Google Places with Hotpot blog

Dinner’s on Google

Friday, April 1, 2011 | 10:52 AM

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Editor's Note: Not too long ago, we held a contest in San Francisco called the Hotpot Jackpot. The contest was aimed at rewarding the most active Hotpot users who attended our first L3 Location, Location, Location meetup last November at the San Francisco Ferry Building. The top three Grand Prizes included a gourmet dinner for 10 at top-notch Bay Area restaurants Chez Panisse, The French Laundry and Gary Danko. To see all the photos from our winners’ meals, check out this photo gallery. Photographs by Angelica Realce, Bertram Whitman and Araya Diaz.

Below, we asked Amy Lee, one of our three Grand Prize winners, to write about everything from her experience rating and reviewing on Hotpot up and through her night out recently with family and friends at The French Laundry.

I’m an aspiring foodie and one extremely lucky gal to have been invited to the Google Hotpot event at the Ferry Building. I wanted to jump for joy when I heard that the winner of Hotpot Jackpot would get to go The French Laundry. So the next day, I set off to rate and review on Hotpot and easily whipped up 75 reviews of my favorite Bay Area restaurants. Eventually, I started running out of stuff to rate, so after some Google searching for international places — voila! — memories of travel rushed in my head. I rated places I had visited in Hong Kong, Seoul, Tokyo, London, Thailand and more. The best part? It brought back so many good memories.

I also emailed everyone I know, asking them to be my friend on Hotpot. As more and more of my friends began using Hotpot, my Google searches got more interesting as their recommendations started showing up. All of a sudden, Google Maps became much more personable and the ratings and reviews more meaningful.

All my work paid off because I was named one of the top winners in the contest!

So now let’s talk about my big dinner at The French Laundry. A sleek black limousine brought us to our destination. My family and friends were super stoked, especially my Dad. Winning this contest meant something really special, since I was able to share this experience with him. He’s a chef and has a habit of peeking into a restaurant’s kitchen to observe all the work that goes into the final presentation. In fact, he’d often invite customers to watch him cook. Upon arriving at the restaurant, he asked if we’d be able to see the kitchen, and I told him I wasn’t sure. But more on that in a second. Let’s talk about the nine-course meal that featured the freshest ingredients, from vegetables and herbs from the restaurant’s own garden, to fresh bread from Bouchon down the street.

We started the dinner with a limited-production champagne made for The French Laundry. We toasted to good food, good company, and our gastromonical adventure began! The two amuse-bouche that left us lingering were salmon tartare cornets and petite cheese gruyere. The cornets, which resembled ice cream cones, were filled with creme fraiche and topped with fresh salmon tartare.

The overall favorite was the Oysters and Pearls, in which freshly shucked oysters, a heaping scoop of white sturgeon caviar and chewy tapioca were presented swimming in a bath of rich creamy sabayon. Mixed together, each bite was rich with the smooth texture of the oysters, crunchy from the caviar and finally a bit of soft chewiness from the tapioca. I’ve heard plenty of rumors about this dish, and it definitely lived up to all of its hype.

Throughout dinner, my dad was quiet (it’s unusual for him not to make remarks about his meal). I realized he was too focused on enjoying the food and all the complex flavors. As for me, it felt like a dream come true because two out of the nine courses featured my favorite: truffles. The White Truffle Oil Infused Custard with Black Truffle Ragout was honestly the best truffle dish I’ve ever had.

Saving the best for last, our dessert course was a sweet ending. Coffee and donuts, handrolled macadamia nuts, and housemade truffles started the way. Delice Au Chocolat a la Menthe was a smooth dark chocolate cake served with mint ice cream from the garden. I’ve never had fresh mint ice cream and it was possibly the best and most refreshing way to seal our amazing meal.

Toward the end, we were given little baggies of homemade shortbread and my Dad gave me a certain look.  I knew what he had wanted, so I waited for our host to come around the table again. But before I even had the chance to ask, she offered, “Would all of you want a tour of the kitchen?” Our lovely host got us autographed menus from Chef Keller and then led us to the kitchen for a tour. All the hard work, preparation and meticulous effort behind a meal are often forgotten. The kitchen tour was one of many special treats for us. Watching the intensity of the thorough preparation only made our incredible meal a more meaningful experience. My dad, once again, just quietly observed. It wasn’t until the next day that he then started talking nonstop about the dinner!

It was truly the meal of a lifetime, especially because I got to share it with my friends and family. A million thanks to Google and The French Laundry for making this a night to remember!

Posted by Amy Lee. Photographs by Bertram Whitman.