“When you acknowledge, as you must, that there is no such thing as perfect food, only the idea of it, then the real purpose of striving toward perfection becomes clear: to make people happy, that is what cooking is all about.” – Thomas Keller
I did not seek out the French Laundry, it sought me. Sometimes opportunities arise and you can’t—or shouldn’t—say no. Case in point: It was an average workday, I was rushing to meet my friend Christi for lunch, annoyed that I couldn’t find parking—it was a usual catch-up, you see. Until she casually drops in, “Do you want me to text my friend, the maître d’ at the French Laundry, to see if I can get you a reservation next weekend when you’re in San Francisco.” Um, yes?! There was simply no other answer.
As my mom always says, “If you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it.” Well, I didn’t care how much it cost (a minor exaggeration!), and I would find a way to afford it— likely with savings we had put aside for travels. And let’s be clear: The French Laundry is not simply a restaurant. It is an iconic destination. It is a Three-Michelin-Star dining experience. It is long considered one of the world’s best restaurants. It is an interactive art installation, where your table is the canvas, and the staff moves around you at perfect tempo like a well-rehearsed orchestra. Yes, it is a lot of things.
But to my surprise and delight, what it is not, is stuffy.
Upon arrival, we were greeted outside while taking photos, bummed that the sun was still so high at 5:15pm (the time of our reservation). My first instinct was to pretend like we weren’t taking photos, because…how gauche. I mean, we were at the French Laundry. Isn’t the cooler approach to act unaffected by this once-in-a-lifetime experience? I think we were both taken aback when our lovely greeter suggested a better place to take photos around the corner by the legendary blue door, helped us pose, and snapped the photo before we made our entrance. And the surprises kept coming.
The maître d’, Anton, greeted us with open arms (literally), as he showed us to our table. Within seconds, we were sipping champagne, and assured that we would not only be helped through the wine ordering process, but were encouraged to set a budget. (I was told ahead of time that yes, this meal will cost more than your first apartment, but it’s the wine that will send you over the edge.) While I was, of course, blown away by each intricate course, I was most impressed by the level of service, the comfort they provide to you, and the excitement the whole staff exudes, as if this is opening night of a production, and you are the distinguished guests. That is an incredible gift, and is the memory that I will take away long after I have forgotten the taste of Waygu beef.
Dave proving how “unstuffy” it is, but he was still required to wear a jacket ;).
The French Laundry is located in Yountville, CA, in the middle of Napa Valley. It is about a 45-minute drive from San Francisco, and we chose to drive up and back for dinner. Last time we were in Yountville, we tried to get a last minute French Laundry reservation, but guys, I’ll be honest—it really helps to know someone. Or, be the first to book this Saturday, September 1st at 10am PST, when they release new reservations for November and December. In the meantime, everyone I know will get this cookbook for Christmas—obviously so they can recreate the below menu. I’ve also linked to recipes when possible. You’re welcome ;).
Guests choose between two tasting menus (vegetarian and the traditional chef’s tasting) that change daily and never repeat ingredients throughout the meal.
K&J Orchards Peach “Gazpacho” w/ Garden Celery and Straus Yogurt
Sauteed Fillet of Mediterranean Turbot w/Brentwood Corn, Chanterelle Mushrooms “a la Grecque,” Garden Purslane and Roasted Musroom “Bouillon” // “Macaroni and Cheese” w/Sweet Butter Poached Nova Scotia Lobster, Hand-Cut “Ditalini,” Aged Parmesan Cheese and Creamy Lobster Broth // Bread from Bouchon served during the “Bread and Butter” Course: Dried Tomato Baguette and Buffalo Milk Burrata “Butter”
Liberty Farms Pekin Duck with Caramelized Onion Marmalade, Black Winter Truffle Puree and Sicilian Pistachio Jus // Charcoal Grilled Japanese Wagyu with Garden Cucumbers, Bleu D’Auvergne, Tender Gardens Herbs and “Steak Sauce”
“Gougere” with Andante Dairy “Etude” and Asutralian Black Winter Truffle Fondue”
Assortment of Desserts
After dinner, we got a tour of the kitchen and a behind-the-scenes look into the wine room that houses thousands of bottles that likely cost way more than my mortgage. And don’t worry, I didn’t snatch one as a souvenir. But these guys did!