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First time at The French Laundry

  • j

I'll be visiting the French Laundry for the first time. I would appreciate any tips to make the experience more memorable.

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  1. Take lots of money, leave yourself in the hands of the chef, and enjoy.

    4 Replies
    1. re: dinwiddie

      Just for fun, how much is dinner for 2 with wine?

        1. re: Zander

          I was there a few days ago. The check for $900 for 2 people. We had the $240 9-course tasting menu and a glass of champagne each before dinner, then two half bottles of wine (one red, one white), and we split a glass or port with our cheese course. It was a solid "A" meal, and the service was nearly flawless, but it was not life-changing.

          And when we asked whether service was included, the answer was clumsy and unprofessional. We had no problems having 20% service added to the bill (indeed we would have likely left more), but the bill isn't clear and leaves a blank anyway for "additional gratuity." We asked about that and received a truly unacceptable answer -- it was a very awkward and unpolished ending to an otherwise fantastic evening.

          BTW, we had to ask for doughnuts. They are no longer doing them automatically. If you ask your server at the beginning of the meal, they will make them for you (and serve them after your first desert course).

          Be sure to ask to see the kitchen! They love that, and they're happy to take you back there. You won't believe that so many people can work productively in such a tiny space -- with such outstanding results!

          1. re: foodiesf

            Hmmmm... how sad about the donuts. Makes you wonder if they made that decision based on a number of un-eaten donuts because of the other additional desserts and mignardise...

      1. Start training your stomach to handle all the rich food. My first visit was a year ago and was only marred by the fact that I don't usually eat so much at one sitting, even if the sitting is 4 hours. I felt sick for a day afterwards, though I loved the meal.

        1 Reply
        1. re: celeste

          On that note, try to arrange your meal so that you can take a walk afterward to keep things moving. A walk before wouldn't hurt, either. And actually, a short walk during can be nice, depending on the time of day and the weather.

        2. Streak naked thru the dining areas and kitchen.

          Short of that, you might glean a few tips from the many trip reports that have been posted here. Click on the "Search this board" link above, and read away......

          1. Budget at least $125 pp for wine (probably more), and don't be shy about letting the sommelier know your preferences re: wine (I'll always regret not saying that I don't like highly alcoholic, overextracted wines... I sort of assumed that it was a given that they wouldn't pair those wines with food... )

            Don't go wine tasting beforehand. Have dry toast and tea for breakfast.

            Book a hotel within walking/cabbing distance, if you're going for dinner.

            1. Know that you can get half glasses of wine, ask your waiter if there are any dishes that should be paired with a certain wine. Also ask if you can get a tour of the kitchen at the end of your meal, pretty inpressive, we finished about 10pm and the kitchen was so clean after a busy night that I wouldn't have minded if they performed open heart surgery on me on the plating table. Sit back and enjoy the ride, it's and "E" ticket.

              1. I was just there two weeks ago for my first time and had a wonderful experience. The only thing that would have made it better was that near the end of the meal, I saw several tables get what looked to be a fried donut. When our table did not get this dish near the end of the meal, I asked our server what that dish was. He told me that you have to request it (coffee and donuts) when you first get there. It's sort of an off menu item that is available without an extra charge.

                Also, be prepared for a long meal. We were there for lunch and it lasted 3.5 hrs. Some of the menu items are great for sharing (eg, the foie gras terrine). Don't hesitate to ask your server for their opinion. The beef special for that evening was a really, really good seared Wagyu beef. At a $100 supplement, I was a little hesitant to order it. But the server said that it was about 4 ounces and enough to share. It was ridiculously good and well worth it.

                Lastly, remember to enjoy your meal!

                2 Replies
                1. re: elainew

                  Wow - I'm shocked you were told coffee and donuts had to be requested. I got mine without asking. I also gushed over them so much I was given a box of extra donuts to take home!

                  I would take the garden walk between every three courses - and when you decide to do so, let the servers know! They time the dishes and if you decide at the last minute, they will literally throw your plate away and start from scratch when they see you return. It is a courtesy thing...

                  Don't feel like you have to rush OR that you have to finish every single thing you are given. Knowing I was going to be in for a marathon meal, I let myself be okay with just having a few bites of every dish but not necessarily cleaning every plate (okay, except for the foie course!)

                  1. re: elainew

                    The coffee and donuts is their signature dessert that is not always on the menu. More often then not, it is given now as compliments of the kitchen and on extended menus.

                  2. 1) Don't think of the money. Pretend it's not as much as the menu says.
                    2) Keep expectations low, don't let the hype create something unreasonable.
                    3) Let yourself be surprised.

                    1. Dress comfortably. Go earlier than your reservation and check out the garden across the street. If you don't drink wine, don't be afraid to tell your server - they can create/serve non-alcoholic beverages to go with your food. Turn off your cell phone. :)

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: Cindy

                        Don't dress too comfortably. They enforced the jacket rule for me, even though I was wearing a nice conservative cashmere sweater. This was at lunch.

                        1. re: SteveG

                          Yes on jackets. I just meant that this is not the occasion to "squeeze" into that special outfit.

                          1. re: Cindy

                            I never, ever thought I'd go to FL, but I am. Tomorrow. So how formally should I dress for lunch? Would I feel out of place in a nice top and skirt with bare legs? I'd really rather not wear stockings.

                            1. re: Glencora

                              You are fine without stockings... They aren't actually even seen that much in California these days. Don't know about elsewhere!

                                1. re: foodiesf

                                  Yep, Berkeley, perhaps the most casual place on earth. Still -- thanks for the reply. I don't go to high-end restaurants often. (Assuming that Chez Panisse doesn't count.)

                                  1. re: Glencora

                                    I won't insult you by telling you what's seen in California and what's not. Especially when you live in California! I"m glad you got my point. Have a great lunch at TFL without your stockings. I hope you really enjoy it.

                      2. I know that in order to really enjoy your meal at FL you have to forget about price. That being said, I really don't understand how a veggie tasting menu can cost $240, which is the same as the regular tasting menu, which includes expensive ingredients like lobster tail. In no way am I a cheap person, but I have a hard time paying that much for some vegetables.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: invinotheresverde

                          If you think that the vegetarian tasting at TFL is going to be just "some vegetables," then you shouldn't go. Save your money because it won't be an experience you will enjoy. You do have to forget about price at TFL, and you have to know -- truly know -- that you are getting more than just "some vegetables." You are getting the finest, freshest, most oustanding vegetables form some of the best organic and artisanal farmers in the country (and possibly the world). Then, on top of that, they will be prepared and served beautifully by some of the best-trained staff any restaurant has to offer. That's how you have to look at it. Otherwise, everything at TFL -- not just their vegetarian menu -- is ridiculously overpriced and we're all crazy for even thinking of going there.

                        2. I am going in July and our reservations are at 9pm should we eat lunch or just have snacks during the day? what time should we actually plan on getting there? Is it more appropriate to wear a suit or slacks and a jacket(more casual)? thanks. also if anyone thinks of anything that is a must to do in Napa/area or what else to know before hand it would be greatly appreciated.

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: icemanhorn84

                            I would recommend having lunch and a light afternoon snack; or at least, that's what I would do if I had a 9PM reservation.

                            I would probably arrive a little early to look around the courtyard while it's still light. Be aware: if you go inside, you'll be pressured into a glass of champagne at their makeshift bar...not that there's anything wrong with a glass of champagne (which would also be enjoyable in the courtyard), but this is how they get you to go over your planned French Laundry budget (and you don't want to seem cheap by ordering the cheapest sparkling wine on the menu at $20/glass).

                            RE dress: If you wear a suit, you'll be much more over dressed than most. If you wear a tie, you'll be just a little over dressed than most.

                            Here's all I know about the French Laundry: http://takealotofdrugs.blogspot.com/s...

                            1. re: sunnyand72

                              Thanks for the advice. Does anyone know around what time it gets dark in mid July?

                              And any more advice on ordering? any other special items? Last, is it true that you can get coffee and donuts if you order them at the begging of the meal and they aren't on the menu?

                              1. re: icemanhorn84

                                Not sure about when it gets dark in July but I'm responding to the latter part of your post regarding coffee and donuts. I was there back in February and inquired our server about the coffee and donuts when he asked us for our course options. Our server stated that he would check with the kitchen to see if they had the necessary ingredients and whether the chef would make them. In the end, we did get our coffee and donuts and it was well worth the effort to ask. Definitely doesn't hurt to try. :)

                                1. re: sylphi

                                  Thanks sylphi that is a very good point.

                                  1. re: icemanhorn84

                                    Mid-July, dark about 8:45...but you can look these things up...

                                    Oh, you should know exactly where you're going because it will be very dark. Have GPS or a printed map because there is only one very discreet hidden sign that says you're at the French Laundry, and not too many lights on that street.

                                2. re: icemanhorn84

                                  It gets fully dark shortly after 9 pm in July.