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Feb 27, 2008 08:07 AM

TFL wine list?

Hello folks,

My wife-to-be and I will be in wine country for the first week of our honeymoon, and we've got dinner reservations at TFL (yay for fast fingers on OpenTable) and Cyrus.

Now, if I am going to have a stupendous meal, I want stupendous wine, but I frankly can't be paying thousands of dollars a bottle, so I intend to take advantage of their corkage policy. I'm just trying to work out how I am supposed to tell what's on their list, when the list isn't on the website. Does anyone have a link? Or a number I can call (the only contact number I can find is the reservation line number, and you that's not going to work for obvious reasons!)

It's probably unlikely they will list the specific wines I intend bringing (most likely a very mature Monfortino and a pretty rare white Hermitage) but I don't want to waste my time packing a suitcase specifically to protect a couple of special bottles if I won't be able to open them.

Thanks in advance.

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  1. I have heard they will email you the wine list if you request it. Have you tried that?

    1 Reply
    1. re: Xiao Yang

      Yep, I've submitted a request via the contact form on the website - no reply yet (although admittedly it was the middle of the night California time) so I figured I'd ask here in case anyone had an easy link.

    2. Corkage is extremely expensive at FL, IIRC $75 a bottle. Do the wine pairings and indicate your preferences to the sommelier/server as there is some wiggle room in those suggested wines. Another thread covered this issue specifically and not too long ago. You can probably find it if you do a search.

      1. I am sure TFL will email you the list, they certainly did when we went to Per Se in NYC. (Same ownership) It was very helpful to have a browse through before the meal, and the sommelier was very helpful in refining our choices.

        If the list is anything like the Per Se list, I can honestly say you can get some really fabulous wines without breaking the bank. We were a group of 10 people, so we had the luxury of ordering full bottles, and we had some stupendous wines, and all between the range of $65-130 per bottle. They were all wonderful, interesting wines and they went beautifully with the meal. I was really expecting to be disappointed by our budget for the wines, but I was blown away instead. The wine list is carefully chosen, and the sommelier's advice was dead-on. Plus she undersold us, not oversold us. I tried to order a more expensive wine, and she in fact told us to go for a cheaper wine, which matched perfectly with our meal. We came under budget for our wine, all while having a fabulous wine-food combo experience.

        I would expect TFL to be at least at good as Per Se for the wine. If that is the case, let your experience be guided by the list, and the sommelier. The wine experience I had at Per Se was one of the most satisfying restaurant wine experiences I've ever had in a restaurant. Pure quality through and through.

        As there are two of you, you may be better served by going with the wine pairings suggested by the restaurant, with some wiggle room as Maria Lorraine suggests. If your heart is set on your two special wines, by all means, go for it. But you don't need to worry about putting yourself in the hands of this establishment, the wine service is really first rate. And they are flexible and accommodating. I'm sure your wines are wonderful, but they may match less well with the food (although you can certainly scout that out too). I have never been so happy with wine service and still stayed in budget!

        Have a wonderful honeymoon, and congratulations!

        1. Wow, I feel like I am living in a parallel universe.

          We had lunch today at the French Laundry and asked the sommelier to suggest some wine pairings. He was totally disinterested in doing so, and the extent of his advice was that we might want "to start with a white and then have a red." (I kid you not). He conveyed not a whit of enthusiasm for helping us. So we decided to pour over the wine list ourselves, which is massive -- too massive for anyone who is not a wine expert. Eventually, I zeroed in on the Loire Valley because I went to school there and thus have a soft spot for wines from that region. We called the sommelier back and I was hoping to engage in a dialogue about the various Loire Valley wines, but again he showed not a whit of interest or enthusiasm. Since no dialogue was forthcoming, I just asked him which of the Loire Valley wines on the list were great. He pointed to one for $235, which was more than we wanted to spend. Finally, one of my dining companions, exasperated, looked at the sommelier and said, "look just recommend a white wine on the list in the $75 range." He brought us something called St. Joseph - I forget the vintage and other appellation details. I didn't think it was awful, but I didn't think it was very good either, or that it added anything to the meal. While we had initially thought of following up the bottle of white with a bottle of red, I lost all interest in doing so after the lackluster bottle of white.

          Reflecting afterwards, I thought perhaps the problem was that you just can't get a decent bottle of wine at the French Laundry for $75, and it was unrealistic to expect to do so. But, if that is the case, I wish they would just drop the cheaper wines from the list. Or if the sommelier had gently suggested that to get something decent we were really going to have to increase our budget.

          I have never had a more joyless wine experience than today at the French Laundry. I contrast that to any Danny Meyer restaurant in NYC where I have never had a bad wine experience and every staffer has always communicated a joy and enthusiasm for serving wines (even to rubes like me - actually, what I like about Danny Meyer restaurants is that no one is ever treated like a rube).

          Since it sounds like the OP is very knowledgeable about wine, he might do better with the wine list. But I think $75 corkage sounds like a real bargain in light of the $75 wine I drank today at the French Laundry.

          As I was flying back to L.A. this evening after my FL lunch, I was musing about whether I would ever return and spend my own hard-earned money there again, and the answer was a resounding no. The only way I would ever go back was if someone else invited me and was going to pay and had a budget of at least $200 per bottle of wine. And even then, I would hope fervently for better food, but that will be another posting . . .

          37 Replies
          1. re: omotosando

            Wow, that sounds horrible! It just goes to show what a difference one person can make to an experience. I would put this squarely on the sommelier's shoulder.

            This is a shame, because the wine list is really great. I would agree that it is extensive and can be hard to digest quickly. But I would say that there are many really wonderful cheaper wines on the list that are real treasures, and it is possible (with the help of a good sommelier) to drink very inexpensively and well.

            I hope you will follow up with the restaurant about your experience. A letter or an email is a good idea. I think the restaurant and the chef would be very interested in knowing about your criticism, and I would hope they would act on it.

            1. re: moh

              You know, I probably won't. Because I just didn't get the impression that this is the kind of restaurant where anybody gave a damn. And I guess why should they, when they can coast on their reputation and fill tables with no problem.

              There were other strange things about the restaurant, like the fact that the carpet in the upstairs dining room was worn and needed to be replaced. At this supposed level of dining, I expected every detail to be perfect and it wasn't.

              I always wanted to go to Per Se, but after my first exposure to the Tom Keller empire, that desire has waned. But perhaps the FL has become the ignored stepchild.

              1. re: omotosando

                Incidentally, I dined at Per Se in Nov. 2006, and I did write a letter to the restaurant in response to a particular incident. Zero response.

                I've dined at TFL twice since. The first meal was absolutely fantastic. The second was rather disappointing EXCEPT for the wine service. The sommelier (a younger gentleman) was particularly enthusiastic. We sampled 8 or 9 different wines over the course of the extended menu and managed to come in under our wine budget (which was fairly modest). I was very impressed... and I was certain to pull him aside before we left to tell him so.

                Unfortunately, it seems you got one of the TFL bad eggs. Sorry that happened! :(

                1. re: jrhsfcm

                  When we asked about wine pairings the sommelier said that they don't do that because (smirk) 9 different wines is a lot to have at one meal. Then he really did say to start with a white and then get a red. And he virtually insisted that we start with glasses of champagne (without knowing the cost.) I was happy to do so, but I didn't care for his manner.

                  1. re: Glencora

                    Mind you, we didn't do "wine pairings," but we did rely on their recommendations for half bottles and affordable full bottles for our lunch-time party of four. Sorry if that was confusing.

            2. re: omotosando


              Others have had an excellent experience with their server/sommelier and wine pairings at The French Laundry, and have posted comments to that effect on this board. Sorry yours was not that, but I do think your experience was unusual and an exception to the rule. I hope you follow-up with a letter or fax to TFL. I've had a few conversations with Thomas Keller, and I know he does care. Let him know.

              1. re: maria lorraine

                My complaints about the wine service are not the only ones. Others have recently commented about poor wine service as well


                including Teebbodo, who seems to have had almost an identical experience to me, and who like me, compares the poor wine service at the FL to the excellent wine service he received at a Danny Meyer restaurant (Union Square) in NYC.

                So I don't think my complaints are completely idiosyncratic.

                And if I were to talk to Tom Keller about anything, it would be about the abysmal tea at the FL - a subject on which, unlike wine, I am a bit of an expert. Ordering tea at the FL makes you feel like you are in Dubuque, Iowa (with no offense to anyone from Dubuque), but I am saving the details of that for another post.

                1. re: omotosando

                  You're particularly upset, O, so I think that means you must talk to the source and voice your complaints. Nicely, of course. You have the opportunity to make your voice heard, perhaps to save others from the experience you had.

                  Though I do still think your experience was unusual when you consider the sheer number of positive posts about the food/service at FL, even in the thread you mentioin, in comparison to the few posts about FL overall that have not been positive. Just my observation, and BTW, the three or four dinners I have enjoyed at FL were impeccable (and this was before I had ever spoken to Thomas). YM Evidently DV.

                  1. re: maria lorraine

                    I think posts have been getting more mixed in the past year. Maybe things have changed since Laura Cunningham left.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      You have a keen eye, Robert, in your resto reviews. Have you dined at FL lately?

                      1. re: maria lorraine

                        I haven't eaten at the French Laundry since Keller bought it.

                        Here's an example of the kind of report I've seen in the past year that I don't recall having seen before:


                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          That's the same thread omotosando linked to four posts up-thread.

                          Even within that thread are many positive reviews. I especially like Carrie218's comments about guiding her server/sommelier by stating her wine preferences, and the experience working out well.

                          1. re: maria lorraine

                            Sure, but I never used to hear negative comments except from people who didn't appreciate the style.

                            1. re: maria lorraine

                              I think Robert's point is that while there are still many positive reviews, there is a larger percentage of underwhelmed, disappointed or more mixed reviews/reports than there used to be. If I'm right and that's his point, I completely agree with his take on the kinds of reports on here and the web generally. I haven't eaten there, so can't say personally, but for a long time there seemed near unanimity in being blown away by virtually every aspect of The French Laundry. Doesn't mean it's not a great restaurant, but does give reason to think about whether its as consistently excellent and standard setting as it seems to have once been.

                              1. re: ccbweb

                                Yes, I get that ccbweb, though it seems the same is so for CP also. Perhaps FL is off its game, though that has not been my experience.

                                1. re: maria lorraine

                                  CP is Chez Panisse? And, presuming it is, I don't see how it's relevant to The French Laundry reports.

                                  And, that'd be the thing about being even slightly inconsistent; they might not be off their game writ large, they might only have more hiccups or instances of having an off-night or, more likely, an off-table/meal than they used to. A jump from virtually none to a handful will look like an enormous increase.

                                  1. re: ccbweb

                                    CP has been the subject of the same kind of discussion -- that CP has been off its game in the past year, in stark contrast to years of near-unanimous praise. There have been several reports of that on this board, most notably
                                    Good point that a jump from virtually no complaints to a handful would seem like an enormous increase.

                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                      Chez Panisse never had, or for that matter sought, near-unanimous praise. I've been hearing a similar mix of complaints for at least 20 years. Some people just don't get it, and once in a while the kitchen or service has an off night.

                                      1. re: maria lorraine

                                        The comparison of the two restaurants or the frequency with which people will try to choose between them has always befuddled me. They seem such wildly different places.

                                        1. re: ccbweb

                                          Chez Panisse and the French Laundry? They're the two most famous restaurants in the area, thus both likely to be on the short list of foodie tourists.

                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            The only parallel between the two restos I was making was in reference to recent criticism amidst a history of praise.

                                            1. re: maria lorraine

                                              Chez Panisse never had a golden era where everyone was praising it. They've always been controversial. Their style and eccentricities have always put some people off.

                                              The French Laundry got three Michelin stars the first time they were published. Chez Panisse got one. That's a direct reflection of their very different styles and ambitions.

                                        2. re: maria lorraine

                                          If CP is off game, it is usually under $100. While that is not insignificant, there is NO excuse for a restaurant charging what French Laundry charges ... and the games it plays with reservations ...with all those Michelan stars ... to have an off experience ... ever.

                                          If Thomas Keller 'cares' so much ... it wouldn't happen.

                                          And frankly, I don't understand the continual mean attacks on Chez Panisse based on one meal ... especially since this topic had not ONE thing to do with Chez Panisse. It seems like a real personal grudge for some reason.

                                          As Robert has stated, there has always been controversy about Chez Panisse. The regulars ... I'm one ... are not finding it off-game. I'm not SO regular that they really know me either so there's no special treatment.

                                          1. re: rworange

                                            Like I said above, the only reason I menioned CP was that it, too, has been recently criticized after years of praise, just like FL. That's my impression.

                                            But I don't understand the "one meal" comment or your comment about a grudge -- I certainly don't have one! And nearly all my meals at CP have been delightful. Perhaps you were referring to posters in the linked threads.

                                            1. re: maria lorraine

                                              Apologies ... because of the sucky speed on Chowhound I have to pick and choose what links I follow. I assumed you were one of the posters in one of those links.

                                              Even at CP prices there's no excuse for a bad meal ... but even less so for one at FL.

                                              1. re: rworange

                                                And certainly there's no excuse for poor service at either.

                      2. re: maria lorraine

                        omotosando's experience was only slightly worse than ours, but mainly because we were willing to dig through the list and figure it out for ourselves. Coffee service was also pretty abominable, given the price. Food was good.

                        We were also there for lunch--I don't know if the dinner wait staff is better, but we got the sense we were being served by the "B team" because our service was just nowhere near a Michelin 3 star experience.

                        My parents still live up there and get to eat at TFL once in a while if a friend snags a last minute reservation, and I have to say the second hand reports I get from them are more enthusiastic about Cyrus.

                        What I just can't understand is why TFL is so inconsistent with its wine program--we asked if they would do a pairing for us, since we'd just had a wonderful wine pairing at Fleur de Lys (pretty good at the time, 4 years ago or so). They refused us, but comments on the board indicate many people do get pairings at TFL. Since the menu doesn't change from day to day, I really don't understand why they can't offer wine pairings, let alone a few choices of pairings from good well made affordable wine up to premium wine.

                        1. re: SteveG

                          Do you think that they won't do pairings at lunch because it adds time to the meal and they want to hurry people out of there? If so, that's pretty bad. We would have had more wine (and spent more money) if we'd had more encouragement.

                          BTW, our waiter told us that the servers take turns doing lunch and dinner, with some occassionally putting in a long day and doing both. So that implies that there is no "B team." He also said he prefers doing lunch, so that he gets the evening off.

                          1. re: SteveG

                            Since the service is included and the price is the same, there shouldn't be a "B" team.

                        2. re: omotosando

                          I just browsed by here to see what experience others have had at FL recently. I was sad, but not surprised to see an almost identical review to our experience for Lunch yesterday.
                          Open table actually had a table for 4 for Lunch, so we jumped. My 2nd trip, his 3rd. I was really disappointed this time. The service was really off. Placing of wrong item in front of the wrong guest multiple times, having to ask for coffee refill more than once, constantly asked if we were through with a course before we were, etc.
                          The food also seemed less impressive this go round. Granted, this was the first visit in spring,so lighter fare, but no courses grabbed at all this time. One of our party splurged the extra $100 for the Shiga beef and really didn't care for it. One bite type of thing. The waiter didn't even ask why she hadn't eaten it. Lastly the Sommelier seemed tentative when asked for wine pairing suggestions and disappeared when we would have liked more wine. He also never came round to ask how we liked any of the wines. I was very disappointed, and with so many other great choices in the Valley and City, that may have been our last visit.

                          1. re: calif_martinigal

                            We were at lunch the same day. As I posted in my other post, we were handed another table's bill at the end of the meal. Perhaps it was yours. Anyone in your party order a cookbook?

                            I am "glad" to hear that your experience with the sommelier was similar in the sense that I was starting to get a complex and think, "maybe the sommelier doesn't want to talk to me because he thinks I look like a hick." (Or maybe he thought you looked like a hick too).

                            I remember many years ago driving up the Coast and stopping in a little wine store in Montecito and there was a kid working there, maybe 23 (he said he learned to drink wine in high school because a buddy's father was in the wine business), and he took me around the store with great enthusiasm and introduced me to what turned out to be some extraordinary wines.

                            Is it too much to expect a restaurant like the FL to have someone like that 23-year-old kid on staff?

                            1. re: omotosando

                              Nope. Your FL server should have been just as solicitous.

                              1. re: omotosando

                                No, no cookbook. Who would order one after that meal? ;) We were seated upstairs, I posted on your other thread, so pardon the duplication.My question was about when/how you were presented the chocolates.
                                I think we asked enough questions to show we weren't 'wine hicks' Maybe regular hicks ;) The Som was just uninterested, or maybe unsure of himself. He made one suggestion, and when we asked about other bottles, he said, 'sure, that would be good' Not too inspiring. Since you had an almost identical experience, we can probably say it wasn't us.

                                1. re: omotosando

                                  A class restuarant will neve make a 'hick' feel like a 'hick'.

                                  I don't often get dressed to kill ... it is not my thing ... and the restaurants that have treated me just as valued as their most 'important' customer have high marks in my book.

                                  1. re: rworange

                                    No one should be made to feel like a hick, however, there was nothing hick-like about omotosando. Maybe it was me? (I did ask in a different thread about wearing stockings.) Of course there is hick-like and then there is --??? I've never seen so much hairspray, makeup and flamable clothing in one room. At least not around here. I wondered if some people were using mob connections to get reservations. (Overheard conversation: "Is he in jail?" "Nah, he's dead.") With so many obviously non-local diners, TFL doesn't need to attract locals back for a second time.

                                    1. re: Glencora

                                      Glen, were you upstairs? We were a party of 4 on the window next to the loud Birthday group in the corner.

                                      1. re: calif_martinigal

                                        No, downstairs. I did go upstairs to the restroom, though, and noticed the birthday group.

                            2. Fascinating thread.

                              My personal experience was dining there in about June of 2007. Everyone there clearly gave a damn, it was an excellent meal, including wine service. We had two half-bottles for the two of us, and I personally don't have access to the range and quality of half-bottles they served.

                              Based on my experience TFL was not coasting on reputation, but out there hitting home runs every day.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: bbulkow

                                We were there also in June 2007 (Father's Day, to be exact) and thought it was the best meal and show (meaning the service) that we ever had; have been thinking about returning but may wait till things improve.