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Apr 12, 2005 01:37 AM

hey, everyone who was debating about the cost of the French Laundry

  • h

I've written in depth about my lunch on the SF Board. If you feel the topic has not been thrashed to death, let me know your further thoughts...


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  1. Great review and I would love to patronize Per Se(its closer to me), but there are two obstacles:

    1. Only if a reservation dropped in my lap and/or someone invited me to dinner there. I am very spontaneous(which can be good and bad) and I cannot for the life of me, sit and prime my palate for two whole months waiting for a reservation. Nor do I feel motivated to jump through any other number of hoops to get there. I have already reched my zenith in life, xperiencing the US Open Grand Slam Tennis tournament every single day for three whole weeks(including prelims) and every year that I have been back since provides the same thrill. Nothing can top that!

    2. I know, I know - Thomas Keller is a genius, blah, blah, blah but he is going to have to beat my mother in the culinary department. Yes she is a different genius and a less sophisticated, more rustic genius but no matter what that dude can never beat mommy's cooking. I guess, I just have to tell myself, if and when I do go to Per Se , that its just a different kind of genius and I should relax and joy!

    1. Heidi-
      Thanks so much for that! You answered every question I had...I'm a 'no regrets' person so I can't imagine I would regret such an amazing experience either, but I might think 'wait, can't I have more steak?'

      It's wonderful to read how balanced you were in your judgement and while you see the genius, you can also ask the question "would I be just as happy with a less expensive meal".

      I loved the image I get of you and your husband kicking one another under the table - I can imagine myself in that situation and I would have laughed audibly at the 'presentation' of gingerale.

      Fantastic - and thanks!!

      1. I have to say you still sounded conflicted about the experience. The experience was worth the money but the food wasn't?


        3 Replies
        1. re: Gary Soup

          I can't speak for Heidi of course, but personally, I would love to "someday" have that $650 lunch, but I don't think I *could* walk away unconflicted. There would just be a lot of pressure & expectation (& possibly guilt) there.

          1. re: julesrules

            Best to leave the guilt at home if you go. While everyone seems to be fixating on the $650, remember if you just paid for yourself and didn't have wine, you could get out of there for under $300. Does that make a difference?

            Of course, I'd rather experience it w/ my husband more than anyone, but I don't think he'd care for the intellectual, over-the-top spirit of it all anyway.

            I still want to go and expect that I'd leave conflicted as well, but for me, ambivalence can lead to the most provocative, interesting, and memorable experiences.

            1. re: Carb Lover

              I would imagine it is more of an emotive experience than an intellectual one, and would involve a "willing suspension of disbelief."

              You could actually get out the door for about $225 if you ordered no wine or anything else off the menu, but that would be the movie without the popcorn, and you'd feel the stares at your back as you left.

        2. heidipie,

          You said you both bought a $175 prix fixe, so how did it become $650?

          2 Replies
          1. re: kc girl

            Heidipie mentioned some wine pairings for both of them in her original post. Wine has a healthy markup at FL. Add on the 19% mandatory gratuity and...

            Prices went up at the FL relatively recently (from like $125 to $175 for food only), so I wonder if FL has noticed a curb in demand at all. Somehow I doubt it.

            BTW, Heidipie, exemplary and deliciously reflective report! Sounds like $ well spent to me.

            1. re: Carb Lover


              I was thinking a prix fixe at $175 may be including wine, like the Studio at the Montage Resort and Spa, also a Cinderella stop.

              I stand corrected.

          2. heidipie, thanks for your vivid description of your meal at the French Laundry. One can now vicariously imagine themselves having lunch or dinner at the famous Napa Valley gourmet restaurant without spending a dime of their hard-earned moolah! :)

            Seriously, I do believe money is a very personal matter for people and a certain puritanical upbringing still exists in this country that disallows pleasure if it involves spending large amounts of money. There's also the huge disparity between the haves and have-nots which I don't want to get political about.

            Your post while informative about the food also throws me because you keep going on about the cost of it. Thomas Keller was named top chef by many of his contemporaries and the French Laundry is one of the best restaurants in the United States. He did not get that accolade by just 'theater' display. Incidentally, I think it's cute that the waiter displayed a nice glass to pour ginger ale into a child's glass. Made them feel special too.

            If you think $650 is a lot of money for two people for the scrumptious lunch with wine for one of the top restaurants in California's Napa Valley, you should see this week's New York Magazine: $5,400 for a pair of handmade eyeglasses, lenses are extra; $375 for a powder brush but only 150 were made, $800 for a pair of sneakers, $1380 for a Hermes dog collar and leash. Hah! I'll take a gourmet lunch anytime!!!

            7 Replies
            1. re: Flynn

              Exactly right, Flynn!! ... and if I had Bill Gates' money, I'd be no more likely to buy a $5000 pair of eyeglasses than I am today....

              Everyone has their own indulgences and splurges and it's okay to criticize as long as it's not YOUR extravagance that's being taken to task.

              I live in New Orleans and a local food board was discussing a similar topic when someone brought up the point they had recently spent $700 to play a round of golf at Pebble Beach ($500 greens fees, $200 caddy/tip). Now to a non-golfer that sounds ridiculous, but I know several people who've done it and many more who would love to.

              Some people rent chartered fishing boats, others Pay scalper's prices for front-row seats to the latest rock concert, and others want to spend their vacation at a 5-star resort? What's extravagant? What's in your wallet?

              Is a $50 bottle of Pride Cabernet better than a $20 of Sebasitiani? How about the $100 bottle of Opus One or the $400 bottle of a Grand Cru Bordeaux? What's extravagant to each of us is a matter of taste, personal preference, income, responsibilities, experience, and passion.

              When they were younger, my daughters wanted to spend special birthdays or dates riding in chauffered limousines (and occasionally they got their wish); my wife gets a weekly manicure and a monthly pedicure... We're not wealthy, but part of the reward of hard work is an occasional self-indulgence. And it wouldn't really be an indulgence if it were logical, now would it??

              Ask a Red Sox fan if the ticket prices for last year's playoffs and World Series for extravagant!

              The best things in life are free, but the next tier can be pretty damn expensive.

              1. re: NOLAFrank

                I'm enjoying this thread because it's making me feel better about the $200 seatpost I just bought for my $6,000 bike.

                1. re: danna

                  Oh - this made me laugh. It's so true -- I think that at one point or another everyone thinks that about everyone else ... "she spent money on THAT?".

              2. re: Flynn

                Well, what happened was that
                I mentioned the cost of our meal,
                a whole big discussion grew about the cost,
                I made a series of mistakes in posting etiquette, and
                a week went by with everyone talking about my meal without my getting my two cents in. (Which was a very uncomfortable feeling, believe you me.) So now I have, and we can all go back to our regularly scheduled programming.

                And, see, I do think about the money, because it's the elephant in the room whenever you talk about art, anyway. I think some of the cost of my meal is completely understandable, and some of it is inexcusable self-indulgence (the poppy seeds, the egg flown in from Japan). That Marie Antoinette-type stuff added to the cachet but not the flavor of our lunch. The question (a question) is, are the cachet and the flavor inseparable? Is it appropriate to even think "you have to draw the line somewhere" about what license you give Keller? When do those poppy seeds lead to some breakthrough in taste, or in the way we think about food, or whatever it is that makes him a star chef? And when do they simply lead to bragging rights (which is what some people on this board think is the only reason anyone could pay that much for a meal)?

                1. re: heidipie

                  Well, your example of the egg flown in from Japan reminds me of when people totally scoffed when they first heard about Kobe beef from Japan. Now many average people are willing to pay the extra money for Kobe-style steaks and $19 Kobe burgers so go figure!

                  I do believe Thomas Keller is an artist and an innovator and a visionary. I'd pay for the pleasure of having a wonderful meal with my lady when visiting Napa and for the memory afterwards.

                  Read what Chef Keller says about money and the cost of dining at his restaurant. The article is interesting anyway.

                  Incidentally, did you know Thomas Keller is not professionally trained in the culinary arts? I read his mother owned a restaurant and she let him start cooking there.

                  Link: html/restaurants/2002223976_taste30.html

                    1. re: Jerome

                      That's the link! Thanks.