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Per Se AND French Laundry Veterans: Is FL worth trying?

  • d

Hi, I am going to visit the Wine Country in a couple months and I made a reservation at French laundry but am wondering if it's worth going. I have been to Per se about a year ago but I thought it was a little over-rated. I probably caught myself with impossible expectations due to all the hype. My bf who ate at Per Se with me, had a cold that night and could hardly taste anything. He's dying to go back to Per Se but we haven't had the chance. Any thought on French Laundry?

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  1. It used to be worth it, but now that their menu (the exact same tasting menu as before) has gone up to $250, I would say no. At $135, we were willing to overlook the service faux pas (wrong items delivered to wrong people, mispronunciation of names and rude wine service). However, at $250, I believe it has crossed the threshold into the ridiculous. If you dined at Per Se, then you've already had the salmon cornets (and hopefully, the bacon & eggs). Why pay more for the same thing? If you want to get a Napa Valley Keller-esque experience in-situ, then go down the road to Bouchon or have a great casual dinner at Ad Hoc.

    1. I think every report I've read from people who went to both Per Se and French Laundry preferred the latter.

      Some friends who went to FL back when it cost around $120 a head and were unimpressed went again last week and said it was wonderful. I'm not sure they were paying, though.

      Bottled water, coffee, and tea are included in the new price.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        The service is also included in the new price.

        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          Right, service has been included for a quite a while. With this month's increase from $210 to $240 they stopped charging for bottled water etc. Which from past reports could actually make it cheaper for some people.

        2. re: Robert Lauriston

          "I think every report I've read from people who went to both Per Se and French Laundry preferred the latter."

          That's been my experience as well - both from what I've read AND from people I know and have spoken with. I haven't been to Per Se, but FL is stunning . . . expensive, but stunning.

        3. I've been to both on several occasions other than the atmosphere at Per Se being much more regal, I prefer French Laundry

          1. Yeah I think $250 a head is quite hard to justify even though this is for a special occaion (my bf's bday) and god knows when I will go to the wine country again. I've been reading a lot of postings and the reviews (for both Per Se & French Laundry) are either GREAT or OVERATED. So it's making it even harder for me to decide. Now I think I may stir up a storm by saying that I think most ppl who think the food there is great is b/c they are millionaires or they do not frequent as many good as restaurants as other chow-hounders, and the ppl who think the food is overrated are either feeling the pain in their wallet or knows that there are plenty of places where the amount of money your pay equate to the food/atmostphere/service fairly. Comments?

            2 Replies
            1. re: darbi

              Not everybody who reported a happy experience at FL regularly eats at expensive restaurants. Somebody here said they were putting a dollar a day in a piggy bank toward an eventual meal at French Laundry.

              If the price is just too high, how about Coi or the Dining Room at the Ritz?

              Who cares if a place is overrated? You can't eat other people's opinions. What matters is how you like the food (and, in that price range, total experience).

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                I'd love it if you finally ate at FL, Robert. I'd read that review.

                Go for your boyfreinds sake.

                You already have hard-to-get reservations at FL. Your boyfriend wants to go to Per Se again because he couldn't taste much due to a cold. It's his birthday. Why go to Per Se twice when you can check out FL and compare.

                I only ate at FL a few years back when it was much cheaper.I haven't eaten at Per Se which is what you are looking for ... people who ate at both.

                I was glad I went to see what the fuss was about and I was lucky enough to go as part of a chow down ... which is a funny term applied to FL.

                Per Se wouldn't be on top of my list to try if I were going to NY for a limited visit mainly because FL just wasn't my style. I appreciated what they were doing. I'm more of a Chez Panisse & Ritz type of person.

                It was interesting going with a group of Chowhounds ... actually Chowhound elite ... very respected posters ... who pointed out so much that I might have otherwise missed. From this little, uh, focus group, I think that people who are extremely knowledgable about food and can appreciate a lot of nuances are the people who love FL.

                None of these people were millionaires and can enjoy a taco truck as much as FL ... well, if there were millionairs, they aren't in your face about it.

                I will say that I was totally impressed with the service, some of the best I've ever had. The restaurant itself is charming. I just can't remember what one thing tasted like and I only remember I had rabbit because it was the first time I ever ate rabbit ... damn small ribs on that bunny, let me tell you. I remember that ... could have been unborn bunny.

                Come to think of the the lunch price was close to $300 which included wine that someone brought. The extra $$ when to keeping the lights on at Chowhound. Totally worth it from that perspective and the experience. Yes ... memorable for lots of reasons ... the company and the most expensive lunch I've had in my life.

            2. Just go to TFL. You went through the whole tedious process of getting a reservation – why worry now if it is overhyped and overpriced? It is, but it is also fabulous. I would not trade my meal there for anything and would go again in a minute – but have loved my experiences at Cyrus (and probably COI too) just as much, if not more.

              1. I think one should go to FL at least once in their life. My first visit was earth-moving, the fourth? Not so much...

                1. If you have the reservation (1/2 the battle) and it's a b-day...just go. The big thing is to quell your expectations and don't think about the cost...both semi-unnatural for humans. High expectations + the price can lower/change the experience. I've been a few times and last time was great...because I didn't have any expectations. The first time I was keyed up going in (and fighting the expectations) so I doubt anything could have met what I thought I'd get. It was still worth the experience however. Re: the service, it excellent but a bit overbearing since I prefer a more casual approach.

                  1. I agree with others that you should go to FL. Everyone should go once, if they are so fortunate to have the opportunity to do so. I have not been to Per Se, because I've been to FL 3x and that's enough upscale Keller for me. I love FL and absolutely appreciate what they are doing there, but to me going there a fourth time is not worth the $250. I'd rather go 2x to Manresa instead.

                    1. Just went this past Sunday. Service was stellar, food was awe-inspiring and atmosphere was great (my admin has a friend who works there, and he made sure we had the table for two by the fireplace). Sommelier was knowledgeable and made some inspired recommendations (though one was a bit too inspired, but as an oenophile with an admittedly jaded palate, I completely understand where he was going and the oxidized sherry pairing with the octopus almost worked).

                      As for those who feel it's overrated, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. If you are the type who eats to live, rather than to survive, I'd say there's a good chance you'll appreciate the cost, time and imagination that goes into the course after course that are brought to your table. If you feel the $240 all inclusive pricetag (except for tax) means the experience has to be several X better than a meal that costs $100 per person, then you may be disappointed. I view a meal @ FL as like flying overseas in business or first class. I could fly coach class and get there for a much lower price, but the experience and general feeling of well-being is so much better at the end of the flight when flying biz or first class.

                      If you can afford it, do it. Life is short, but memories linger.

                      1. my Per Se meal was quite a letdown but TFL is a completely different experience. it's probably the closest you can get to eating in France in the US. i was sour on TFL but my last 2 trips have been top-notch. while some argue the food could be more inspiring (i probably fall into this camp), the food is perfect for what it is.

                        (that said, i do agree w/ farmersdaughter - if you only have 1 expensive meal, Manresa is the better option and worth going out of your way for.)

                        1. Having been to FL several times over the past few years, it's not that price has continued to climb ever higher, but I think rather that the competition has continued to step up their respective games. I certainly think that Thomas Keller is still at the top of the mountain, but others are definitely closing the distance. The ingredients that Keller uses are superlative and there can be no doubt that he goes to the ends of the Earth to find the best of the best from produce to poultry and everywhere in between. However, perhaps this is where the problem lies and I find myself in agreement with chuckeats (above) if you start with the finest truffles from Piedmont, beef from Snake River Ranch, etc., then the resulting meal had better be nothing short spectacular. In the earlier days, Keller seemed to push the culinary envelope with every dish. The last time I had dinner at FL, I kept waiting for the homeruns and each at bat came up short on that little something extra that we've all come to expect from Keller. While I certainly appreciate the familiar favorites and the "ice creme cone" amuse and the oysters and pearls are still great, but I don't expect to see the same dishes later on down the menu. And yet, there was that little creme brulee as we headed into the desserts.

                          Thomas Keller is a skilled master chef, but he's far too young to start doing a greatest hits repertoire at his flagship restaurant. Oh and when you start with an allstar cast of ingredients, the inspiration and creativity must elevate them to the next level. Otherwise you run the risk of making "Do They Know It's Christmas" instead of "We Are the World" and the all-stars just go to waste.

                          Second on the recommendation for Manresa, Cyrus and I'll even throw out a vote for Redd, which, while not quite the equal of FL, it is a good example of why the gap is narrowing. In any case, enjoy your meal wherever you end up. I consider it an honor and a privilege to even be in the position to make the arugument for any one of these restaurants. We are a very fortunate group of diners to be sure.

                          a sante,

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Curtis

                            Curtis, those are my identical, word-for-word sentiments.TFL was very good but aside from the truffled egg custard, nothing stunned me or enlightened me or wowed me. I also don't like the fact they've done away with wine-pairings...as if it's too much effort or they just don't care. They've also reduced their menu to a traditional and vegetarian tasting. They used to have a seasonal tasting. It all looks like streamlining and assembly-lining to me.

                            I completely agree that for my money, Manresa offers more exciting cuisine and a more personal experience. While Redd isn't in the same class, it's only slightly less so. In addition, Chef Reddington is still back there cooking away. Not only does Redd offer wine pairings but they offer tasting menus with wine pairings at a "reasonable" price.

                            1. re: Curtis

                              i was with you til the Redd & Cyrus comments :-) both restaurants are 2nd-tier when compared to TFL & Manresa (though Redd does make a nice lunch when it's sunny out.)

                            2. I've been to Per Se, and except for the once in a lifetime experience if you're a foodie and must try everything yourself, I don't recommend. Yes the food is top quality and execution is beautiful. But there was nothing I care to eat again and even less of that was memorable. It's not so inventive you think wow, how in the world is this created?! It's yes, I've seen this, been there dont it. I guess it's slightly better. Otherwise, boring.

                              I'll be going to French Laundry in a week, finally got a reservation. And going only because I'm a foodie and it's on my bucket list. Wished it did it when it was only $120 a head, sounds so cheap now.


                              1. When I went to TFL last year, everything was absolutely perfect. My only complaint was that the desserts wouldn't stop coming. That being said, none of the dishes really lingers in my memory except oddly the cheese plate--but I tend to like eclectic cooking and TFL is very classic. The food seemed to fit the Napa surroundings better than the mall that Per Se is in.

                                Since your bf kind of missed out, you managed to get a rez, and I really think TFL is much more romantic than Per Se, you should just go! If you could swing it, I recommend spending the night nearby because food coma makes it really hard to drive very far at midnight.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: sfbing

                                  FYI, hubby just called me at work and said FL had numerous reservations available on Open Table for Monday, 2/16/09. They also had numerous spots available on Superbowl Sunday.

                                  1. re: cvhound

                                    We got reservations for The French Laundry on Open Table on Thursday the 5th for Sunday the 8th. There have been openings on weekdays for the last 5 days. Food and setting were stunning, service warm and gracious without being stiff. We have wanted to go here for years and were unable to get a reservation when we wanted it, or weren't in a position to treat ourselves. When this chance came up we jumped at it. May be our last chance to really do anything like this for quite a while. If you are having a late seating, splurge and get a hotel for the night. Walking back to our fireplace suite in the dark drizzly night was a great end to the evening.

                                  2. re: sfbing

                                    Umm.... the OP was 2 years ago - either they went or they didn't but too late now for recommendations ;) Wish OP had followed up with a post.

                                  3. I went for my 40th birthday this past October with a party of 6. Certainly, it was by far the most expensive dinner I've ever had. It was also the best single restaurant experience I've ever had as well. There are an assortment of little touches here and there that really set the restaurant apart, but the one thing that my friends and I kept saying to one another - the entire time - was that we had never seen that level of quality sustained over so many dishes. It's staggering, and you won't stop talking about it for weeks, much to the chagrin of your less patient friends. :)

                                    1. Can anyone compare FL and Per Se with Alinea in Chicago? Similar experience?

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Bryan Gros

                                        Totally different. I adored Alinea - really creative, gorgeous food, lots of new flavor combinations and sensations. FL is classic - everything I had was probably the best version I'd ever had of that dish, but I don't think I had anything new or surprising. I'm in the camp that finds FL a little soulless. Way more molecular wizardry at Alinea, which isn't everyone's cup of tea, but the food also manages to be seasonal and soulful at the same time. I also really appreciated how the menu at Alinea is designed to vary intensities of flavor, richness, and salt/sweet, so there's never palate fatigue. My meal at FL went from rich to richer to richest. I love lipids - used to eat chunks of butter straight, as a kid - so for me to max out on fat, there has to be a *lot* of fat.

                                        Another huge point for Alinea is for its wine - when I went (Oct 2005), you could get a wine pairing for $55 - I think it was 7 wines for the 12 courses (I know it's a lot more now). Lots of interesting, obscure wines that played well with the food. I went to TFL a year or so later and asked the sommelier to help us create a pairing with a $60 pp budget. He wasn't snobby about it at all, but he looked completely panicked. They're really not prepared to deal with wine budgets under $100 pp, I think. The only wine I remember was a Santa Barbara Syrah - I remember being anxious when he said Santa Barbara, as most of the SB wines I've tasted have been gigantic fruit bombs - but opted to trust him, thinking there was no way TFL would be stocking gigantic fruit bombs. It was a gigantic fruit bomb, and at $60 for a half bottle, a huge disappointment. In the meantime, I'm still thinking about a delicious, inexpensive Greek wine I was introduced to at Alinea. I wish I'd spent more time looking at TFL's wine list - I got overwhelmed really quickly - but I'm pretty sure it's light on interesting, inexpensive wines.

                                      2. Renewing this thread...

                                        Husband and I are considering FL for our anniversary in the fall. The price is now $270, and we know with wine pairings, this meal will run into the $700 range, on the conservative end. Are the food and service top notch enough for the splurge?

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: Dagney

                                          Yes. And if you can swing it, request an extended tasting menu, which I found more impressive than Per Se's. By the way, when we were at TFL last month, we were told they don't offer wine pairings in the traditional sense, but rather ask approximately how many glasses you'd like to enjoy throughout the meal.


                                            1. re: Dagney

                                              fwiw, i was way, way more impressed by the cooking at robuchon in vegas than that at TFL (we visited both in 2011.) so if someone is considering both per se and TFL, they might instead consider substituting robuchon for one of these.

                                            2. Since this thread seems to have found some new momentum, I'd like to share my two cents. This past March, I had lunch at Per Se (the somewhat truncated, yet still pricey five course option) and just had lunch at FL a couple of weeks ago: my first time at each. Per Se has the second best view at a restaurant I have ever experienced (Nepenthe still takes the cake for me) and the avalanche of mignardises was epic. The service was good, but markedly dispassionate and mechanical, especially in comparison with FL. I don’t drink and I am always delighted when a restaurant offers me something delightful aside from basic soft drinks (Alinea’s house made soda flight and B&B Ristorante’s juice creations stand out as great examples). When I asked the sommelier if they had any good non-alcoholic offerings, he stated “Anything you want.” Not sure how I was to react to that. If I asked for fresh yak milk, would they have sent someone running around town to procure? I asked if they could make something for me. What arrived was just a flavorless glass of juice and water that had no oomph. I expected more for this man who had just offered me the world. I really didn’t feel like I connected with any of the staff, which is important to me. Although all of the dishes were good and excelled in presentation, not all hit it out of the park. I was impressed with their take on the hackneyed scallop with cauliflower theme, incorporating Scandinavian flavors for an unexpected treat. I was satisfied, but not sure if I needed to return. I had a nice reverie walking past Marea around the corner and having a bit of a longing for their pasta.

                                              FL is labor intensive. Getting the reservation. Getting to Yountville. Digesting the food. Paying for it. And totally worth the effort. It may be a once in a lifetime experience for me, and all of that exertion made it feel all that more special. Our server, Olivia, was everything that I wished my service at Per Se to be: that perfect balance of professionalism with warmth. The rest of the service staff were right on par with her. The food was insane. All lobster should be butter poached. All steak should be 49-day aged and from Snake Rivers Farm. I still am having euphoric recall while thinking about those dishes. The Oysters and Pearls soared beyond my expectations. And when my partner received his black truffle cloaked tagliatelle as a supplement, they brought me the famous custard with Perigord truffle ragout so that I would not be sitting there twiddling my thumbs. As for my non-alcoholic beverage needs, FL provided these wonderful GuS sodas that really complimented the meal and did not feel like an afterthought. It was a remarkably cozy three and a half hours. Sure, there were no real molecular party tricks to be found. But it was damned good food served well.

                                              I also want to echo some of the earlier posters sentiments regarding Manresa. I’m not sure if I will journey to FL every again. I’m pretty sure that I will go to Manresa the next time I am able. It is closer to where I live. The price is considerably less. The food is exciting and fresh. The environment and staff are welcoming. And I am still nursing the obnoxiously large handful of salted caramels that I was egged to grab by the hostess at the end of our meal.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: djquinnc

                                                Interesting. Since I initially posted on this thread, I've had the opportunity to go to Per Se. I found that Per Se redeemed my lacking TFL experience. The service at TFL I thought was overly fawning and hovering to the point of intrusive. The service at Per Se for me was perfect: there when you needed it, unnoticed when you didn't. I asked for an extra order of coffee and donuts and got it despite obviously being stuffed out of my gourd (to make up for the one I didn't get at TFL). My oysters and pearl at TFL were slightly warm and unpleasant. The version at Per Se was as the dish was intended. They forgot my butter poached lobster at TFL while the butter poached lobster at Per Se was indeed a perfectly poached piece of lobster.

                                                Having said all that, I would probably not return to either and would return still to Manresa even after 4 visits.

                                                1. re: Porthos

                                                  in fairness; i haven't been to either, but they are not going for the same style of service at both, which keller has mentioned

                                              2. Thank you all for the prompt responses! I think we are going to forgo FL for another time, as finances are simply not going to permit at this time.

                                                Also, I am slightly annoyed and a tad suspicious with the entire reservations process. Tonight I conducted an experiment. I waited until the exact moment of midnight, and tried to put in a reservation for August 22, using Open Table. I got a message which stated there were NO reservations available for this day. For the ENTIRE day!?! At literally 10 seconds after midnight?

                                                Call me cynical, but I tend to think this is part of their "brand" and marketing strategy, and quite frankly, I don't have time for it. I am sure the food and service are top notch, and we definitely want to eat there one day, but have decided to wait for a time we can stay in a high-end hotel in Yountville and deploy a concierge on our behalf.

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: Dagney

                                                  I'm not sure if the midnight trick is the best strategy. I got mine by frantically refreshing on Open Table at 10am PST two months to the date that I wanted to go. 11:15 popped up after a couple of minutes and I took it.

                                                  1. re: Dagney

                                                    The restaurant is small, in my head it seats probably less than 200 people a day (I made that up). It's seating capacity is about 50 people at any one time. It felt like there were 8 tables on the first floor, and a few more on the second. They could make it so you can book further in advance, but frankly unless they opened it up to a year in advance, it would still get all booked up.

                                                    I do sometimes wonder if they could somehow afford to make it a little more accessible, but with so few tables, and such hype as one of the best restaurants in N. America (if not the world). Unless they moved or expanded, it is what it is. And in that way you are right - they aren't going to open up a palatial style dining room that can seat 1000 people a day. It's not their brand. Half of the charm is it feels like you are eating in someone's home.

                                                    1. re: Dagney

                                                      I believe reservations start at 10AM Pacific, not at midnight. I signed on Open Table a few minutes before and didn't have an issue grabbing an early dinner reservation.

                                                      The restaurant is small. I remember there only being 2 other tables (1 table of 2 and 1 of 6) on the second floor where we were seated.