chez panisse or french laundry for wedding anniversary dinner?
Either one is going to be a great experience, but.... IMHO, think about taking the amount of money that you will be spending at the restaurant and put it towards a nice room at the Sonoma Mission Inn or Clairemont. I love restaurants with good food and although I believe both of these offer great artistic dishes, none of them blew me away so much that I had to go back. It was the experience in the areas that made me remember.
So now back to your question. If I had a bunch of money to blow and could spend a weekend in a nice B&B along with dinner, I would choose the French Laundry.
People always say that, but:
1. Even other restaurants can't get some of the ingredients Chez Panisse does. ("Thomas Keller once told me that even he can't get some of the produce that winds up in Alice Waters' kitchen."--Michael Bauer)
2. I don't have a wood oven, which to me makes many dishes taste much better.
3. Cooking skills aside, tto serve a meal like the ones I've had there, I'd be in the kitchen the whole time instead of at the table celebrating. Just imagine how much work it would be to cook this Friday's dinner at home:
Marinated local halibut tartare with watercress and radish salad
Risotto with green peas and pancetta
Grilled Paine Farm squab with balsamic vinegar sauce, roasted Chino Ranch vegetables, and potato galette
re: Carrie 218
Chez Panisse has been holding the bar for 37 years. Their leading role is unquestionable. This is an approach to time and place as much as it is a restaurant. If it doesn't seem that special perhaps it's because the variety and importance of ripe, perfect, local ingredients has begun to prevail. As a place to celebrate an anniversary I'd say its perfection. Tried and true. Flashier, acrobatic food is less steady, and less reliable. Certainly it's less connected to time and place. While CP capitalizes on being in the midst of Mediterranean growing conditions, the FL could exist anywhere - see Per Se.
Neither. I'd go to Cyrus or Manresa. With the money you'd save by not going to French Laundry, you could book a hotel in Healdsburg or Los Gatos.
I'm in the camp that found French Laundry disappointing, for the money... and while I love Chez Panisse (have only been upstairs), I don't really think of it as a special occasion restaurant. Chez Panisse wows me in subtle ways ("OMG! This is the best hazelnut I've ever tasted in my life!") but Cyrus wowed me in ways both subtle (incredible attention paid to balance and intensity between courses) and overt (5 amuses-bouches, before the real amuses bouche! Lots of accompaniments to the 6 cheeses in the cheese course! 8 different mignardises!). I haven't been to Manresa yet, but I've read enough reviews from people with similar tastes to mine that it's high on my to-try list.
I recently went to Manresa and I can't honestly say it was better or worse then FL. It was just different. It was excellent but it has a different tack then FL. Casual, v. good service but not a French model (which I don't like). You might say it was if CP did a tasting menu like FL but from left field.
Mostly local ingredients, excellent technique, but very unusual combo (pine needle ice cream with grapefruit granita, gamay gelee) that work despite what you might think. Not going to experience it anywhere else but better or worse then FL, can't say.
If I were to say anything, FL has a grander presentation and a more strigent service model. Manresa more cutting edge. For certain occasion FL is the right choice but you can't go wrong with Manresa either.
EDIT: here's my report http://www.chowhound.com/topics/491377
Agree with daveena. Manresa over TFL. The food at Manresa is more unique and just plain tastier. Manresa is still pushing for excellence and innovation in cuisine while TFL is on auto-pilot.
French Laundry is very formal and has excellent execution. It's nice to go and say you've gone. But I didn't feel the need to rush back like I did with Manresa.
Manresa will make your occasion special. Call ahead of time and they will do everything from prepare special desserts for you to wishing you happy birthday with small personal touches. The ambiance is definitely more comfortable and sexy than TFL.
You really can't lose on this question...so perhaps it's more about style, expectations and price.
Chez Panisse is more casual and a warmer experience and will cost a 1/3 of FL. It will also be a simpler meal based on ingredients and less so on technique. I have to disagree that you can cook the same food at home. You might come close but it won't be the same, ingredients, service and atmosphere. You can drop the same amount on an inferior restaurants.
The French Laundry is more formal (but still California), not as warm as experience (in my view) but you won't find the same meal anywhere and as a special event, I can't see how you'd go wrong. It does deserves its reviews, although take them with a grain of salt. If you really like food, you should go at least once. Expect to drop $600.
If you're in a real quandary, have lunch at Chez Panisse Cafe (upstairs) on the way up to Yountville. It's reasonably priced all things considered, in the $20-ish per entree range.
ML8000 sums it up best and without knowing more about what type of dining experience you are looking for, it is difficult to make a recommendation. If you have the money and haven't been to French Laundry before, it might be worth a try. I'm not sorry I went once but I wouldn't go back on purpose. I agree the experience wasn't especially warm, more professional.
Chez Panisse is usually my choice for my birthday, but I'm going for the food. For me it has rarely disappointed and remains one of my favorites. It is more on the casual than formal side though.