The French Laundry [Moved from California]
i've been twice, and neither time i paid - if i had to pay myself, i probably wouldn't go again. i mean, it was phenomenal and all, but i have come to the conclusion that the small tasting menu is not my style, i prefer quality "comfort" dining, with a little hustle and bustle...boulevard, philippe jeanty for example. with that being said, tho, if you can afford it - why not? i think it's one of those places that you have to cross off your list. the french laundry is kind of like a movie that everyone talks up before you've seen it - the hype and anticipation can ruin the experience. go with an open mind.
The Laundry is a fun restaurant for food detectives, people who like to nibble, sip, and discuss. If you like talking and thinking about what's going on in your mouth (and nose), you will have a good time. That's not to say every course will be a "foodgasm"; I don't personally think every dish is a winner, even some of the signature dishes didn't strike me quite right. Also, it helps to tell them what you don't like. (I don't particularly like oysters or caviar, which affects the first course selection. I loved the substitution: a truffle custard thing in an eggshell.) But from the perspective of exciting and unexpected and well executed, it's still a good choice.
(BTW, "Who is KeyserSoze7?" ;-)
I've been 4 times. The first was absolutely astounding. Lots of tiny courses. You could choose and mix and match. The quantities were tiny, one mouthful, and left you wanting more. One dish was about an inch of rabbit spine, with loin barely attached, stainding up with one Frenched rib with a tiny heart (or was it a kidney?) speared onto it. At the end of the meal you were stuffed, but the wanting more left me unsatisfied. Somewhere along the way it became a fixed menu with upgrades. For me it was never as exciting, delicious, entertaining, or interesting as it was the first time. I would never pay to go back. Perhaps I'm too much of a glutton, but I'd rather have a finely crafted meal than a tasting menu. This is more like a magic show where all you talk about is the magician. I like a meal like Chez Panisse (downstairs) for dinner, where you don't feel required to talk about the experience fo 2 or 3 hours. It leaves you satisfied and with a feeling of being taken care of.
Funny, I just posted this question about hype in the general discussion board: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...
It was related to a FL. I had the same experience of hype and disappointment after friends waxed orgasmically about FL. It was without a doubt a fine meal but it couldn't match expectations after I heard about it for 3 months, including emailed articles and the ocassional gushing, etc.
That said, FL is definately worth going to -- just don't believe the hype and buzz...or try to use some detached anticipation, which is sort of like trying not to be one of the kid running down the street in a pack after the ice cream truck in summer screaming the whole way. Easier said then done.
I think the main reason most of us go out to eat is to enjoy good food and have a good time. One should not choose a restaurant just because it 'hot' or has the most buzz or some critic laud it (except for occasional curosities). If the type of cooking and service of the French Laundry appeal to you, by all mean go. But if you're going just because you've read it in every food blog, or it's the most difficult reservation to obtain, or your friends love it, there will be a good chance that you'll be disappointed. I think it is wrong approach to go to a restaurant thinking "is it going to met the hype". To some diner, no restaurant even on it's best day can. But if one approach a restaurant in term of: am I going to have a good experience and eat good food, then there is a better chance that it will meet your expectation.
My interpretation is that Keyser has been disappointed by hyped restaurants generally.
Key factors to French Laundry enjoyment: 1. The sophistication of your palate. 2. The fatness of your wallet.
If you've got a beginner's palate consider starting elsewhere. Unless you can dine with a zen fine dining communicator who can inform you about the salient points without making you feel like an idiot.
If you've got a fat wallet what the heck?
If you have a developed palate and a fat wallet this is your restaurant (unless you've developed an aversion to technical tasting menus).
If you are building your palate and guarding your wallet, prepare to give the financial management section of your brain the night off and see what you can learn.
This is clearly not everyone's idea of a great experience but it is a leader.
re: Karl Gerstenberger
Well put! It's something to try if you have never and can afford it and can appreciate it! Many many years ago (maybe 6) we went to French Laundry and it was THE MEAL OF OUR LIFE TIME, so blown away we were. But then, a months later we got another chance to go, and the second time wasn't as steller.
Nothing had changed in just a month, so we concluded it was us, the experience of The First. There is nothing like the first time when you are presented with something so fine and well prepared.
Be prepared to dine for a long time, and be prepared to appreciate how much work and preparation went into each piece of meat, sauce, garnish that touches your plate.
re: Karl Gerstenberger
I am sure that saying an appreciation of French Laundry is dependant on sophistication is just a bad choice of words. It is not so much how sophisticated your palate is, but rather what style of food you like.
If you are looking for a flawlessly technical meal, then you will like French Laundry. It is an intellectual meal rather than one that comes from passion, well, a different sort of passion, maybe the word is obsession with detail ... which is a good thing and admirable in itself.
So it is not all hype and not dependant on the sophistication of the diner. I wasn't wowed with French Laundry in terms of taste but I like other top-line restaurants like The Dining Room at the Ritz, Michael Minna and Chez Panisse.
I was glad I went and saw what it was all about, so if the money isn't that important, take a look-see.
You might mention what restaurants disappointed you in the past and what you liked.
i went there about 4 years ago, and would rate it as one of the top 5 meal experiences of my life. the service was top rate, on a world scale. every item of food was super, in quality, prep, and taste. if you go, it is a choice of several chef's menus (might have had entrees too), so if there is something you don't like (i.e. my wife doesn't eat fish) they will create a great substitute. be prepared to spend a bundle, but it is worth it. great wine selections, of course. an experience. good luck getting a reservation. it took me a while.