As a soccer player, I wanted an FA Cup winner’s medal. As an actor you want an Oscar. As a chef it’s three-Michelin’s stars, there’s no greater than that. So pushing yourself to the extreme creates a lot of pressure and a lot of excitement, and more importantly, it shows on the plate. – Gordon Ramsey
For a foodie like me I can’t believe it has taken me this long to eat at a Michelin starred restaurant. What better place to start than Napa, California.
I will say the difficulty I have imagining eating at many of my dream restaurants is this — how can I experience them correctly as a gluten-free, vegetarian eater? Most of my list – The French Laundry, Alinea, Noma, etc. – these are made up of tasting menus. The chef makes meals according to his whims and what’s fresh and local. Ironically this is what I love most about the world of culinary adventure – so why am I so scared? Because here are my choices:
1. Eat food that will potentially make me sick and go against what I know makes my soul and my tummy most happy.
2. (And to me even worse than potential tummy troubles) Step on the creative process that is the reason I’m drawn to this world in the first place.
Back to La Toque. I chose this restaurant after doing a little research. Napa has 7 Michelin starred restaurants, but La Toque offers a Vegetable Tasting Menu and when I called to ask about gluten-free the chef confirmed he could accommodate my request. I was over the moon.
Let’s get right to it. The atmosphere was fine – elegant and somehow also laid back – perfect for Napa. But most important is the food, so I’ll dive right into that.
Vegetable Tasting Menu
*gluten free version
I’m not going to include a description on this one. Just know each of the 4 bites was small, evocative, and thoughtful.
Sunchoke mousse. Sous Vide onions. Nuts. Chives.
That’s right: sunchoke mousse. It was incredibly light and airy – the sunchoke flavor subtle and not overpowering. The onions and nuts added the perfect texture to the pillow of sunchoke. Great start.
Grilled Melon. Grilled Avocado. Shiso Oil.
The first thing to strike me about this dish: the vibrant green of the shiso oil. Shiso, also known as Chinese basil, is a a wild herb in the mint family. I was skeptical about this one due to its uniqueness, but it ended up being in my top 3 dishes of the evening. The grilled melon and avocado were both texturally and flavorfully pleasing. The flavor of the shiso oil was delicate and complimenting. A+ for presentation and taste.
Fried Green Tomato. Creamed Corn. Green Tomato Relish. Flowers.
Beautiful dish. Very aesthetically pleasing. This was not my favorite — this has more to do with the fact that I don’t really enjoy tomatoes not anything negative about the food. I understood the flavors and textures; they’re just not for me.
Squash. Onion. Brussel Sprouts. Mushrooms. Green Apples. Deglazed in sherry vinegar.
This. This was my favorite course – also the simplest one of the evening. The earthiness of the mushrooms and brussel sprouts, sweetness of the squash and onion, tartness of the apple, slight bite of the vinegar and caramelization on every piece — amazing. Each vegetable was cooked precisely to create the perfect texture. It was fantastic. Enjoying it on the cusp of fall didn’t hurt either.
Potatoes. Beech mushrooms. Mascarpone sauce. Crispy leeks.
*original course meant to have mushroom ravioli – substituted for potatoes to accommodate gluten allergy
I’d also like to highlight the service at La Toque. Although it is to be expected at a restaurant of this caliber, the staff was exceptional. Thank you to Chef Ken Frank and team for a beautiful evening and culinary adventure.
La Toque – 1314 McKinstry St, Napa, CA 94559