French Laundry in Napa
- love to eat out Feb 7, 2002 07:00 PM
Can anyone tell me about their experience? I am planning a romantic weekend in Napa and would like to make reservations ahead of time. How's the food? Service? Atmosphere?
If you do a search you'll find a wealth of info on French Laundry.
And you'll find it might be REALLY hard to score a reseravation...but if the gods are smiling on you it'll be like nothing you have ever encountered before.
The gods smiled on me twice and I will never forget it!
Oh, and it helps to have speed dial, or better yet a secretary to do the dialing for you...
If you're planning a weekend, you might want to consider staying at Auberge de Soliel. I hear that they have several tables at FL reserved specifically for their guests. It's quite pricey, but will make it much easier to secure one of those very hard to get tables. Also consider going for lunch. The meal stretches out for hours and it's easier to digest in the middle of the day. Also you can get up in the middle of the meal and take a walk between courses, which believe me, you'll need.
Simply put, if you can get in, GO. Depending on where you stay (in Yountville for example) some of the inns keep a few reservations just in case. If it's a special occasion, tell your server, you may be lucky enough to be MVP'd. Regardless, it's a wonderful experience. That said, I also agree with the Auberge recommendation. If nothing else, have drinks on the patio around sunset, great view.
Have a "go with it" attitude and a fat wallet and you're almost guaranteed a fun time. If you feel like you're going to get fleeced, you'll feel that way at the conclusion. The food is always pretty and sometimes stellar. Very few restaurants offer this esoteric level of perfectionism. It is not everyone's cup-o-tea, but worth going around at least once. The food is more about the presentation than the obsession with sustainably farmed ingredients (chez). Service has been unnoticeable, which is my definition of perfection. The last thing I want to remember about a great meal is the service. It doesn't get in the way here!
I've been more times than I feel I really deserve in this lifetime (3) because it's as transporting as a trip to, well, somewhere far, far away, someplace luscious and evocative. It's an art-experience, not a restaurant. Keller, in my opinion, is a bonafide food genius. It's not that the food tastes wonderful (it does) or that it looks charming (it does.) It's that he plays with flavors as if they're ideas, not merely sensations.
That is to say, the single quivering oyster that rests on a tiny custard that tastes intensely of cauliflower, dotted with specks of caviar and touched with briney foam that I swear was beamed in instantaneously from a wave breaking on some windswept beach -- well -- you down the whole thing in one bite, and the flavors and textures and temperatures hit your cerebral cortex and suddenly you're transported to childhood, to a summer day at the beach. You're not eating. You're body surfing, tumbling toward shore, the ocean in your mouth, your eyes, your hair.
Or the signature dessert -- "coffee and donuts:" you end the (4 hour) meal, awaken from the dream, with an archetypal beginning, with breakfast -- except that of course it only looks like breakfast. The cinnamon sugared donuts are piping hot and the coffee is frozen -- a creamy semifreddo.
The meal is a story, told in tiny bites. Keller has this idea that after two or three bites of one thing, you lose the sense of it, the wonder of it. And so he carries you along on this wild ride of reverie and surprise.
You'll spend a lot of time with your eyes closed. Which is fine, because the room is nothing to look at. It quickly fades into the background, as it should.
Actually, the nicest way to do the French Laundry is for lunch, outside in the garden. Sipping champagne by the roses as you nibble your amuse-geule. Book for a summer month and you're guaranteed good weather.
And the most amazing thing is that somehow, it's not pretentious, as perhaps I seem to be. It's authentic. The waitstaff seem not so much professional as kind and generous and discreet.
Go. It's marvelous.