Then on to M & J's for more last minute errands, purchases, packing. We rushed like hell all day. Marjorie was aghast at the weather forecasts for the weekend, which ranged from cloudy with showers, to a storm, to clearing and sunshine. We finally took the option of renting a tent, which we pray we will be able to do without.
We left S.F. in a caravan. Of course, I turned off onto the Santa Rosa Freeway and had to double back, but we met at the French Laundry, as planned. We made sure our reservation was in order. To get a reservation at the country's hottest restaurant, you have to call two months in advance, but not more than two months in advance. On the day we became eligible for a reservation two months ago, I began to call at 11 AM EST and got a buy signal for 25 minutes. I finally got through and secured a reservation at 9:15 PM, which I made in the name of Michael Reichl. It rhymes nicely, and I figured they would think it was Ruth Reichl (food critic for the NY Times) and her husband. When it came time to confirm the reservation this week, however, I called and confirmed under the name Michael Ingall. She said there was no such reservation at 9:15. I tried Phunn, the name we often use ("Phunn family...party of 4...this way"), but no luck with that either. Finally, I gave her M & J's phone number, and she said, "I have a Michael Reichl at 9:15." "That's me! I forgot my name" I cried. She laughed. We went on to White Sulphur Springs. It was drizzling. The guy at the front desk hassled us about turning on the walk-in refrigerator for us, knowing that we had tons of perishable food. After several aggravating phone calls, the refrigerator was turned on. We unpacked, jumped into some fancy clothes, and returned to the restaurant. We saw our name in the reservation book: "Reichl (not Ruth)."
The greatest dining experience of our lives was at L'Espérance, the three-star restaurant of Marc Ménaud, in Vézelay, France, where we went a few years ago with the Pages. When we ate there, we knew that we would never eat like that again in our lives.
But after that, it's the French Laundry. It is, as they say, the shit. A bit noisy, but not too bad, because it was late, and people were leaving (we finally left at 12:30 AM). Country French in decor. Unobtrusive service. Natural laid back waiter. Every mouthful of every dish is an orgasm. Better than Viagra. Where to begin? The wines: A delicious Cronin "Nancy's Vineyard" Chardonnay, buttery, rich, vanilla, apricot, honey, oak. Overpriced. Everything is overpriced. But you are in heaven, you are with your children on the eve of their wedding, and you don't care. A Ridge Zinfandel, Geyserville, 1985. It was very smooth, too smooth for a Zin, more like a fine Bordeaux, without the forward berry explosiveness and insouciance of a Zin (I always wanted to use "insouciance" to describe wine). Three of us had the five-course prix fixe, and Jonathan had the 8-course tasting menu. First, they bring you an amuse-bouche of a little ice cream cone made of carrot dough, with a tiny scoop of tuna tatare on top, wrapped in a tiny napkin. I had pea soup that was a bright flaming green, pureed from freshly shucked peas, that exploded in your mouth with intense flavor. I thought it was the best thing on the menu. The dishes kept coming: cod, ris de veau, veal filet mignon, many vegetarian dishes, white truffle custard, agnelotti with marrow beans, turbotine with a lobster coral butter, lobster medallion, salmon with citrus glaze. A cheese course with superb cheeses served at room temperature with fresh fruit, coconut and mango sorbet, pot de crême, crême brulée, chocolate truffles. The vegetarian dishes were the best, because they use one vegetable in all of them that really brings out the flavor and essence of the dish. It's called butter. At the end, we said to the waiter, as I gladly shelled out more for a meal than I have ever paid in my life, "Larry, you outdid yourself, you have to give us the recipes. We're bloated."
We returned to WSS and slept so well. The tension of the preceding days
was gone, although the staff at WSS are not very helpful. The owner and
his wife are on the premises. They are devoted to rocks and plants and
making the place beautiful, which indeed it is. It is at once wild and
rustic and cultivated and gorgeous. It is quiet and serene. And it is all
ours for the weekend, the cabins, the lodge, the inn, the dining room,
the fields, the brooks, the sulphur spring, the hot tub, the pool, the
spa. But the owners are not people persons. They don't know how to deal
with guests. They just go about digging holes and planting and trimming.
They hired a manager named Tom who gets off on offending people and making
their lives miserable. A true misanthrope. HIs son Darryl works at the
desk at night. I won't go into their nastiness and meanness here, for Tom
is being fired on Monday. Meanwhile we have to deal with them. The other
staff our gracious and kind, but their hands are tied by Tom, and the owner
doesn't want to get involved. We are winning most battles, though, even
if it takes a toll.
We slept through the night, praying for good weather.