Laziness is almost a luxurious way of life.
Like a way of catching up on rest before getting tired of the world’s mundanes.
Which is why when on a trip to the illustrious Napa Valley, we found ourselves at the outdoor patio of the illustrious Chef Ken Frank’s landmark restaurant, La Toque. With an almost Italian style arched veranda and a wine cork made menu, it was easy to see based on hospitality alone why this restaurant had earned a Michelin Star every year whilst in Napa. And thus, with expectations set mile high, the sunset meal of 9 courses commenced. With rather unexpected visual revelations, at that… which I attribute to the wine!
It started with me staring at a symmetrical plate of greens: avocado, cucumber and green apple salad with gastronomy at clear, luscious play with a buttermilk granite for dressing. This granite was my favorite of all things, almost like a tangy sorbet that I could forever lick like it was mine! The freshness of the vegetables added a much needed break and crunch, and when bitten at once, made for a healthy salad like bite. What I later realized about this plate was how sexual it looked, perhaps owing to the wine tasting before, but a theme I picked up on as the meal progressed.
While not a fan of flan in dessert format, the savory rendition was rather tasty. Arriving in a bite sized bowl was a sesame tofu flan with spring peas and cured radishes. The flavors were phenomenal, with prominent sesame and tofu flavors coming through, complimented lightly with fresh vegetables.
Having lived in Holland, steamed Dutch white asparagus with maltaise sauce was a fun surprise. Though rather ironic that it was only one stem of the elitist vegetable, looking rather like a penis in isolation of its companions (sex, once again), I chuckled at the sexual irony and nibbled away at it regardless. A buttery taste was offset with the inherent fibrous vegetable and made for a satisfying nibble.
Moving onto heartier portions was the potato gnocchi with spring peas, pickled ramps and turnips. Gnocchi is my favorite of Italian foods, and was remarkably tender and flavorful here. The tang of turnips and crackle of peas elevated the dish from a usually heavy buttery one to a fresh, almost soup like one. My favorite bits were the bursts of potato!
A nibble of a Russian salad was a pre-empting omen to the hearty dish that would follow. Cooked traditionally with boiled potatoes, carrots, and eggs mixed with pickles and peas in a mayonnaise dressing, it was a small but rather satisfying slurpy bite.
The highlight of the meal was the aromatic Southern style mushroom pot pie with a cheese biscuit topping. The cheese biscuit was a hat to the entire dish, and needed to be cracked to reach the mushrooms, almost like bursting a cherry (umm, yes!). The radiating steam from the stone pot had aromas that mandated multiple saliva doused licks. The inside comprised of vegetables, with the unmistakable combination of sour mushrooms and sweet onions as a perfect combination to the richness of the melting cheese in the biscuit. What a treat to feel so Southern in wine country!
On hearing that there would be a trio of desserts, I was thrilled to start with the more palette cleansing one: Jasmine white chocolate mousse, sesame cake and brittle with a jasmine tea granita. The plate was a rather complex, three dimensional construction, centered with soft mousse which was a tad saccharine, but elevated by a candied orange peel. The aromatic sense of jasmine from the melting granita, topped with grated sesame to offset the powdery sweetness. The brittle acted as a much needed crunchy element, with the addition of sesame tying the meal together from its omni-presence in the former courses.
Next up was a banana caramel ‘croustillant’ with pineapple granita and cardamom ice cream. The ‘spring roll’ like appearance masked the sweet, Hawaiian flavors of banana and caramel, but the bitterness of the crispy crust cut the sweetness brilliantly. The tangy granita and spicy ice cream further elevated the juxtaposition of temperatures and flavors, providing a refreshing perspective to the indulgent dessert.
Things ended with my homage to chocolate, obviously. It was a chocolate crunch, peanut butter mousse, honey ice cream and honey soaked peanuts. Naturally looking like every chocolate lover’s favorite dream, with a child-like quality with the knockoff from a classic chocolate bar, the cake itself had three majestic layers – a soft and salty peanut butter mousse, a crackling dark chocolate base and a gooey center, which was a noisy, happy party in the mouth with every bite. The honey ice cream was comparatively sweeter when eaten with the bitter cake component, amplified further with the crackle of salty peanuts coated in sweet honey. The clash of sweet and salty and crunchy and creamy could not have been more harmonious.
This sensational whirlwind sans physical exertion should be christened a sport in itself. For isn’t eating through the world’s Michelin favorites a life infused with leisure? Then again, something else can exert one and evoke physical satisfaction too 😉