So, I was the lucky person that got a hold of Gini fast enough to secure the reservation for two at French Laundry yesterday. I knew I couldn't afford it, but I also knew I just had to go.
Per Gini's instructions, I called the special confirmation line on Friday to tell them we would be coming and that the name on the reservation had changed. My dear friend and I got all snazzed up and headed to Yountville in eager anticipation after a beautiful day on the Bay for Opening Day.
When we arrived, the hostess greeted us warmly and asked us our names. Uh oh. No record of Gini's old reservation or my new one. Very perturbed looks. I'm wondering if my blush is showing through my sunburn. Hostess disappears. Kind gentleman comes out and asks us if we'd like champagne while they sort things out. Eventually, we are told, they knew of a cancelled reservation for the couple going to New York, there must have been a mix up in the transfer of reservation, but they would find a place for us. Thank goodness. Feeling incredibly lucky.
Seated about 10 minutes later and feeling VERY young in a room full of decidedly older patrons. Server takes some time to get to us, but I guess we weren't expected so it's OK. We see that the fixed price menu is much more than we had seen on the Relais&Chateaux website. Oh well. For that much we may as well spring for the extra $15 and get the $120 7-course chef's tasting menu. We order two half bottles of wine, a Viognier for the first courses, Chateauneuf de Pape for the latters.
First "taster" comes out, a small waifer cone filled with salmon tartar and creme fraiche. It is heavenly. So good I can't help but giggle. This is going to be great!
Our wine comes out. Disappointing, but I can't figure out why. Then the server goes to put it on ice and I realize, "Gosh, that wine was warm!" Second pouring, once chilled, was much better. Kept quiet about it though. Felt lucky just to be there.
Oyster pearls with caviar came out. Amazing again. Giggle some more. This is just too good. Feeling very worth it.
Next course I have asparagus, friend has Foie Gras for an extra $25. Asparagus is fantastic! Foie is sadly disappointing. When friend is half way through, the food runner comes out and says "I should give you some fresh brioche for that". Ah ha. So the brioche was not meant to be cold and stale! Second half of Foie is much better...but would have been nice to have a whole good dish instead of a half one.
Finished third course and sat for a good half hour. Food runner comes out and says, "The chef would like to know how you enjoyed your bass." Friend, polite, says, "It was great!" I say, "No it wasn't, we haven't had it yet!" Food runner smiles guiltily. "Uh, sorry...I was just trying to trick you." Runs back to kitchen.
Server comes by, "You still don't have your food?!" No, we say, and the runner tried to trick us.
Runner comes out with food, puts it down. "Sorry for the trick question" he says. Doesn't seem very sincere.
Bass was diappointing compared to previous dishes. Maybe the mood killed it.
Lobster came out much faster, but now the staff seemed fairly unhappy about us. Getting uncomfortable. Should we be feeling bad?
Red wine comes out. Server puts the corkscrew in and wine sprays out the hole! Very bizarre. He runs to the back for a new bottle.
Meat course is phenomenal! Table next to us chats us up. Wonderful older newlywed couple getting ready to move to Pennsylvania. Food server very upset that I do not stop my conversation to hear what he had just put in front of me. Woops. Sorry. Not sure if we are supposed to be fraternizing with the other tables.
Other tables are starting to finish their meals. Each is invited back to see the kitchen before leaving.
Cheese and desserts come and go fairly quickly. All delicious, but it's been four hours now and the staff seems ready for us to be gone.
The bill comes with small candies. $465 for the two of us. I give the server my credit card without wincing. He comes back and tells us they have taken the champagne off the bill due to our long wait. Now it's only $430.
We smile and say thank you. No invitation to see the kitchen. We hurry out to the car to begin our drive home. Laugh very hard the whole way while we sing along with KFOG.
Bizarre evening. Don't think it was the typical French Laundry experience. I felt fantastic this morning. My friend did not.
I was going to see if I could sniff out an answer to the rumor last night...but that wasn't going to happen by the end of my meal. My general feeling, however, is that no news is good news. I think the silence should speak for itself and you should rest assured.
As for FL in general, I think we may have just had the off table on the off night. The married couple next to us was thrilled...and the food was, for the most part, out of this world.
Sometimes you just get the bad luck table, you know? My real biggest complaint was not that the mistakes happened, but that the servers, management, and runners all seemed so unapologetic about them. If you acknowledge half way through an expensive course that you served stale brioche...you should replace the part that was lost. If you serve two glasses of warm wine and then realize the bottle wasn't chilled, you should replace those glasses.
I really don't mind the tough reservation process or even an occasional chilly front-door reception, but once I am seated, and paying top dollar, I expect a great experience, not just great food.
You managed to leave feeling slighted. Why am I not surprised. Would you have spoken up if you were anywhere other than the French Laundry. I hear this all the time, but no one ever speaks up. They just act grateful to be there.
If the same thing had happened at , say... Masa's, would you have mentioned the service gaffes to the staff?
Sorry if I seem like a killjoy. I have an old grudge with this restaraunt. It amazes me that so many patrons feel obligated to make excuses for the holes in the service and the bad attitudes of the staff. I'm glad you enjoyed yourself.
re: Brandon Nelson
I've got to agree, Brandon. I've never been to French Laundry, and so I have no idea how ethereal the food is or can be there, but I've heard too many stories like Kristin's to want to find out. If I'm paying $60 for 2 people for dinner, I can put up with uneven service and less than perfect food. For $460 for 2, I'd want a completely flawless evening, and if it were less than that, I'd not be laughing on the way home.
re: Janet A. Zimmerman
Just go first and keep your mind open, then let us know how you feel. We have been to FL many times and have had only one problem with service, and that was that the waiter was young and was fairly new. More of a minor deal, really. All of the other times (over 10) have been great, and the food is truly the best I have had in the US.
Kirsten, I was first relieved to see your post that you DID go to FL - and then rather apalled by your description of the event.
We returned home from NY to 4 voicemail messages from FL regarding the reservation. The first on Friday asking us to call and confirm. The second saying that they had heard from you but you had asked to change the reservation to MAY 29. Then the third and fourth trying to track us down because we hadn't shown. They still had our phone number - even if they didn't have a reservation for either of us. Sounds like they have some other problems besides the wait staff.
I'm sorry that your experience wasn't what it should have been for the $430 and the reputation of the place. At least you have a good attitude about it. Posting your thoughts here may end up having greater residual effect than complaining at the restaurant - though both were in order.
We found NY to be a much better value. We ate at Cafe Boulud, Babbo, Grand Central Oyster Bar and Katz's Deli and I will post in more detail another night.
My folks are staying in the Napa Valley this coming month and were looking forward to dining at The French Laundry.
Dad waited until the first day which was precisely two months (or whatever the earliest time to reserve is) and placed his call early in the morning.
He was the first person to call and they apologized but said they are BOOKED.
Now, tell me, please: if you have this supposedly democratic process, how can your temple of haute cuisine be filled up (not closed with a special party) for the first person to call (months in advance)???
re: Dennis Mitchell
I hope your folks take Gini's advice, and go to some of the really great places in Napa and Sonoma valley. The have learned one thing, however. There is no more democracy in Napa valley than there was in France when the heads rolled. I suppose autocratic would be the best description. I have suggested to several friends of mine in the mental health field that an interesting treatise could be based upon the phenomenon of FL and the foodie. The amazing part of the story is that they love being abused, and come back for more, gushing about the fab meal they had (probably for $400-500).
re: Jim H.
Related studies could be submitted on why those who have been insist on making excuses for the often shoddy way they are treated. I am waiting for the day when someone doesn't check their spine at the door and call this place for on it's frequent oversights and arrogant attitude.