*The French Laundry* with pictures
Just had a divine lunch here yesterday with a 1pm seating in the downstairs small sky-lit alcove (lunch and dinner are both 9 course tasting menus, Chef's Tasting Menu vs. Tasting of Vegetables, $240 prix fixe, service included). I must say my meal at The French Laundry ranks up there with my finest meals at Daniel and Jean-Georges.
Reservations, taken two months to the calender day in advance, were extremely difficult to get as their phone is always busy starting at 10am. I have read that it is possible to get a table through OpenTable.com though I was unsuccessful (for tips on this: http://www.thesandersens.com/res). Success finally occurred in the form of speed dialing from a Sacramento land-line (which seemed to get through much quicker than my cell phone from San Diego) the first day TFL re-opened after the winter closure.
Expect a 3 to 4 hour experience with top notch service. Dress code requires a coat for gentleman (tie optional) for lunch and dinner.
My meal went like this:
We were greeted in the back garden with a righteous amuse bouche--salmon tartar atop a minature cone filled with the most amazing cream cheese.
As we entered through the blue door we were brought to our table in the side alcove. The 9 course Chef's Tasting Menu for March 18, 2007 menu went as follows:
Cauliflower "Panna Cotta"
with Beau Soliel Oyster Glaze and Sterling White Sturgeon Caviar
Salad of Young Red Beets
Compressed Hosui Pears, Snap Peas and Whole Grain Mustard "Vinaigrette"
Moulard Duck "Foie Gras Poele"
Green Grape Condiment, Marcona Almonds, Nicoisse Olive "Crumbs" and "Gateau de Fenouil" ($30.00 Supplement
"Confit" of Nova Scotia Bluefin Tuna
Nameko Mushrooms, Sweet Carrots, "Perles de Tapioca," Watercress and Bonito "Nage"
"Fricassee" of Santa Barbara Coast Sea Urchin "Tongues"
Marble Potatoes and Grey Morel Mushrooms with Garden Tarragon "Pudding"
Maine Lobster Tail "Cuite Sous Vide"
Spring Garlic "Subric," Globe Artichokes and "Bouillabaisse" Emulsion
Four Story Hills Farm Milk-Fed "Cuisse de Poulard"
French Laundry "Pancetta," Hearts of Romaine Lettuce, San Marzano Tomato Compote and Rosemary "Jus"
Herb-Roasted Saddle of Elysian Fields Farm Lamb
Braised "Cavalo Nero," Pickeled Red Pearl Onion "Petals" and "Gnocchi a la Parisienne Parfume au Citron"
"Steak and Eggs"
Grilled Medallion of David Blackmore's Australian "Wagyu" with White Asparagus, Poached Jidori Hen Egg Yolk, Caramelized Cipollini Onion Rings and Black Winter Truffle "Coulis" ($75.00 Supplement)
Twig Hill Farm's "Goat Tomme"
"Piperade," Italian Eggplant Puree, Crispy Capers and Field Arugula
Field Rhubarb Sherbert
Cardamom-Scented "Frangipan," Ginger "Tuile" and Whole Milk Yogurt
"Pave De Chocolat Blanc Au The Vert"
Pistachio "Pain de Genes," Passion Fruit Jelly and Bitter Chocolate Sauce
Swiss "Meringue," Coconut Ice Cream, Persian Lime, Pound Cake and Compressed Golden Pineapple
Check out pics of the courses:
I asked how Chef Keller splits his time between Per Se, Bouchon, etc. I was told he was in Yountville the day before we got there, but had in the next morning for Bouchon in Vegas. He is full time at The French Laundry during Per Se's winter shut down and vice versa. I was told he often walks down the street to Bouchon or Ad Hoc to check on things. He house backs up to The French Laundry and the running joke with the staff is that he never uses his front door. His office is also located in the kitchen of TFL.
The French Laundry
6640 Washington Street, Yountville CA 94599
I know someone who went who ended up getting a $600 bottle of white wine -- for 4 people so they each had a glass. He said it was incredible but how could anything be worth $150 per glass? No matter how great this place is, I just don't think the price they charge nowadays can be justified. Wish I'd gone when it was "only" about $125.
I was expecting to see wine pairings offered...but I was suprised that there were none--probably because the menu changes daily, even twice daily, as the lunch is even different than the dinner on the same day. So unfortunately you either have to order a few expensive bottles of wine off the list (or a few half bottles as my server suggested), or just go with wines by the glass (avg cost around $25-30) to do your own pairings.
TFL used to offer wine pairings with their tasting menus. I think the fact that they no longer offer a wine pairing isn't a reflection of how frequently the menu changes (because they were able to do it at one point) but that they're resting on their laurels and don't have to anymore. The wine pairing is almost critical to fully experiencing any tasting menu. Certain flavors are brought out and accentuated. If TFL still cared about offering the optimal culinary experience, they would offer the wine pairing. Jean Georges has a wine pairing (all 9 courses and it was still less than the TFL tasting without wine). Manresa has a wine pairing with their seasonal and spontaneous tasting (together, also less than TFL without wine). Gary Danko, Redd, etc. Pretty much every serious dining establishment from SF to NYC offers a wine pairing.
Manresa seems to be making the sort of effort TFL did 5-10 years ago. David Kinch has beefed up his garden and contracted with local farmers to provide him with the freshest produce around. He's also in the kitchen working wonders with presenting unique flavors. I prefer Manresa easily over TFL. If you take price into consideration, it's no contest.
Congratulations for getting the reservation and thanks for the comprehensive review. I suspect if they charged $500 it might have been even more difficult to get one. It's still hard for me to fathom how something at that price can be 2 or 3 times better than meals from some of the other fine restaurants in the city.
I am in the "it's worth it if you can afford it" camp and dining there was spectacular. If you think about the fact that you may have over 75,000 meals in a lifetime, I for one will pay quite a lot for one that truly stands out. That said, I think charging supplements on a $240 fixed priced menu borders on the obscene.
Thanks for the report. I don't have a lot to comment on, it sounds like a lovely experience. Have to say, though, that the "supplement" bits on top of a $240 per person starting cost is rough. $345 per person if you go for the two supplements. I'm glad I know about that kind of thing ahead of time, I think it would really throw me once I sat down to eat.