The French Laundry
6640 Washington Street
The quaint town of Yountville, located in the heart of the Napa Valley about 60 miles north-ish of San Francisco, is just like any other small town in America. The population of three to four thousand is treated to a pleasant little main street lined with all the necessities: a couple of shops, a gas station, multiple Michelin starred restaurants. A town like any other.
One of these restaurants is Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry. Earner of three Michelin stars and lauded by many as the best restaurant in America, The French Laundry is a restaurant that was a thing of legends to me before I knew anything about the joys of dining. A place with impossible to obtain reservations that served multiple courses of exquisite food paired with impeccable wine at a cost that I would never consider paying in a million years. This was all before I met Minako. Since then we have been on a whirlwind dining tour and for our third anniversary we decided to take the plunge.
We obtained our reservation thanks to the fantastic American Express concierge service. We called Amex about 6 months in advance for them to start working on the reservation when the window opened up. They were able to get us a table for the opening seating at 5:30.
We arrived a little early, parked on the street in front and took a look around the garden. All of the comfy garden tables were occupied (except for the one in the direct sunlight) but the wait wasn’t long as we were escorted through the blue door at 5:30 on the nose.
As we sat down we were immediately congratulated on our anniversary and offered a glass of bubbly to start things off. We were presented the day’s menu (with our names printed across the top) as well as the wine list (on an iPad). There are only a few food choices that need to be made. First is deciding on the veggie or meat menu (same price) and then within in each menu some supplemental items could be added.
In terms of wine, we elected to get one wine pairing as opposed to ordering by the glass or bottle. We gave the sommelier a target price rage and he asked if we preferred a local or worldly compliment. He also allowed us to split the pours between two glasses for us to share.
We were presented with two nibbles to start the meal off. First, a gruyere puff that was a melty blissful first bite.
Secondly came the salmon coronet which, as Thomas Keller explained on a recent “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” has been served to every diner for the last 20+ years. The dish looks like an ice cream cone and is supposed to elicit a response of eating a comfort food of salmon and crackers.
We were also offered a range of bread varieties and two butters. The bread included a brioche, sourdough and a pretzel roll (and more).
There were two butters as well. A local salted butter served in the shape of a beehive and a magically creamy unsalted butter brought in from Vermont.
Oysters and Pearls
“Sabayon” of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar
Salad of Hawaiian Hearts of Peach Palm
K&L Orchard Plums, Garden Fennel and Toasted Cashews
Soft Poached Jidori Hen Egg
Anson Mill’s Polenta, Crispy Shallots, “Sauce Perigourdine” and Preserved Black Winter Truffles
Underneath that coating of shaved black truffle is the dish that I believe to be the highlight of the meal. The sweet and earthy truffles blended with the gooey egg and umami polenta underneath to create another dish that ended too soon. I wish I had a picture of the dish prior to the truffle shaving. Well worth the $100 supplemental charge.
Sautéed Filet of Passmore Ranch Sturgeon
Kettle Garlic “Beignet,” Cranberry Bean Puree, Cerignola Olives, Fino Verde Basil and Zucchini Pesto
I was still swimming in the awesomeness of the prior course to remember many of the details on this fish dish. This is sad but is by no means an indication of displeasure. While many of the wine pairings were amazing, I do recall this dish had a peppery pop that was my favorite combination.
Pacific Abalone “Poêlée”
Hand Cut “Ditalini,” Sweet Onions, Brentwood Corn and Arrowleaf Spinach
This was the dish I was most concerned about going in. My previous abalone experience was of a hard and rubbery chew-fest. Apparently that is a result of low quality meat and poor preparation. This was a tender delight of deliciousness.
Four Story Hill Farm Poularde
Crispy Chickpea “Panisse,” Garden Peppers, Charred Eggplant “Béchamel,” Cilantro and “Pimenton Jus”
I thought I knew what chicken was supposed to taste like and then I ate this. The meat was soft with rare-like qualities. The skin was meticulously removed and reapplied with the eggplant layered in between.
Slow Roasted Snake River Farms Beef Sirloin
Grilled Lobster Mushrooms, Garden Carrots, Pea Tendrils and “Sauce Bordelaise”
By now, I was just being teased with. The final of the main courses was a cut of meat that just melted in my mouth. The fat layer on the end was a marble of delicious.
This course also had an additional decision point with the requirement that two people order it. The other option was a veal rack cooked whole and cut table side. A neighboring table ordered it and, while I have no regrets, it looked ridiculous.
“Tomme de Brebis”
Tellicherry Peppercorn Shortbread, Concord Grape “Marmalade,” Cauliflower and Watercress
Here begins the onslaught of desserts. This was a nice and light change of pace from the heavier courses that preceded.
“Assortment of Desserts”
Fruit, Ice Cream, Chocolate and “Candies”
From here, just a series of photos depicting perfect sweetness.
The desserts just came one after another until we could have no more. Additionally, there was a handful of chocolate covered macadamia nuts.
As we walked out, we were presented with the menus in a folder, signed by the chef. As a memento of the occasion, we also bought a copy of Thomas Keller’s cookbook which he also personalized and signed.
I have eaten some amazing meals over the past few years with Minako, most before I started this little documentation journey. Now that I have taken some time to reflect on this meal, I have to say that The French Laundry is hands down the best dining experience of my life.