It is elusive, often chased for entire careers. Most will not attain it. Those that do, champions. I’m talking about that coveted third Michelin Star. For the past couple years, I just didn’t understand. The difference between one and two stars, in my amateur opinion, is minute, with little that distinguishes them. It got me thinking, what does it take to get a third star?
We live in a city with one three-star Michelin restaurant, but I just haven’t made the effort to dine there*. So for the past few years, the third star has been a mystery. It took a trip to San Francisco to get me to a what might be the pinnacle of my dining experiences. By now, you should know I’m talking about The French Laundry.
Believe the hype. Thomas Keller is the man. He has a vision, and he has the skill to execute it to perfection. It is exceptional cuisine, with distinctive dishes, using superlative ingredients. It is, as defined by Michelin, worth a special journey.
It is expected when dining at such an establishment that the diner places their experience in the hands of the creators; and so my wife and I did, while also supplementing courses throughout the evening.
There were classics like the Salmon Tartare Cornets, and Oysters and Pearls, and it makes sense why these are timeless icons; executed to perfection, delicious beyond words.
But what really took our breaths away were supplements. Carnaroli Risotto Biologico, with parmesan nuage and shaved black winter truffles. We had no idea what we were getting into with this supplement. The following conversation occurred when truffle service began.
“Am I supposed to say stop?” she asked.
“I highly suggest you don’t,” replied the captain.
It was ridiculous, to say the least, at the amount of truffles on this dish. Was it necessary? The old me would have said no, in part because I was not fond of fungus. But now it most certainly was necessary because I now know that one can never have enough truffles (a little pretentious of me, no?).
But really, the Laundry is about more than truffles and caviar. It’s about seasonality, freshness. and some damn good cooking.
The menu continued to wow with sauteed fillet of Mediterranean lubina (a European sea bass) with pickled vegetables, butter-poached Maine lobster fricassee, poularde (young, fattened hen) with a piperade, 49-day dry-aged beef served with TFL-grown greens, and more. The savory dishes were unlike anything I’ve ever had, with flavor combinations and ingredients I have not thought of before.
Following the savories was a series of exceptional sweets, including a play on a root beer float (with star ruby grapefruit instead), a passion fruit swiss roll, and a bakewell tart with a rome beauty apple compote.
At the end of the day, did it answer the question “Was it worth the special journey?” In short, yes. If you are lucky, persistent, or a little bit of both, TFL is definitely worth the trip. It’s one of those “When am I ever going to have the opportunity to do this again?” type of meals that needs no other justification. The level of the cuisine is almost unrivaled, with service and location that are truly impeccable. Three stars indeed.
*Alinea review to come