Do you remember the original Peter Pan movie? The one with Mary Martin as Peter? The one they made a big deal of in the 80s when it premiered on television, because they’d recovered the film footage from the Broadway musical that was thought to have been lost forever in some studio fire? Those of us born before the age of digital permanence understand what it means for something to be lost forever—to be unrecoverable—and that’s why it was such a big deal back then.
As I remember it, they found the film reel and restored the tape in the aftermath of a fire. I always imagined firefighter crews clearing the debris and rubble of some Burbank sound stage, and under the charred remains of a few mid-century shelves—there it was, a modest tin canister. The kind you’d expect a firefighter to overlook. And it just so happened to be one of the best Broadway performances ever captured on film. I know I’m being a little hyperbolic here, but I’m gay, and I can’t help this protective instinct I have for all things musical. It’s genetic, right? In all honesty, Mary Martin was amazing, even the critics agreed. She was so convincing, I’d nearly forgotten she was a middle-aged woman playing a growth-stunted teenage boy in green tights and a loincloth.
I was just a kid back then, probably about six when the network (whichever one distributed it) announced ‘Mary Martin as Peter Pan’ would premiere on TV. It was one of those ‘special engagements,’ the kind that took nearly four hours to watch, because there was a commercial break with some message from some sponsor every two minutes. My mother had fond childhood memories of the film and knew it was something I’d like too. Some might call it a “mother’s intuition,” but I call it her “homosexual-hunch.” The night it premiered on TV a giant bowl of popcorn was all that separated the two of us on the long 80s dolphin-grey leather couch in our white tiled den off the Corian-covered kitchen. Yeah, we were that family. And while we settled in to watch, my father and brothers teaming with testosterone were glued to the Olympics on the TV in the other room.
I remember watching the entire film from beginning to end. The credits rolled way past my bedtime, but it was a special occasion and exceptions were made. My only responsibility during the show was to jump up from the couch and push the “stop” and “record” buttons at the bookends to each commercial break. We wanted the film on VHS so we could watch it on demand. But we didn’t have fancy DVRs or Tivos back then, or a remote that worked for that matter. And we didn’t have the ability to push a button on our phone and order a copy from Ebay or Amazon either. Nobody imagined that technology was even possible back then. I still remember the crank and chug chug chug buzzzz of the VCR when it started recording and KER-PLUNK of a halt when I pushed stop. Unfortunately I wasn’t very good at the stop and start technique of VHS recording without commercial breaks, and the version we recorded not only had bits and pieces of cheesy commercial segments peppered throughout, but I missed a few seconds of some scenes all together.
Hack-job recording capabilities aside, it was a momentous occasion when they recovered that “lost footage,” which is very similar to how I felt stumbling upon the photos we took of our lunch at Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry nearly five years after they were thought to have been lost forever.
I remembered taking photos of everything we ate, but the camera we used wasn’t mine. It was a small point and click, the kind Jonathan could fit in his back pocket. The kind that would go unnoticed in the event a French Laundry staff member were looking to confiscate our photos and keep the mystery of the French Laundry alive.
And then I got my own camera. The one I take everywhere. And that old camera of Jonathan’s, with the minimal capacity digital memory card, got tossed aside like an ex lover, and shoved in the back of some dark cold desk drawer only to be looked at years later with nostalgia and disgust. I can’t believe we used this? I thought to myself. And to my surprise, here’s what we found.
Lunch at the French Laundry
I know these photos aren’t as clear and professional looking as some of our more recent photos, but think of this as “restored” film—vintage.
Visit our Thomas Keller Almost Ruined My Life post for tips on how to make a reservation and the rest of what we ordered. Here’s the list I was able to recover photos of.
Tartare of Japanese Bluefin Tuna with Globe Artichokes, Jingle Bell Peppers, Baby Fennel, Spanish Caper Lavash, Frisee and Lemon Coulis.
Sweet Butter-Poached Maine Lobster “Mitts” with English Cucumber, Hass Avocado, Petite Lettuces, “Pommes Maxim’s” and Red Beet Essence.
Marcho Farms “Cervelle de Veau” with Swiss Chard, K&J Orchard Peaches, “Soubise” and Veal Jus….aka veal brains! Which if you’re gonna have veal brains, you might as well order them at one of the best restaurants in the world, right?
Elysian Fields Farm Lamb Saddle with “Collier d’Agneau,” Eggplant Confit, Demi-Sec Tomatoes, “Haricots Verts,” Chickepea Puree, Arugula and Nicoise Olives.
This was a special order for Jonathan’s sister who didn’t eat pork belly, or veal brains for that matter. She was more than willing to swap in something from the vegetarian tasting menu too, but they insisted in making her a duck dish, which we all enjoyed very much.
Royal Blenheim Apricot Sorbet with Toasted Barley-Brown Sugar Streusel, Cilantro Shoots and White Apron Ale “Nuage.”
“Cremeux Aux Fruits de la Passion” with French Laundry-Garden Strawberries, Pistachio “Pain de Gene,” and White Chocolate Sorbet….and a “Happy Birthday” chocolate banner.
Just like the “off menu” amuse-bouches, they surprised us with a few rounds of off-menu desserts or “mignardises.” We got a sampling of little desserts exclusive to the French Laundry experience.
First there were the homemade doughnuts dusted in sugar served alongside a frozen coffee dessert….sort of like a granita. Jonathan thought I was joking when I asked if I could have another doughnut, and the waiter totally knew what was up and offered me as many as I wanted. See what service you get for nearly $400 per person!
And there was this meyer lemon tart that looked so simple, but tasted anything but commonplace. The creamy texture was as smooth as can be, and it wasn’t too sweet or too tart, but just right.
An assortment of chocolates almost too pretty to eat, and “yes” they make them at The French Laundry.
And the infamous French Laundry clothespin and goodie bag of shortbread sugar cookies for the ride home.
The meal ended with a quick walk across the street to see the French Laundry vegetable garden were most (if not all) the vegetables used at the restaurant are harvested fresh that morning by the chefs. Doesn’t get much more local than that!