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French Laundry - Word to the Wise

Greetings Hounds-

As French Laundry seems to still be one of the ultimate destinations for serious eaters, I thought I'd share my experience there in order to possibly enhance yours, if you finally decide to cash out your IRA and go.

French Laundry was solidly one of the best meals I have ever had. Only problem was, I expected it to be. So it met, but did not exceed my expectations. So keep your hopes realistic, they're only human.

(BTW, Keller (who may or may not be only human) was not in the Kitchen that night, as is probably often the case.)

Beware of eating too much too soon. Keller has a Foie Gras philosophy that could be summed up as "don't skimp!" and they didn't but we were beyond full before the mains arrived.

If the Snake River farms beef is still on the menu when you go, watch out, becasue mine was oversalted (one of their few missteps).

Lastly, don't be intimidated by the circumstance. In a fit of compliance, we all four ended up with much the same tasting menu, which of course is foolish, as we didnt get to try various things.

So, now advised, go if you can afford it. I've never spent more on a meal, and may never again, but it's an amzing culinary experience.

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  1. I agree -- it's a food marathon and you have to pace yourself. My other advice is to watch the bottled water, which adds up quickly. As you note, however, the payoff in taste is indeed remarkable. For example, I've never been a fan of caviar or oysters but that was my favorite dish at French Laundry.

    PS: About Keller not being in the kitchen. Gordon Ramsey had a great line when asked whether he personally cooked the meals at his restaurants: "Does *&&$ing Armani personally sew his suits?"

    2 Replies
    1. re: a_and_w

      Do you HAVE to buy bottled water, or can you just ask for ice water?

      1. re: Ozumo

        You can ask for tap, but once you order bottled they keep bringing fresh bottles unless you say otherwise.

    2. Expectations, or over-expectations can be an issue for a place like FL. I know it was for me. It was everything it was suppose to be but I was expecting too much due to the recon reports from foodies and friends. From my perspective, the best thing to do is not going in expecting anything and not read everything you can about it. OTOH, given it's a chunk of change...it's sort of hard not to think about it.

      1. I recently dined at French Laundry and was invited to tour the kitchen and meet the chef. Besides the fact of the small size for what is produced there, I was amazed at the surgical cleanliness of the kitchen. You could have eaten off of the floor, unlike many high end restaurant kitchens I have seen before. But my point about TK not being in the kitchen, on the wall is a huge big screen TV with a live feed from Per Se in NY and they have an identical one there so TK can see what is going on in the kitchen and restaurant when he is not there. I agree the food is amazing; ingredients and preparations and plating. But I found it to be an almost sterile experience. Not one dish I can remember today that I ate that night and there was nothing I walked out and thought I want to have come back and eat that tomorrow, no matter what the price was.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Pammel

          you would've LOVED per se. that kitchen was like a chef's dream. heck, it took up 3/4 of the actual restaurant space. and yes, i saw the flat screen staring into French Laundry too!

        2. I have been eating at the FL, almost since they opened. Not only can I remember almost every dish I have had, I also have the taste memory as well. These are just some of the stand-out dishes between 2002 and 2006. Believe me when I say this is an extremely edited list of what I have eaten there in those 4 years.

          1. Oysters and Pearls - "Sabayon" of pearl tapioca with malpeque oysters and osetra caviar
          2. Cauliflower panna cotta topped with osetra caviar
          3. Atlantic Salmon chop with russet potato gnocchi
          4. White truffle custard with ragout of Perigord truffles with veal stock presented in a hallowed out egg
          5. Coddled hen egg with perigord truffle beurre noisette and brioche soldiers
          6. Turbot collar with fennel and Meyer lemon beurre blanc
          7. Seafood bouillabaisse over a puree of potatoes with olive oil.
          8. "Beets and Leeks" - sweet butter poached Maine lobster with melted green leeks, "pomme maxim" and red beet essence
          9. "Pithivier of Cloverdale Farms rabbit (confit of rabbit) with wilted Arrowleaf spinach and Brooks cherries and a cherry sauce reduction
          10.Foie Gras au torchon" with green gage plum marmalade and toasted brioche
          11. Terrine of Moulard duck foie gras studded with truffles served with frisee salad
          12. House made tagliatelle with black truffles
          13. Carnaroli risotto with black truffles
          14. Whole roasted Moulard duck foie gras with spiced bread crumbs, slices of Bosc pears and clove gastric.
          15, Russet potato gnocchi, roasted chestnuts, white truffle butter and shaved white truffles from Alba.
          16. "Canard a L'Orange" Whole roasted moulard duck foie gras with orange braised duck leg and confit of navel orange. The foie gras looked liked a petit filet, about 2 x 2 x 2 and was cooked with a slight crunch on the outside, but moist and rare inside.
          17. Grilled "Calotte" and poached rib-eye of prime beef, "tortelloni" of roasted root vegetables and oxtail consomme
          18. Sashimi of Kona Kahala (amberjack) with Hass Avocado Sorbet and Crème Fraiche scented with lime and to the right a salad of Micro-Cilantro shoots and Ribbons of Hawaiian Hearts of Peach Farm.
          19. Shrimp with White Truffle Foam, Truffle Slices and Potato Puree as the base.
          20. Black Bass Shabu Shabu with scallions, pickled ginger, Bonito broth.
          21.Uni Risotto with Black Truffles
          22. Uni Sabayon with Chives
          23. Maltese Tuna Poached in Olive Oil, Herb Spatzle, Savoy Cabbage, Sauce Goulash.
          24.Australian Wagyu Beef tartare on Koshikari rice, Baby Bok Choy, Chestnut Mousse, Tamari Glaze
          25.. Pecorino and some other cheese (I think our waiter said foglia de noche) Gratin, Serrano Ham, Cardoons
          26. White Truffle Float with white truffle ice cream on the bottom and white truffle foam on top
          27. Pistachio butter with White Sturgeon Caviar and Small Brioche croutons
          28. Tempura of Rock Shrimp on a bed of Kahala tartar with chives and red radish.
          29. Kurobuta Pork Belly with Koshikari rice and Jidori Hen Egg
          30. Ricotta Cheese Gnocchi with White Truffles shaved tableside
          31. Bacon-wrapped Partridge with Brussel Sprouts, Foie Gras Beignet, Tokyo Turnips
          32. Uni soup over small Parisian balls of Crimson gold apples
          33. Truffle-cured scallop
          34. Confit of Columbia River Sturgeon, green grapes, beurre blanc, white sturgeon caviar
          35. Monterey Bay Sardine, crusted with brioche, ragu of cauliflower florets, piquillo peppers, FL house-made chorizo, watercress puree
          36. A "pavé" of Spanish mackerel, cured and grilled, Koshikari rice, compressed Asian pear, nori gastric
          37. Soft poached hen egg, with French green lentils, chives, chervil and sherry vinegar
          38. FL Lobster Roll – The roll was actually pain perdue, FL 1000 island dressing was a tomato-based sauce made with olive oil and egg yolk. Also in the roll was a layer of tomato marmalade and celery
          39. Kurobata Pork belly with bok choy leaves, daikon, corn and tamarind jus
          40. Uni panna cotta with green orange gelee
          41. Russet Potato Gnocchi with cured salmon roe and tomato marmalade
          42. Cap of the rib eye (Snake River), golden sweet corn, chanterelles, celery root puree, perigordine sauce
          43. Poached Black bass with Red Wine Reduction sauce, Potato Millefeuille, Spring Onion, Grilled Baby Leeks
          44. Toro with lemon sauce, Quenelle of Piperade, Roasted Sunflower Blossoms, Toasted Sunflower seeds
          45. "Peas and Carrots" Maine Lobster Pancakes (crepe) with pea shoot salad and Ginger-carrot Emulsion
          46. Sauteed Moulard Foie Gras with mulberries, Tokyo Turnips, Saucing of Mulberries and Red Wine Vinegar Reduction. This was accompanied by a poppy seed Genoise done with duck fat
          47. Four Story Hills farm Poularde with Mousseline of chorizo, Piquillo, Golden Sweet Corn, sage-scented jus
          48. Madeleine genoise, Pistachio nougatine, Blackberry spoon tency.
          49. Santa Barbara Uni with Granny Smith Apple Gelee topped with Caspian Sea Russian Sevruga caviar and baby squash blossoms
          50. Kanpachi belly that had been cold-smoked with Applewood Bacon. As the lid was lifted from the dish, smoky white “bacon clouds” floated in the air.
          51. Mackerel with Ginger Gastric on a bed of steamed rice served with chopsticks
          52. Omelet stuffed with Italian Castelmagno cheese with truffle Perigordine sauce. Thick slices of brioche are served on the side.
          53. Striped Bass Shank, roasted on the bone with razor clams, a cassoulet of beans with nicoise olive puree fennel
          54. Devil’s Gulch Ranch Rabbit Sirloin wrapped in applewood smoked bacon, chanterelles and golden corn pudding.
          55. Butternut Squash Soup served over Glazed Chestnuts
          56. Grilled Nova Scotia Bluefin Tuna, Beech Mushrooms “a la Greque”, Baby Arugula and Meyer Lemon
          57. Brandade with Sweet Garlic Infused Cream, Crispy Spanish Capers, and Parsley Oil
          58. Mascarpone-Enriched K&J Orchard Chestnut “Agnolotti’ with Black Truffles
          59. Grilled Dover Sole with Marinated Cauliflower Florets, Raisins, Almonds, Madras Curry
          60. Potato "Dauphinoise" with Russian Sevruga Caviar
          61. Monterey Bay Sardine "En Brioche", Piquillo Pepper and Spanish Caper Emulsion
          62. Brook Trout Roe served with salt smoked with cherry wood and grated bonito
          63."Cheese and Crackers" --- Four Story Hills Farm Berkshire Pork "Fromage de Tete" and Fennel Seed Crackers - The head cheese was not served as a terrine. Instead it was finely diced and you were to scoop up the dice and place it on your fennel cracker
          64. Grilled "Pave" of Spanish Bluefin Tuna, Ginger Glazed Baby Bok Choy, Hon Shimeji and Beech Mushrooms and Green Orange "Aigre-Doux - It had been poached in olive oil (confit) and tasted like the best toro. The bok choy had been cooked sous vide and then butter added. The aigre-doux was a mixture of glucose sugar, champagne vinegar and navel orange.
          65. Glazed Wolfe Ranch White Quail, Caramelized Fennel Bulb and "Pruneau d'Agen" -The quail was wrapped around a foie gras mousse, but it was the poached prune and the foie gras emulsion that elevated this dish to a 4 star status.
          66. "Coffee and Doughnuts" –
          67. Santa Barbara Sea Urchin served with a Sake Granite
          68. Eggs “Perigourdine” – Poached “Arcuna” Hen Egg with “Thomas” English Muffin, Sauce Hollandaise and Black “Perigord”
          69. “Fricassee” of Maine Lobster “Mitts”, Sweet Corn Pudding, Applewood Smoked bacon and Shaved Summer Truffles
          70. Sea of Cortez Scallops, Beet Vinaigrette, Melted King Richard Leeks, Poppy Seed Tuile
          71. Dungeness Crab Gratin with Melted Leeks with Meyer Lemon
          72. Duck Neck with Perigord Truffles, Foie gras, Sweet Carrots with a bit of 100 year old Balsamic Vinegar – Think of a round 3 inch circle studded with small 1⁄4” dice of foie gras and black truffles
          73. Poularde with Port Wine Reduction, Toasted Brioche “smeared” with the poularde liver which had been sautéed with thyme, shallots and garlic
          74. A Toad in the Hole – As the name implies, a hole is made in a 11⁄2 inch round of brioche. In the hole is a lightly coddled hen egg set on truffle coulis
          75. Pickled “Deviled” Egg with Perigord Truffle “Pop Tart” - – Egg pickled in truffle juice, sliced horizontally, yolk mashed with crème fraiche and re-stuffed into the white. The “deviled egg” was set on top of truffle gelee and surrounded by a truffle perigord sauce.
          76. Monkfish first presented whole, then plated and served with Hen of the Woods Mushrooms, Sautéed Arugula with tiny bits of crispy bacon, whole grain mustard sauce made with shellfish stock.
          77. Nature fed Veal with Crispy sweetbreads, Morels, Jacobson Farm carrots, Yukon Gold Potato Millefeuille Layered with Truffles, Thyme infused Veal Jus, Cilantro, Thyme Garnish.
          78. Smoked steelhead roe porridge with Diane Sinclair butter finished with Persian lime Salt and freshly shaved bonito flakes sprinkled on top tableside by our server with chopsticks. dish.
          79. Uni with umebashi (plum paste) gastric with breakfast radish, daikon and black salt.
          80. Veal Oscar - Veal Sweetbreads with Sacramento Asparagus and a succulent piece of crab to the side with hollandaise sauce. An absolute winner.
          81. Bacon-wrapped sirloin of rabbit, Cassoulet of Spring Pole Beans, Rabbit Jus, Thyme Infused Olive Oil.
          82. Agnolotti with Fava beans, Mascarpone with Black Truffles, shaved tableside
          83. Potato Ravioli, Celery, Beurre Monte, Black Truffles Shaved Tableside
          84. Salt-packed Branzino, Roasted Artichoke Hearts, Red pepper, Piquillo Pepper Tapenade with Bouillabaise Sauce
          85. Squab breast and squab “drummette” with, sunchoke puree, brussel sprouts, red onions, sauce perigordine
          86. Snake River Farm's "Calotte de Boeuf Grillee - Beef cap with Hen of the Woods Mushrooms, Asparagus, Béarnaise Cheese
          87. Thomas’ version of a BLT – Think of a sandwich with first Brioche toast, then a Lettuce/Basil “sort of” puree, White Truffle Slice, Cured Bacon, White Truffle Slice, a touch of the Lettuce/Basil combination, and then Brioche toast.
          88. Scrambled Araucana Hen Eggs, “Mousselline des Tompinambours” (sunchokes) and Iranian Oscetra Caviar
          89. Maine Lobster Tail “cuit sous vide”, Melted Savoy Cabbage, Stew of Winter Chestnuts, Chestnut “Coulis” and Applewood Smoked Bacon “Crisp”
          90. Wolfe Ranch Breast of Squab “Farci aux foie Gras de Canard aux truffle Noir”, Glazed Cipolinni Onions and Butternut Squash.
          91. Anson Mills Polenta With Brown Butter/Chicken Stock Sauce with Shaved White Truffles Tableside.
          92. Lobster cooked sous vide with navel orange mousseline topped with a confit of navel orange accompanied by a small herb salad.
          93. Seared eel on apple puree compote, grated daikon and ponzu sauce served with silver-tipped chop sticks.
          94. Sturgeon on a bed of melted leeks with pomme boulangerie and apple cider sauce
          95. Confit of foie gras topped with toasted brioche croutons, cipoline onion, fines herbes vinaigrette and a sweet and sour pepper gastric served with 8 different salts.
          96. Roasted Partridge with chestnuts and Perigord truffles.
          97. Roasted Wolfe Ranch White Quail, stuffed with "Musquee de Provence" Pumpkin, "Ris de Veau", Frisee Lettuce and Curry Balsamic Vinaigrette
          98. Marinated Octopus with Tomato water Gelee and shaved dried bonita flakes added tableside..
          99. a boneless quail, stuffed with foie, then the quail is"confit it" and preserved whole in a jar. They showed us the jar and the preserved quail/foie, but it was presented sliced with the gelee.
          100. "Toro" of Australian Bluefin Tuna, salad of Japanese sweet rice.
          101. "Pork and Beans" - all day braised Eden Farms Berkshire Pork "belly" with a "Cassoulet" of Spring Pole Beans and Whole Grain Mustard Sauce.
          102. Pied de cochon farcie aux ris de veau with lentils and a sherry vinaigrette sauce.
          103. Needle fish with Walla Walla Shallots, Julienne Carrots and Wasabi Oil.
          104. Sauteed Foie Gras with Transcending Crab-Apple and Wildflower Honey Gastric.
          105. Foie Gras Terrine with Black Truffles and Frisee salad.
          106. Elysian Fields Farm Lamb Saddle with Summer Ratatouille and Crispy Herb-scented Panisse croutons.
          107.Culotte of Beef with beef marrow.
          108. On a Meyer lemon butter sauce, a mound of potato puree and then topped with a postage size piece of thick all-day braised pork belly and finally mounded with a quenelle of caviar.
          109. A duck egg that had been very briefly simmered in water, white removed sitting in an intense reduced almost to glaze black truffle perigord sauce..
          110. "Saucisson L'Ail" with a "ragout" of pearl barley and fuji apples, sultana tapenade and a savory-infused olive oil
          112. Lyon Cervela with pistachio nuts, lentils and black truffles. Between the casing and the sausage were black truffles as well

          1. This is my first time with chowhound... What is a typical costof a 3 course meal at French Laundry and where is this place?

            3 Replies
            1. re: luv2eat

              Hi Luv2Eat. You can check out the official restaurant information here: FrenchLaundry.com. French Laundry is based in Yountville, Napa Valley and is considered by many many ppl to be the best restaurant in the US. It's super haute and the base price of a meal is $210 before any drinks are added.

              1. re: thejulia

                Note that's for the 9-course tasting menu. I believe they also do a 15-course (or more) menu by request. Note also that it's almost impossible to get a reservation.

              2. re: luv2eat

                No such thing as a 3 course meal there. As is pointed out below, $210 per person for the basic prix fixe menu. That does not include any wine.

              3. thanks for all the info....Will look iy up one day when I am in Napa and make sure I have a fat wallet to enjoy the samples they have to offer

                1 Reply
                1. re: luv2eat

                  If you want to eat there, you need to attend to getting a reservation two months before you head to Napa.