

This was a very luxurious dish, and I did like it far more than I expected.  I finished it, but almost wish I hadn't, as I really had no idea how much food was going to be coming my way.  Unless you fast for days, I recommend only finishing dishes if you really, really like them.

The vegetarian menu started with Nasturtium Leaf 'Vichyssoise': Brokaw Avocado Puree, Sweet Pepper Salad, and Cilantro Shoots.  Since it had avocado, and I'm allergic, I didn't try a bite.
First Course (Supplement): Royal Ossetra Caviar. +$75.
Emil of course went for the supplemental dish that had royal ossetra instead of the white sturgeon caviar.

The preparation was entirely different as well:"Yukon Gold Potato "Blini", Garden Radishes, Hard Boiled Hen Egg Mousse, and Watercress".

I didn't try this dish, but the egg mousse in particular seemed like a great twist on traditional caviar accompaniments.  Interestingly, his dish was not served with a mother of pearl spoon, although he requested one.
Hen Egg Custard. (Bonus Dish)
Next up was a bonus dish!

Yet another signature dish, although an off menu item, commonly served to VIPs: Hen Egg Custard with a Ragout of Perigord Truffles and a Chive Chip.

I usually love things like this, as I adore custards, sweet or savory, but somehow this signature dish didn't do it for me.  The custard was creamy and well set, and the presentation remarkable, but I didn't really like the flavor of the rich gel on top, it was like an overly concentrated consommé.

The chip was tasty, and had an interesting presentation with the chive up the middle, but I wasn't quite sure how to use it.  I tried to dip it into the custard, but it just broke into pieces every time I tried.

It made me remember the egg custard amuse bouche from La Folie, which I did really love, and, in particular, that one came with a brioche as well as a chip, so you did have something to dip more successfully.
Next we were given two different butters, a foreshadowing of the upcoming bread service.

One was a local butter from Andante Dairy, unsalted, and the other was from Vermont, salted.  I don't remember finding them particularly remarkable.
First Bread Service: Puff Pastry.
A basket was presented with a couple bread selections.

Now, I knew that we were there for 8 stated courses, and had already received 2 amuse bouches and an additional dish, so I wasn't particularly keen to fill up on bread.

Except, the bread at The French Laundry comes from Bouchon, and one of the options was a puff pastry.  How could I pass up what basically looked like a flaky Bouchon croissant?

I couldn't.  Except, it wasn't as remarkable as I imagined.  It was just a croissant.  A fine croissant, but certainly not earth shattering, and not worth limited stomach space.
First Bread Service: Pain au Lait.
Ojan picked a different option, so we could try several, although I'm sure either of us could have asked for both without a problem.

Shockingly, his was better.  Really light and fluffy, with large salt crystals on top.  I guess a croissant isn't always the best!
Second Course (Veggie Menu): French Laundry Garden Cucumber Salad.
At this point, we were exactly one hour into our dining experience, and were just reaching the actual second course.  Both menus moved on to a "salad" course. 

The vegetarian menu had a cucumber salad, fresh from the French Laundry garden, along with K&J Orchard White Nectarines, Garden Radishes, Watercress, and Toasted Pine Nuts.

It was insanely gorgeous.  Seriously, when have you ever seen a salad like this?  I tried a few bites and recall thinking that the vegetables were incredibly fresh tasting, and I did really like the nectarine.  But what really stood out was the presentation.  A work of art.
Second Course: Salad of Hawaiian Hearts of Peach Palm.
The regular menu also had a salad, this one was a Hearts of Palm salad with Green Tomato 'Croutons', Garden Turnips, Petite Lettuces, and Aged Balsamic Vinegar.

I found it interesting that the two salads were so different, even though both were vegetarian.  It would have been easy to offer the same course to both menus, yet these didn't have a single ingredient in common.

Ojan got this salad, and he really enjoyed it.  He commented several times while eating it how he didn't expect to like it as much.  He gave me a few bites to try, but besides the beautiful plating, I really didn't find anything interesting about the dish.
Second Course (Supplemental): "Macaroni and Cheese".  +$100.
I had something totally different in front of me, as I opted for the truffle supplement.  If you went for the truffle supplement on the regular menu, it appeared as this second course, replacing the salad.  I thought it was a bit strange that they replaced the small, light salad with a heavy pasta dish, rather than swapping out a dish further down in the menu.  In fact, on the vegetarian menu, if you got the truffle supplement, it didn't replace the salad, instead, it replaced the final savory course.  I'm sure they have a reason for the dish progression, but, a pasta seemed so heavy at this point, particularly when my dining companions were eating light little salads!

Anyway, back to my dish, "Macaroni and Cheese", TFL style.  As you can imagine, this wasn't exactly just macaroni and cheese, it was amped up just a bit:  "'Aile de Poulet', Romaine Lettuce and Shaved Australian Black Winter Truffles".  

Uh, what?  So maybe this was a salad course after all, as it had more lettuce in it than either of the salad courses my companions had :)  I actually like cooked lettuce, so I didn't find that aspect strange in principle, but it was a bit odd with the pasta.  Perhaps it was there to lighten up the dish a bit?

Contrasting with the soft lettuce was crispy bits of buffalo chicken, which I totally loved, but didn't quite expect in my macaroni and cheese.

The macaroni was well cooked, as you would expect.  No mushy pasta here.  I didn't actually taste any cheese, and I'm not sure if there really was any.  The sauce seemed to just be a light broth, flecked with truffle.
Ah yes, that is what the $100 was for!
The dish, as originally presented however, was not complete.  Sure it had some truffle in the sauce, but certainly not $100 worth.

Out came the truffle box.  Truffles were shaved to order, directly on top of the dish.  As the server covered our plates in truffles, he adjusted the mandolin several times, resulting in slices of multiple thickness.

And he kept shaving, until literally all of the pasta was covered.  You'd never know there was pasta under there!  Yes, this was an incredibly generous amount of truffle.  It was a $100 supplement, so you somewhat expect a lot, but this was a bit ridiculous.  The most memorable part of this dish was not the taste, but rather, the vast amount of truffle.

I liked the truffle, but, I certainly don't have the appreciation for truffles that the others at my table did.  Emil was ridiculously pleased by his dish, as was our vegetarian companion once she reached the truffles in her own meal.

Ojan historically has not liked truffles, but he still tried it.  He didn't love it, but also didn't seem to totally hate it, which is progress.
Third Course: Sauteed Fillet of Atlantic Striped Bass.
Moving on to the third course, the first of our seafood courses, Striped Bass, with Summer Pole Beans, Parsley Shoots, and Whole Grain Mustard.

The fish was perfectly cooked, but it didn't wow me.  Both Ojan and Emil seemed more pleased with it than I was.

I did really like the pole beans however, they were super fresh, crisp, and summery.  I tell you, the vegetables here are just stunning.

The mustard sauce didn't really have much flavor.
Third Course (Vegetarian): Sungold Tomato Tart.
But what did have a ton of flavor was our vegetarian dining companion's dish, a Sungold Tomato Tart, with Early Girl Tomato Jam, Burrata, Cerignola Olives, Fino Verde Basil, and Armando Manni Olive Oil.

She gave me a very generous portion of the small tart, and I'm so grateful she did.  This was hands down the best savory bite of the meal.

Crumbly, buttery tart shell, filled with the most intense, flavorful tomatoes I've ever tasted.  Sungolds are often my favorites, but slightly roasting them clearly intensified their flavor, and the olive oil drizzled over it all was crazy high quality and flavorful itself.  There was also a creaminess that I imagine came from the burrata.

This was truly amazing, and is the dish that I'll remember most for its flavor.
Bread Service #2: Pretzel Roll.
Next it was time for another bread course.  A basket was presented with totally different options from the first time, including a mini French baguette which Ojan selected, and a sourdough offering, which, since I don't like sourdough I didn't even consider, and a pretzel roll.

Again, I was trying not to fill up on bread, but I went for the pretzel roll, since I'd read from other's reviews that this was the best bread of the meal.

It was decent pretzel bread, but I was disappointed that all of the breads were served cold.  I put it to use later on however, when I had some sauce to soak up.
Fourth Course: Sweet Butter Poached Maine Lobster.
Our second seafood dish was lobster, butter poached, with Ruby Beets, Compressed Cucumbers, Brokaw Avocado Puree, and Preserved Meyer Lemon.

The French Laundry is known for their lobster dish, which is constantly evolving, but always features lobster poached in clarified butter, a technique pioneered by Keller.  They have a direct relationship with a fishmonger in Maine, who ships daily at 3:30pm, so the lobster arrive by 10:30am the next day for service.

Yet another dish with gorgeous plating.  This one really was a work of art, the beet reduction had clearly been painted on the plate.  The cucumber was compressed and shaped, no longer resembling the simple vegetable it came from.  The garnishes were arranged to look like flowers!  
My dish had the avocado left out, since I'm allergic.

Lobster is not something that ever wows me, but this was very good.  The secret was clearly butter, butter, and more butter.  Butter seemed infused into the lobster in every way imaginable.  And butter is delicious.

I also loved the beet reduction on the plate, intensely flavorful, and the tiny, flavorful little pieces of preserved lemon.

The vegetarian offering was a Brentwood Corn "porridge", but I did not try it.

At this point, I was full.  As in, actually full.  We'd been dining for almost 2 hours, and still had many more courses to go.  It is here that we asked to take a break, and went to enjoy the sunshine in the courtyard and to explore the gardens for about half an hour.  We needed the break!
Fifth Course: Salmon Creek Pork Belly.
When we returned, it was time to move on to the meaty savory options.  First up was Pork Belly, with K&J Orchard Peaches, Brentwood Corn, Chanterelle Mushroom 'Tapenade', Black Eyed Peas, and Red Wine Shallot Sauce.

Pork belly is never something I liked, until I had it at Alexander's once, and my entire opinion of it changed.  It makes me glad that I write this blog, because I can go back and find my reaction to moments like that.  The day I first liked pork belly!

But this version wasn't life altering like that.  It was just pork belly.  And, interestingly, the sauce was too strong for me.  I love sauces!  I'm a sauce girl!  But this sauce was too much.  Ojan and Emil really did like the sauce though, so this is clearly just personal preference.  Also, did I mention, I was full?

My least favorite dish of the meal.

The vegetarian offering alongside this was Morel Mushroom Dumplings, which is what I picked to sub out my next meat dish, so I didn't try any of my dining companion's.
Sixth Course: Herb Roasted Elysian Fields Farm Lamb.
The second meat course was Herb Roasted Lamb, with Sweet Garden Carrots, Cauliflower, Hadley Orchard Medjool Dates, Cilantro Shoots, and 'Sauce Bagna Cauda'.

I don't like lamb, but I tried a bite of Ojan's, just in case.  I desperately want to like lamb, and I figured if I was going to like it anywhere, it would be TFL.

It was very tender, perfectly cooked, as was true with every component of our meal.  But it was still lamb, and I just don't like the flavor.  I did find the little ball on the side made from dates to be interesting however.

The supplemental option was wagyu instead, for $100 extra.  I did not try it, but Emil devoured his dish of Charcoal Grilled Japanese Wagyu with "Pommes Maxim's", Cipollini Onion, Young Leeks, Arrowleaf Spinach, and "Sauce Bordelaise".
Morel Mushroom Dumplings.
Instead, I subbed my dish for something from the vegetarian menu, since I didn't want the lamb or the wagyu.  I had the choice of any course I wanted, and decided on the Morel Mushroom Dumplings, with Chantenay Carrots, Petite Turnips, Pea Tendrils, and 'Sauce Bordelaise' (the previous course on the vegetarian menu).

I picked it because I love morels.

It was yet another gorgeous dish.  All of the dishes throughout our meal were beautiful, but I think the vegetarian dishes managed to outdo the standard menu dishes.

I wasn't really sure what to expect from this dish, but the dumplings weren't quite what I was hoping for.  They were doughy, and stuffed with what I think was a finely chopped morel filling, but I honestly didn't taste morels.  Like I said, I love morels, and I was sad that I didn't taste them, or really find them inside.

The carrots, turnips, and onions, in the bordelaise sauce reminded me of a beef stew, just sans beef.  The pearl onions were very tasty, but the rest of it felt very heavy for a summer dish, even though the shaved radish and pea tendrils on top gave a hint of spring.  It seemed more appropriate for a cozy winter evening.

The bordelaise and pearl onions were the hits of this dish, but overall, it wasn't really my style.
Sixth Course (Vegetarian, Supplement): Hand-Cut 'Tagliatelle'.  +$100.
Meanwhile, the final vegetarian savory course was a Charred Eggplant 'Agnolotti', or, the truffle supplement.  As I mentioned earlier, my regular menu had the truffle option early on to replace the salad, but our vegetarian friend had to wait until now.  And believe me, she was waiting.  She drooled over the truffle box every time it passed by.
Shaved Australian Black Winter Truffles.
If you thought my pasta dish was generously covered in truffles, it was nothing compared to hers.  What a serious amount of truffle!  I swear, she did have pasta under there ... somewhere!

I think it is safe to say that she enjoyed this.
Cheese Course: Spingvale Farms 'Landaff'.
And finally, we were starting to wind down.  Or so we thought.  3 hours and 15 minutes into our meal, and we'd reached the cheese course, the bridge to the desserts.

For the regular menu, the cheese was Springvale Farm's "Landaff" with Sungold Tomatoes, Garden Squash, Fine Verde Basil, and Fennel Lavash.

Cheese appeared in two forms here, a hard cheese on the sides that I thought was fine but not remarkable, and a creamy cheese in the middle.  I absolutely loved the creamy cheese, and eagerly took Ojan's extra when he slowed down and couldn't finish it.

The wining component was the Sungold tomatoes.  Yes, the same Sungold tomatoes that I adored from my dining companion's tomato tart earlier.  An absolute perfect bite could be composed from a piece of the thin lavash, spread with the creamy cheese, with a tomato balanced on top.

Totally delicious, and far from an ordinary cheese course.  While the tomato tart was my favorite dish of the meal, this one came in a close second.  Yes, I picked a vegetarian dish as my favorite, and a cheese course as my second favorite.  I can't say I ever expected that.
Cheese Course (Vegetarian): 'Bleu d'Auvergne'
The vegetarian menu had totally different cheese options.  And yes, I actually do mean options.  The only area of the menu where there was a published choice (besides choosing supplements).  She had the pick of Consider Bardwell Farms "Pawlet" or a blue cheese, which she went for, served with Stewed Blueberries, Piedmont Hazelnuts, and Cutting Celery.

I tried a bite.  It was another interesting take on a cheese course, with a creamy blue cheese pudding and a savory tuille, but I was too in love with my cheese course to pay much more attention to this one.

It was interesting that they gave an option for the cheese course for vegetarians, when there were no other options given elsewhere on the menu, and that all three cheese courses were totally different.
Cognac.  $50.
As it was time to move on to desserts, Emil ordered his dessert: cognac.  You may recall that he does not eat dessert, so he wanted something to occupy himself as the desserts started rolling in.
Dessert #1: Fruit.
And ... rolling in they did.  First up was "fruit".

On top was fresh nectarines, super flavorful, thinly sliced.  Garnished with little blossoms that tasted like basil.  I loved that combination of flavors.

Underneath was something I don't even recall.  Ojan said he thought it was ice cream inside meringue.  I just remember not being impressed with that bit.

My third to least favorite of the desserts, saved by the tasty fruit on top.
Dessert #2: Ice Cream.
Next up was an ice cream course, almond ice cream.

It was very almondy, and not too sweet.  I liked the crunch and sweetness from the crumble on top, but wasn't into the shortbread underneath.

Nothing all that special, and, I wish I hadn't finished mine, as I had no idea how many more desserts would be coming our way.  My second to least favorite of the desserts.
Dessert #2 (Vegetarian): Ice Cream.
The vegetarian meal came with a different ice cream course, which I believe they called Coca-Cola.  My dining companion gave me this, since she also doesn't eat desserts.  I believe Emil has finally found his match!

This one was far better.  The ice cream was vanilla and kinda malty, drizzled with a super flavorful and intense cola syrup.  It really did taste like a soda float.  It was garnished with a piece that tasted like a sugar cone.

I easily finished this, the flavor was shockingly intense and interesting.  My second favorite of the dessert courses.
To go along with desserts, I also ordered decaf coffee.  It was served with a variety of sweeteners and a beautiful pot of steamed milk, always a nice touch.  The coffee wasn't bad!
Dessert #3: Chocolate.
Next, we moved on to chocolate dessert.  I have no real memory of what this was.  Or what the green sauce was?  Totally unremarkable, and my least favorite.
Dessert #3 (Vegetarian): Chocolate Ganache Cake.
Of course, the vegetarian offering had a completely different chocolate dessert, a slice of chocolate ganache cake.  And just like the ice cream, our friend who ordered the vegetarian menu didn't want it.  And, just like the ice cream, the vegetarian dish was much better.

Rich, creamy chocolate.  Ojan and I easily finished this one off, and I think we both wished we hadn't eaten our own chocolate desserts.  That said, this was still fairly middle of the road, good, but not remarkable.
Bonus Dessert: Birthday Cake.
And, because we needed more desserts, a special extra dessert was brought out in honor of my birthday, complete with a candle.  (Yes, at this point I already had my 3 dessert courses, plus the extra ice cream and chocolate desserts, and we weren't even close to done!)

It was a multilayer cake, although I'm not really sure what all the layers were.  One was very intensely berry.  The presentation was absolutely beautiful, the plate and the layers of the cake matched perfectly, and it was quite festive.  That said, it wasn't actually very tasty.  Tied with the almond ice cream for second to least favorite.  I don't think anyone finished this one.
More Desserts: Chocolates, Donuts, Macaroons.
But wait, there was more.  Much much more.

First, macaroons.  Macaroons are never my favorite, but these were fine.  There were two flavors, one was chocolate and cherry, the other orange with white chocolate filling.  The white chocolate was intensely sweet, but it went great with my coffee.  Of course, since two of our diners weren't eating dessert, this left 4 macaroons each for Ojan and I.  Ooph.

In the bowl were chocolate covered candied macadamias.  I was really stuffed, but these were absolutely delicious, so I asked for them togo, since I knew they'd last, and I'd read this protip online.  I highly recommend this action.  They were clearly used to this request, as they were returned in a cute little cellophane bag, tied with a TFL ribbon.

And finally, donut holes, part of their signature "Coffee and Donuts" bonus dessert, which, we also had thrown into our meal.  I'd read in advance that this is only served to VIPs, or as part of the extended meal, but anyone can request it, and sometimes it is available.  Since it requires advance preparation (the donut dough needs to proof overnight, the semifreddo needs to set up over night), they can't just make it for everyone spur of the moment.  I was planning to request it, but given how stuffed we were midway through the meal, I thought better of it.  But, someone clearly knew I had a sweet tooth, and so we were treated to coffee and donuts just the same.

The donut holes were served warm, rolled in cinnamon sugar.  And of course, there were several for each of us, and only Ojan and I were eating desserts.  Dessert overload.  These were good, as it is hard to go wrong with fresh donut holes, but they were no where near as remarkable as the donuts served at the end of our meal at Cyrus.  Then again, I still think those might be the best donuts I've ever had.
And, the "coffee" part of the famous "Coffee & Donuts".  Except, this wasn't actually coffee, it was cappuccino semifreddo.

I'm not sure what the foam was exactly, but it was frothy, and made it look exactly like a cappuccino.  I don't think it was actually steamed milk, as it didn't seem hot, but I could be wrong.  Under that foam was an absolutely incredible espresso semifreddo.  It was insanely fluffy, super airy, yet creamy, and very flavorful.  I try not to have caffeine after noon, and it was 4pm, so I thought I'd just have a few bites.  But I couldn't stop myself.  It was just that good.  So I finished mine.  I paused.  I was full.  Beyond full.  I'd had far more sweets than I can even count.  But ... Emil wasn't touching his.  I'd just have another couple bites.  And suddenly, his was gone too.  But ... our other dining companion wasn't touching hers either.  How could I let that amazing semifreddo go to waste?  I couldn't.  Yes, I finished all 3.  Even after all of these courses.  I couldn't resist.  Very clearly my favorite of the desserts.  I still can't get over the texture!

Note that I didn't mention eating Ojan's.  That is because he had told them of his no caffeine restriction, and they actually made his with vanilla instead of coffee!  Except it wasn't a semifreddo, it seemed more like a regular ice cream, I think probably the same as from the vegetarian meal's Coca-Cola one.  But I love how they manage to accommodate everyone's needs.
Chocolate Truffles.
And yes, more sweets.  I was still in the aftershock of all of the desserts I had just consumed.  Let's see ... the fruit & ice cream dessert, almond ice cream, coca cola ice cream, my chocolate dessert, chocolate ganache cake, birthday cake, macaroons, donut holes, and three full semifreddos.  And uh, it isn't like I was hungry going into the dessert lineup!

But now it was time for housemade chocolate truffles, in 7 varieties.  The server rattled off the flavors and asked which I'd like.  I was too overwhelmed to make decisions, and, at this point, I don't  think I could have possibly eaten another bite.  But I knew what to do.  My research guided me well throughout the meal.  Just ask for one of each, boxed up.

I felt a bit silly asking for them all, but, the server gladly obliged, and asked if the others all wanted the same.  This can't be uncommon.
Melted Truffles.
The truffles were given to me arranged in a nice container, a pair of each for Ojan and I.  But ... it was really hot out that day, and they totally and completely melted in the car ride home.  We didn't leave them in the sun or anything.  Doh!

Even in their totally jumbled, melted mess, I could tell they were seriously good chocolates.  Such a shame that I ruined them.  The chocolate all had a perfect snap to it, and the fillings were creative.

I didn't take notes when the server named them all, so I'm somewhat just re-creating this based on what I tasted.
  • Peanut Butter & Jelly: Well, how do you go wrong with this?  Creamy peanut butter and chocolate are a classic combo, and the dollop of jam added fruitiness.
  • S'mores: This one wasn't what I was expecting at all, as it was filled with a large, really fluffy marshmallow.  I loved the marshmallow, and it was one truffle that didn't melt!  I also appreciated the crunch from graham cracker base.  A really fun truffle.
  • Hazelnut Praline (?):  I might be making this one up, but I found a lot of what tasted like hazelnut, ground up and crunchy.  I loved the flavor.
  • White Chocolate (with passion fruit?):  This one had some fruitiness, which I'm deeming passion fruit, but really could have been something else.  I didn't like the flavor of the white chocolate itself.
  • Boozy (cherry?):  Again, not entirely sure what this was, but it was definitely boozy, and had little bits of something, currants? Cherries?  The chocolate had a great snap to it, and strong flavors.
  • Caramel: I'm pretty sure there was a caramel one in mix, since I found runny caramel all over the box.  Sweet and tasty.
  • There was at least one other kind, but I didn't ever find another distinct flavor in the rubble.  Perhaps it was plain chocolate?
Take Home Gifts: Chocolate, Shortbreads.
And more, but these were clearly designed to take home.

Just for me, for my birthday, a stack of chocolate bars, bearing the 20th anniversary double X logo.  The chocolate was good, filled with nibs.  I shared it with all my co-workers.

For everyone, a metal tin of shortbreads.  Now, I don't normally care much for cookies, and Ojan never likes shortbreads, but we both agreed that these were quite good.  Very buttery, coated in cinnamon and sugar.  I described them as what a churro would be, if it were a shortbread.  A nice treat the next day, for sure.  I love meals that end with a take home treat, perfect to keep the memories alive one more day ...
The Damage!
And, at the end, the damage.  Presented on a giant laundry tag.  Cute!
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