Anticipation is complicated; it can raise expectations so high that the anticipated event is doomed to failure yet without it we would not have anything to look forward to. Our French Laundry visit, as you may imagine, was filled with much anticipation. We had been looking forward to the experience and planning for it about a year, when we originally thought of celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary in Northern California wine country. I read the many, many blog posts on how to secure a reservation and started charting out a plan of attack. In my research I had discovered that the American Express Platinum Card has a special concierge service which secures French Laundry reservations. I remembered that my brother-in-law had this card so I emailed him right away. Unfortunately, he had cancelled his card but a very good friend of his had the card and said he would be willing to ask for a reservation for us. So, I emailed him the dates and times we were interested in and he passed the information along to the Amex concierge. Luckily, we were able to get our first choice for our reservation. We thought lunch would be nice so that we could enjoy the gardens and a leisurely meal. Now with our reservation secure all we had to do was wait two months in anticipation!
We arrived for our lunch reservation on a glorious, sunny day. The building is a lovely old wooden house nestled among trees in a residential area. Across the street is the garden where the restaurant grows most of the vegetables served (we were told ~70%). A covered walk leads you to the beautiful flower garden, where we stopped and took a few pictures, and the main entrance. We were greeted by the hostess who showed us to a lovely garden view table upstairs which was quite a treat on such a beautiful day! Soon after our waiter greeted us and explained the two menus. The first is the Chef’s Tasting Menu and the other is the Tasting of Vegetables. Both are nine course menus with a couple of options at some courses. The tasting of vegetables is meant to highlight the seasonal produce and though it is not 100% vegetarian, it could be made to be. I was quite impressed by the options on both menus and so we decided that G would get the Chef’s Tasting and I would try the Tasting of Vegetables. We figured this way we could try most of the creations for the day.
I cannot describe each of the dishes we tried and my reaction to them but I will highlight some of my observations. All of the dishes were delicious and prepared with meticulous attention to detail. The meal stated with two canapé. We were first served a delightful leaf shaped silver dish with Gruyere Gougeres, which are pâte à choux filled with warm gruyere cheese. A lovely little treat filled with a powerful punch of flavor. The second canapé was filled coronets. G’s was filled with salmon tartare and crème fraiche and mine was filled with squash and crème fraiche. What I noticed about both of these was the mouth feel; both the salmon and the squash were rich and oily and balanced by the creaminess of the crème fraiche.
The bread service is presented after the canapé but before the start of the meal. The bread is from Bouchon Bakery which is just a few doors down (also part of the Thomas Keller enterprise). The highlight of the bread service is the fact the three bread options are served with two butters; an unsalted butter for a dairy in Petaluma, CA and a whipped salted butter from Vermont. The unsalted butter was perfectly creamy and tangy compared the whipped which was light and just salty.
My first course was a Sweet Onion ‘Flan’ with Mission Fig, Sicilian Pistachio ‘Nuage’ and Rosemary Essence. This was served in a delicate round glass covered bowl. When the lid was removed the room was filled with a rosemary perfume. The aroma compliments each bite of the deliciously elegant flan. It was an experience for all the senses! G’s first course was a Cauliflower ‘Panna Cotta’ with Island Creek Oyster Glaze and California Sturgeon Caviar. This dish was an experience in textures. The creamy panna cotta is offset by the bite and brininess of the caviar. It was lovely!
My third course was a Salad of Toybox Tomatoes with English Cucumber, Young Ginger, White Sesame, Perilla Pea Shoots and Bonito Gelée. This dish was incredible in its simplicity. The bonito (fish) and ginger together provided a subtle savoriness, umami, to the tomatoes highlighting their ripe fruit. G’s fourth course was Sweet Better-Poached Maine Lobster ‘Mitts’ with Parmesan ‘Pain Perdu’, Garlic Confit, Petite Lettuces and ‘Caesar’ Emulsion. The lovely smell of sweet butter greets you first as the dish is served. The saltiness of the parmesan nicely balanced the sweetness of the butter and lobster.
We both had a course on our menu which involved the process of sous-vide cooking. This a technique which involves cooking the food vacuum sealed at low heat for long periods of time. Mine was a Fairytale Eggplant ‘En Persillade’ with Summer Squash, Jingle Bell Pepper, Parsley and Sweet Garlic Pudding. These were two breaded eggplant croquettes which were served with the slightly spicy, pungent combination of jingle bell peppers and garlic. The croquettes were almost too plain. G’s dish was the Elysian Fields Farm Lamd Rib-Eye with ‘Petit Salé’, Quinoa, Fennel Bulb, Jingle Bell Peppers, Yogurt and Sumac. This was a very nice dish rich with the flavors of fennel, peppers and sumac which paired so nicely with the delicately prepared lamb. It was nice to compare the sous-vide preparation of the lamb and the eggplant. I personally feel it was more effective on the lamb and brought out the rich flavor of the meat. However, eggplant is quite plain to begin with and this cooking technique does not provide any additional flavor, as roasting or grilling would.
G’s favorite dish came in the fifth course; it was the Salmon Creek Farm Pork Belly ‘En Feuille de Bric’ with Naval Orange, Marcona Almonds and Broccolini. This was a fantastic dish with the flavorful and rich pork belly covered in a flaky buttery pastry and highlighted by the bright citrus of the orange. My favorite dish was the sixth course, the Hand-Rolled Beet ‘Tortellini’ with 48-Hour Brisket, Fingerling Potatoes, Petite Lettuces and Horseradish Crème Fraiche. It was so visually beautiful with the beet red tortellini and the strands of brown braised beef against the ivory crème fraiche. But, the flavor was even better! The delicate thin strands of beef provided just the right amount of fat to the beet pasta and the horseradish added a slight pungency to the crème fraiche.
The cheese courses were lovely highlighting the flavors of the cheese with interesting accompaniments. My ‘quiche’ was made with a blue cheese and served with honeysuckle pear, pickled cauliflower and a red wine reduction. G’s cows milk cheese (Vendéen Bichonné) was served with a sweet corn financier (tea cake), sour Michigan cherries and celery branch. Finally, the desserts too were fantastic! I had a Valrhona Guanja Chocolate ‘Marquis’ with a Goat’s Milk Mousse, Bing Cherries, Thai Long Peppercorns, and Cassis Sorbet. G’s was ‘Peanut Butter and Chocolate’ with Maple Toffee, Chocolate Ganache and Gros Muchel Banana Sorbet.
Both menus were a symphony of tastes, textures, and presentation. It was so much fun to take a bite and savor the different sensations that filled the mouth and trying to identify the myriad of flavors in each dish. Finally, we were brought a silver plate of mignardises, lovely little treats of chocolate each with a unique flavor.
The entire meal was perfectly executed from food to service. Our waiter was very attentive to us and guided us through each part of the meal and answered all of our questions knowledgably. We were also attended to by another server when our main waiter was with another table. We had opted to enjoy two half bottles of wine with our meal, a Sancerre and a Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. Our glasses were filled and timed so that we would have wine with each course and switch to the red just at the mid-point of the meal. There were several runners who were bringing out the dishes and ensuring we had the proper silverware for each course. The entire meal was perfectly timed and presented. For being an almost 3 hour meal at no point were we waiting or did we ever feel rushed. The service was impeccable!
Finally, the hand-written bill arrives on a laundry tag, a cute way to maintain the theme. Service is included which demonstrates that they know that the service will be excellent and that we do not need to worry about judging that. Before we left, we were presented with copies of our menus and some shortbread cookies to take home. The cookies were a wonderful treat and way to remember the fantastic meal!
Dining at the French Laundry was a much anticipated event for us and it did meet our expectations. It was one of the best restaurants we have been to! The restaurant itself was warm and inviting in a beautiful setting, the food was inventive and creative and the service was perfect, attentive, yet comfortable. It was a luxurious treat for our 10th anniversary!
French Laundry Restaurant
6640 Washington St
Yountville, CA 94599-1301