Practical Questions for French Laundry tonight...
My God. I can't believe it. I've been dreaming about this for a very long time. The date has finally arrived and I get to experience FL tonight. I am practically beside myself with anticipation. Though I truly love food, I don't get to eat at places like this very often (in fact, I saved my pennies for a few months to afford this) so I plan to relax and enjoy every second of it. That said, I want zero worries or questions when I arrive and these are the ones I can't quite seem to find answers to.
a. Is it customary to tip something over and above the service charge?
b. Do we tip on wine?
2. Wine: (for party of 2)
a. Do they do a wine pairing with the tasting menu?
b. If so, does someone remember approximately what it costs?
c. Would it be better for us to choose a less expensive bottle (or two)?
Thanks for the help.. and feel perfectly free to give me any other pointers that might help with the experience tonight!
So, I had the divine pleasure of eating at French Laundry the other night. My god.
I went prepared to be unimpressed with all the fuss and to laugh at these haute cuisine snobs. I was read to stand up and shout something about the Emperor's new clothes.
But no.. no..
As it turns out, I was in turn delighted, inspired, impressed, amused, surprised, and had all of my senses completely, utterly sated. I even had that rare moment when you put something in your mouth that is so good, so completely sensual that its actually sexual. Everything flowed from the ingredients and tastes in each dish, to how each course followed the previous. My companion wasn't drinking, and while they don't do formal pairings, the waiter suggested he could pair 4-5 wines over the course of the meal for around $75 (was $99 with tax/tip). He suggested that instead of a half bottle because the menu that night was fairly diverse. I trusted the waiter and went with that suggestion. I thought he did a truly outstanding job. Don't ask me what I drank.. suffice it to say the pairing was spot-on each and every time.
The service was superb for the most part, with one minor slip and one major slip.
Minor: My companion asked for iced tea, and he waited patiently, but had to ask again about the time we got the third course.
Major: I had opted for the capon, but they brought me something else. I was delighted by what I saw on my plate, and could see how much care and work went into it. I didn't have the heart to send it back so I didn't call their attention to it. I'm actually glad I chose to do that because it was delicious.
Despite these two minor flaws, I thought they did a very good job. The service was was (fairly) precise, gracious and not the least bit obsequious.
A quick note about the restaurant temperature: I don't know what they usually keep it at, but the restaurant was FREEZING when we arrived. I was in a little dress and so luckily they had a wrap I could borrow. I would have hated to eaten my meal in my big wool coat. Oof!
I left the menu at home today, so I can't give you a blow by blow of the food. In short, all of the dishes were outstanding. There wasn't anything that I thought was sub-par. I took pictures (though it was dark and I couldn't use flash). The shining star that night, though, was the Pacific Kahala (I think I'm spelling that correctly) which was honestly, the most perfectly cooked fish my companion and me have ever eaten at a restaurant. I made sure to let the waiter know to tell that to whomever was on the fish station.
It was a four and half hour experience and every minute of that was needed. We actually asked them to slow it down a bit and I got up to go walk around outside for a few minutes to let things settle. At the end when the chocolates came, I couldn't eat another bite and (thanks to chowhound), I knew to ask the waiter to wrap some up for me. Yay!
We took a tour/look of the kitchen, and though they were working, it was calm, clean and quiet. Lovely.
The total bill was $700 (aside from my wine we both went with the foie gras, which was $30 extra and worth it!) The experience was worth every single penny and I can only hope that I get to do it again sometime.
... I went to bed thinking of food, I dreamt of food that night and got to nibble on a piece of delicious shortbread with my morning coffee. mmmm...
Thanks for the replies, everyone ~ that will help me very much. As it turns out, I just found out my companion is on meds that will prevent him from drinking any wine. I know it's not usually done, but I'll probably try to have the sommelier try and find me a single bottle (or two half bottles depending on the price) to try over the course of the entire dinner. Budget, alas.
TFL adds a service charge to the bill and it includes a service charge for wine. Tip more if you want. It probably isn't "customary" to do so.
TFL does not do a course/glass wine pairing, but they will select half-bottles for you. Give them your budget and let them do the pseudo-pairing.
1.a - They automatically include 18% in the tab so you don't need to worry about going above and beyond unless you feel inclined to.
1.b - Same answer.
2.a - They do not doing a by-the-glass pairing but have a VERY large selection of half-bottles and if you let the sommelier do his magic, you can have two or three lovely half-bottles that will work well through the whole meal.
2.b - Plan on about $500 a person. The food alone is $240 prix fixe.
2.c - Again, I would tell the sommelier how much you would like to max-out on per person by the end of the evening. He will ask you about desires and interests (I told him I was sick to death of California wines and we were given really great older Friend and some German which were perfect).
Have a great time!
The service charge will be included in your bill, so you are not obligated to tip over the service charge. I can't say if its customary or not. I would suspect that since the meal is quite expensive that many do not tip above and beyond. I have in the past if the service or attention was above and beyond my expectations.
The service charge will be on top of the food and wine so you will be tipping on the wine as part of the service charge.
As for #2, I have done it both ways. I have ordered a bottle and I have done wines by the glass. Wines by the glass will run between $25-$30 a glass. The last time I went, I asked them to wine pair for only a few courses, and then ordered a half bottle of wine as well. For two people that was plently of wine, in my opinion. Depends on how heavy a drinker you are.