It was probably the 25th or 30th time I called when I heard The French Laundry hold greeting instead of the busy signal. I almost hung up since my fingers were so used to hitting redial, off, redial. I was using two different phones to call exactly 2 months to the calendar date before my desired booking. Eventually an extremely lovely woman got on the phone and asked when I wanted to visit the French Laundry. I told her the date and time, and just like that, I had one of the most coveted dining reservations in the country.
The French Laundry dinner was the culmination of a gastronomic birthday trip through Napa that started with wine drinking and eating through the Valley with some friends from Paris, and ended with my dad coming to town for a very special celebratory meal. I had been to the French Laundry once before, many years ago, pre-blog and pre-pictures of every dish, so I was excited to experience the meal with a new perspective.
As I mentioned in my Napa Valley restaurant post, Yountville is often jokingly called Keller-ville, and with good reason. In a small 3-4 block stretch of the town, Keller has Bouchon Bistro, Bouchon Bakery, Ad Hoc (one of my favorites), Addendum (a casual sandwich shop) and the crown jewel, The French Laundry.
He also has a large plot of land in town where he grows his own food for some of these spots. Anyone can wander amongst the kale, greens, and other vegetables to see what's growing and what might be on the menu in town.
Arriving at the Laundry for our dinner, we had quite the prime seat at a cozy table right next to the fireplace. Printed menus were presented for the evening's meal that also included a "Happy Birthday Kelly" greeting at the top, and it was later presented to me with a signature from the chef.
The next 3-4 hours was a litany of plates and treasures that can only described as a who's who of the best of the culinary world - caviar, foie gras, truffles, wagyu, lobster - they were all in attendance. The bigger name items had additional supplement fees beyond the $295 tasting menu that does include service. There's also a choice of a vegetable only tasting menu for the same price. It does not include beverages and you can easily spend that much per person if you ask for the pairing that's custom tailored to your palate, and price range, though don't expect any cheap plonk here. Luckily it was my birthday, and I didn't have to worry about how easily the bill can creep up and over 4 figures.
I hesitated when the waiter asked about food allergies. My diet has been consisting of gluten free and dairy free eating, but I didn't want to miss a thing, even if it might hurt me later. I pretty much told him just that, and then I proceeded to get wonderful gluten free bread, dairy free substitutions or a heads-up that something might have a little butter. I appreciated it all.
I later found out that Thomas Keller was actually in the kitchen cooking that evening, which is not always the case, but of course I was happy to hear that he made me dinner. The French Laundry kitchen is currently under renovation, but I got a sneak peak of the current building development, as well as a look into the working kitchen set-up during service.
Not surprisingly, everything is top notch and the whole staff is professional and well choreographed. It's not by accident you end up working in the French Laundry. The maitre'd who took us around said he met Keller while working in NY at Per Se, and has been very grateful for Keller's continued generosity every since.
I was looking forward to seeing what Keller had cooked up on the evening's Tasting Menu. Without further ado, here's the plate by plate rundown of my November 2015 French Laundry dinner.
Caviar two-ways: "Oysters and Pearls" with sabayon of pearl tapioca with island creek oysters and white sturgeon caviar and Royal Ossetra Caviar with smoked sturgeon terrine, hard boiled bantam hen egg and pickled young onions.
The most perfect sweet butter poached Maine lobster tails, garden carrots, pea tendrils and roasted Sicilian pistachio puree.
And then the truffle course. We were presented with white truffles from Alba. I was so excited to be there during truffle season, and I have to say that this was one of the most generous truffle shaves I've ever seen. I suppose at $175, your brown butter Parmigiano Reggiano risotto should have its own truffle hat. Divine.
Then they primed our pallet for the series of desserts that would be brought out and eventually filled our table.
There were macarons, granita, truffles, chocolates, cakes, donuts. It was never-ending, but quite the grand finale for an epic meal.
It was a perfectly prepared meal in every way. It had every ingredient I could imagine wanting for a special occasion meal, and some I didn't even think of. Service was impeccable, if not at times slightly too much. It was like when I was just starting to wonder about an ingredient with a slight head tilt, they were there asking if I needed anything. I suppose there could be worse flaws.
The French Laundry is indeed a special place to celebrate many occasions. It's no surprise that they've earned 3 Michelin stars every years since 2007, and it's good to see that Thomas Keller is still very active in the restaurant. I look forwarding to finding another reason to celebrate once their new kitchen is complete.
The French Laundry
6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA