January 25, 2005

The Unbearable Sadness of Exquisite Eating

Last Sunday, I ate at the French Laundry with Stacy and Janice, thanks to the generosity of a dear friend who couldn't utilize her reservations.

For those unfamiliar, The French Laundry is considered one of North America's premiere dining establishments, and it's chef, Thomas Keller, has developed something of a cult following.

The meal was remarkable. I won't go into the details here--you can witness it, blow by blow, in the Flickr Photoset I created of the meal.

What's not captured in the photos is the totality of the experience. Eating at The French Laundry isn't just sitting down for a good meal. It begins with the drive up there -- to Yountville, in Napa Valley. About an hour north of "the Bay Area," this excursion serves to leave your day-to-day life behind and travel to another place -- a jaw-droppingly beautiful countryside, nestled in hills, groomed with agriculture.

Upon arrival, we were seated in an alcove off the main dining room. This was by chance, but it was delightful. We had the building's original stone masonry around us, connecting us with the site's history in a very direct way.

The serving staff is a near theatrical operation. We had a main server (I believe her name was Marta), whose job was to take our primary orders, and to appear throughout the meal to make sure things were going well, to suggest appropriate wines, and generally to look after us. But over the 9 courses, we must have had at least 7 different people serving us food. Some had specific roles -- the Truffle Bearer and the Truffle Shaver and the Sommelier. Others were just food servers. It was a remarkable feat of orchestration.

The food, of course, is exemplary. I won't attempt to describe the flavors -- that would be an exercise in futility. Suffice to say it was mind-blowing, mouth-melting, and challenging. I marvelled at the "vision" ("taste"?) of the chefs to know that they could create such savory medleys.

The meal lasted about 3 hours. 3 hours of eating rich, decadent food, drinking complex surprising wines, and talking about various and sundry. We spent another 30-45 minutes in the garden afterward, relaxing, digesting, and getting our heads together to complete the trip home.

Almost from the moment we entered the garden, I felt a seeping sadness. Because the meal was over. Because those flavors -- that exquisitely marbled beef, cooked rare, that chocolate mousse cake, so smooth and cream, that buttery buttery lobster, those candies, etc. etc. -- were fleeting. I was already beginning to forget what things tasted like. Or I couldn't trust my memory's re-creation of those flavors. I had never had a meal so thoroughly satisfying from start to finish.

And when would I again?

I pretty much couldn't eat for the next 24 hours. The idea of eating pedestrian day-to-day food has as much appeal as placing ashes in my mouth. I didn't want my tongue to lose its connection with this bounty it had experienced.

But I know it must. Obviously, I need to eat. Obviously, I must move on.

And what surprised me is how sad this made me. How distraught I was. (I know this sounds... pathetic. Boo-hoo! You ate at the French Laundry! Oh how you've suffered!) But I have to admit I did face some existential despair. It almost called into question the value of the experience -- because yes, it was so good, but it's also, by nature, FLEETING, and you can't help but feel like anything after that is a letdown.

Should one forgo the mountaintop if, in relation, other experiences fall short? Does one visit the mountaintop as much as possible (which is: until you have no more money)? Does one simply accept the marvelous bounty placed before you, live in THAT MOMENT, and just move the hell on? Part of the point of a French Laundry experience is the memory created -- how do you move on from that? How do you retain the magic of that memory without it overshadowing what you feel today?

Posted by peterme at 08:48 PM | Comments (8)


See Me Travel
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005
May 2005
April 2005
March 2005
February 2005
January 2005
December 2004
November 2004
October 2004
September 2004
August 2004
July 2004
June 2004
May 2004
April 2004
March 2004
February 2004
January 2004
December 2003
November 2003
October 2003
September 2003
August 2003
July 2003
June 2003
May 2003
April 2003
March 2003
Archives from June 13, 2001 to January 2003
Archives from before June 13, 2001
Recent Entries
The Unbearable Sadness of Exquisite Eating
Subscribe to my feed:
Powered by
Movable Type 3.2