The Distinguished Gourmand: Vespertine @ Home 2

June 16, 2020
  • The Distinguished Gourmand: Vespertine @ Home 2

When we last checked in with Chef Jordan Kahn and his team at Veserptine, I was enjoying a magnificent birthday dinner. The “theme” that night was Southern Cooking, and you can read all about it here. We were so blown away by the experience and menu that first go-round, we decided to make a second reservation when the next “theme” was revealed. An e-mail from Tock informed us when reservations were available. It described this latest menu as “The French Laundry.”

Vespertine honors one of the most important and influential restaurants in history. With the express permission of Chef Thomas Keller himself, I have chosen to create a tasting menu featuring specific dishes I learned from my time working alongside Chef Keller. This collection of recipes hold a special meaning to me, for within each, lies a personal lesson or story recounted from small moments of imparted wisdom, which was always the case when working with Chef.

Um. Yes, please. Although I’ve never been to Yountville to enjoy a meal at The French Laundry, it is near the top of my culinary bucket list. I’ve read enough and seen enough food shows/documentaries to know some of the signature dishes, and wondered if they would be included in the Vespertine experience. I tried not to read any reviews (and refused to let friends whose reservations predated ours share their thoughts). I wanted the meal to follow the same criteria as my birthday meal, where everything came as a surprise. Or, as much of a surprise as can be allowed when part of the experience involves reading the instructions for proper coursing and potential re-heating/storing of dishes before consumption.

The pickup process as Vespertine was really easy. Although LA has opened up more businesses recently and streets and neighborhoods are more crowded than they’ve been in months, the Sunday evening drive over to Culver City was quiet. There was only one other car in the parking lot, and our food was brought to us within minutes by a mask and glove-clad crew member. Upon returning home, we refrigerated whatever needed to be served cold before beginning our meal.

Gruyére Cheese “Gougéres” – The meal began with a pair of pastries. We were instructed to remove them from their bag and toast them for about 3 minutes until hot and crispy on the outside. They were a buttery, and I could have popped about a dozen more in my mouth if I could.

 

“Cornets” Salmon Tartare with Sweet Red Onion Créme Fraîche – Probably the most iconic dish from the French Laundry, I was super excited to see these on the menu. Some assembly was required here. The red onion créme fraîche was provided in a piping bag, and we were instructed to fill the tuile ourselves before topping with the quenelle of salmon tartare. “Enjoy like an ice cream cone” were our instructions. I resisted the urge to bite off the bottom and suck out the innards, even though that’s still how I eat most ice cream cones, even at age 37. It’s almost as if you’ve forgotten why I call this series of posts “The Distinguished Gourmand.”

 

Cauliflower Panna Cotta with Osetra Caviar and Oyster Glaze – I think this is Chef Kahn’s take on another infamous French Laundry dish, “Oysters and Pearls.” I got to eat both of these small cups because someone doesn’t really like Caviar. I keep telling her the reason she’s yet to join me at some of the world’s top restaurants is because her palate hasn’t matured enough. Then she says she’d rather eat a piece of steak or a cheeseburger, and calls me a spoiled brat and a snob. Whatever, more caviar for me.

 

Bread Service! Although it didn’t appear on the menu, bread service included this insanely, addictive play on Parker House Rolls, with a side of Normandy butter topped with sea salt. The butter came in a cute little cloche I wanted to keep and use forever the moment I laid eyes on it. We paired the bread with the next course because it seemed somewhat appropriate, but I could be dead wrong and we ate it too early or too late in the meal. Oh well.

 

Creamy Maine Lobster Broth With Lobster Coral “Mousse” – Preparation

Creamy Maine Lobster Broth With Lobster Coral “Mousse” – This was one of my favorite bites of the entire meal. We were instructed to reheat the soup in a small saucepan or in the microwave until warm, then pour into the bowl atop the mousse. It was incredibly rich and brimming with lobster, like a super-infused bisque but as thick as chowder. 

 

Salad Of Haricot Verts, Tomato Tartare, and Chive Oil – This was the surprise stunner of the meal. A simple list of ingredients, but taken as a whole the dish sang. The tomatoes came across as almost meaty, reminiscent of the beef tartare dish Chef Kahn used to serve at Red Medicine. The green beans added a bit of snap and crunch. And that chive oil? Man, oh man this course was awesome. The story accompanying it is hilarious, too.

 

“Peas And Carrots” Maine Lobster Pancakes With Pea Shoot Salad And Ginger-Carrot Emulsion

 

“Peas And Carrots” Maine Lobster Pancakes With Pea Shoot Salad And Ginger-Carrot Emulsion – If you held my feet to the fire I would tell you this was my favorite dish of the entire meal. The ginger-carrot emulsion was like pure, injectable carrot essence…it was so perfectly carrot-y you would think it was artificial and made in a laboratory. I honestly don’t even know if it needed the lobster knuckles and mitts, but when you put this all together it is a showstopper of a course. Someone else who had the Vespertine x French Laundry meal a couple nights before us said that this one brought a tear to his eye. A little overdramatic? Probably. But also… I get it.

 

Wine tonight was provided by a bottle with a very weird story behind it. The Scholium Project 2006 Gardens of Babylon is described by its makers thusly: “It began in disappointment but has resulted in great promise. The Tenbrink’s Babylon vineyard can produce about a thousand cases of wine per year. The price that we request for the Babylon wine itself is only appropriate for a wine that achieves excellence in every vintage, emerges in small quantities, exceeds all expectations, and makes regret impossible. It is difficult to do that every year, in every section of the vineyard. In 2006, we felt that even from mid-fermentation we were not going to hit those heights with this vintage. It took me two more years to decide what to do. In late summer 2008, I decided to de-classify all but 3 barrels of the 2006 vintage. (We are preserving those 3 barrels and might release a 2006 Babylon reserve after 3+ years in barrel.) “Gardens” is the name that I chose for this declassified wine. It is nearly all Tenbrink Petite Sirah, but it also includes about 40 gallons of a Suisun Valley Cabernet, and 20 gallons of each of Margit’s Cabernet, Hudson Syrah, and skin-fermented Pinot Grigio from Rocky Hill.” 

 

“Pot-Au-Feu” Braised Prime Beef Short Ribs With Root Vegetables And Sautéed Bone Marrow

 

“Pot-Au-Feu” Braised Prime Beef Short Ribs With Root Vegetables And Sautéed Bone Marrow – The final savory course of the evening was this perfectly cooked plate of short ribs and veggies. There really isn’t much else to say other than the meat was tender, the veggies delicious, and it provided a hearty end to an expertly plotted progression of plates. 

 

Roquefort Trifle With French Butter Pear Relish – As you probably know by now, I’m not much of a dessert person. I love blue cheese, but the tang of the Roquefort kind of dominated the dish or muted the other flavors, and the whole thing came across as a kind of “one note” dish. I was really excited for this too because it reminded me (visually) of Jar’s butterscotch pudding, one of my favorite desserts in Los Angeles. Oh well! 

 

Chocolate Fondant With Coffee Cream And Chocolate Dentelles – This beautiful dessert was a shining example of the chef’s skills. One of my lasting memories of Red Medicine was how shockingly good the desserts were. This took me back to my first visit there, the complete and utter expertise it showed was giddying. Again, I don’t like dessert very much in general…but this was incredible.

 

Praline-Brown Butter Truffle – A trio of mignardise were included as a post-script to our meal. This difficult to photograph bite was a truffle. It was good, but not my favorite of the trio.

 

Yuzu Jellies – I love Yuzu, but I hate jellies. You can imagine the internal struggle as I tried to make sense of this little jelly. Did I like it? Did I hate it? I think I’m still undecided.

 

Caramel Macaroons With Fleur De Sel Buttercream – This one was a no-brainer. Hands down, the best of the mignardise, and I wish I had a little box of them to munch on for the remainder of the evening (or into the next day?). A delicious bite to end a fantastic meal. With only misstep (that Roquefort dessert), I have to say that this was an outstanding meal at a shockingly good value, and anyone reading this who thinks about making a reservation should do so ASAP. There are only like four or five spots left this weekend as of my posting this, so act fast. It’s going to sell out, and is unlikely to continue past this week.

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