Monday, November 1, 2010

Food Field Trip: The French Laundry

The French Laundry Garden
It feels surreal for me to type a review of The French Laundry.  This 4 1/2-hour long event not only seemed to fly by, but more importantly, proved a veritable art-form in all counts of food, wine, and service. 

Let me say up front that since this experience was full of memorable surprises, out of respect for both the institution as well as food lovers reading this, I will discuss my recent outing to the French Laundry in mostly general terms--the details of specific dishes, as well as their visuals, can only be properly experienced first-hand.

French Laundry Chef Scarecrow
The two big things to know before you even attempt to dine here are the reservations process and the cost. French Laundry takes reservations two months to the calendar date. With only sixteen tables, this is not an easy reservation to score.  Phone lines open at 10 Pacific time, and getting a table requires perseverance and a ton of luck (a few friends with the number on speed dial could not hurt either).  I tried two months in advance for three days, calling hundreds of times.  On the first day, I got through about twenty minutes after the lines opened, but my hopes were quickly dashed as the reservationist politely stated they were already full for the evening, but could but my name on the waiting list.

And on the Third Day, a miracle occurred.  Two minutes after the lines opened, they answered.  And there was a table.  I was elated.  The French Laundry apparently also releases one table for two and another for four on Opentable.

Next the cost.  This is likely a once in a lifetime dining experience, with prices to match.  The nine course tasting menu is $250 per person inclusive of service, and the wine list is incredible, but also priced luxuriously.  So a safe bet is that it's pretty easy find a comma in your check.  But if you love food, can afford the splurge, and are lucky enough to score a table, it is something every foodie should try.

French Laundry Entrance
We arrived early to do a photoshoot around the modest grounds, and met another equally excited couple there to celebrate their 30th anniversary.  Upon opening the blue door, I was so nervous--would this experience live up to expectations?  My fears were quickly assuaged as we were ushered to a table upstairs overlooking the garden.  From the moment we sat down to our after-dinner (requested) kitchen tour (where we met Tim Hollingsworth, the current chef de cuisine), the staff put us thoroughly at ease. Our server, the sommelier, and the countless other staff, provided thoughtful and thorough explanations of each dish as well as the wine pairings to match both the food (and our budget). 

Each of the nine courses and the several off-menu surprises were entertaining, unique, and tasted extraordinary.  The French Laundry does not repeat an ingredient throughout the meal, and each course, while never what we pictured -- always far more inventive than I could ever conceive -- elevated all ingredients into a mini-work of art.   The Foie Gras (a supplement) was quite literally flawless, the sorbet palette cleanser anything but ordinary, and the lobster, rabbit, and beef ingredients the best I've ever tasted.

I look at the experience like a private night at the theatre.  I can honestly say this is the best meal I have ever had, and (somewhat surprisingly) proved both unpretentious and unstuffy.  I am so thrilled that I was able to experience Thomas Keller's vision, and cannot say anything more than I highly recommend this one-in-a-lifetime experience.

French Laundry on Urbanspoon


  1. This experience has been on my wish list for too long. Thanks for the vicarious experience .

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience. Quality food is always expensive.

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