HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >


Alternative to French Laundry?

A few Chowhounds from Phx are going to be in SF/Napa area in a month or so. We are on the waiting list at French Laundry (yes, we are holding our collective breaths). In any event, we would like some options should we not get into French Laundry. We are having dinner at Gary Danko during the trip, but need a "wine country" alternative.


  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
      1. I would go Redd or Martni House - both have Chef driven tasting Menus.

        1. Redd? not in the same category, but I've heard good things.

          1. I love Martini House but it is not the same type of experience (from what I'm told -- never been to FL). I'd go to Cyrus if you don't get in to FL, if that is the type of experience you are looking for.

              1. re: Littleman

                Terra is my vote also (it is my favorite overall in Napa Valley), though one of the special tasting menus at Martini House would be terrific too. Cyrus would be your northern Sonoma county alternative.

                For Ubuntu to be labeled as vegetarian and then dismissed quickly isn't quite understanding the nature of the resto. Yes, it's vegetarian but the many
                many carnivores I know, including moi, who have dined there have never found the flavor anything less than fully satisfying. It may seem surprising to you. You may be dismissing a wonderful option too quickly. But certainly, many options exist -- I just wanted to explain about Ubuntu.

              2. The *nearest* with a similar style meal with Meat would be Cyrus. Go 100% vegetable and Ubuntu is a clear winner and getting great reviews (not a fancy, but spectacular food).

                1. The French Laundry experience, in my view, is unique in the Napa Valley and any alternative will offer a much different experience. Having said that, Redd, Martini House, Terra and La Toque would be my suggestions. I'm also hearing good things about the new chef at Meadowwood but have not tried it yet. Cyrus is in Healdsburg and probably is a close second to TFL if you're going to be that far north.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: bobpantzer

                    Thanks Guys, I think I would get pilloried if I chose a vegetarian only restaurant. ;)

                  2. I'd take Cyrus over French Laundry. It's much less expensive and I found the food more enjoyable (more attention paid to acidity and balance, better progression of courses to prevent palate fatigue).

                    1. #1 Cyress, #2 La Toque, #3 Meadowwood. Redd's and Martini House are very good restaurants, but not in the same league as the ones I just mentioned.

                      1. Cyrus in Healdsburg is probably the best alternative. Very good. Good ambiance, formal but not stuffy. They have a champagne/caviar cart and more importantly a cheese cart.

                        As Carrie pointed out below, if you are willing to go veggie (not vegan), Ubuntu is a cool alternative. When I went with a large group one of the highlights was a radish that was presented to us before cooking (like you might a whole fish or a piece of meat) and which was cooked wonderfully and then brought to the table.

                        8 Replies
                        1. re: Senor Popusa

                          The NY Times voted Ubuntu the second best new restaurant in the US.

                          Compiling the list of the top ten it was a very close decsion between Ubuntu or a restaurant featuring pork in New Orleans over which would be number one. The other eight in the list all served meat.

                          While some of the other restaurants are what you may be looking for, the chef at Ubuntu is from Manressa which some currently regard as a lot better than French Laundry.

                          It is a casual atmosphere, but the food is certainly on par with many of the restaurants mentioned. There is no tofu. There is no brown rice. It relies on cheese and dairy and stellar produce. There are links to the website and reviews here.

                          Not trying to talk you into it, but it would probably be a unique, memorable experience.

                          1. re: rworange

                            It's semantics but the NY Times technically called the list, "Ten Restaurants That Count" or something similar and was only counting new restaurants. Ubuntu is on my list and I definitely want to go but 2nd best is a bit of a misnomer. OTOH, it could well be.

                            1. re: ML8000

                              Additional caveat is that it was top 10 new restaurants outside of NYC.

                              Back to the OP. I second Manresa and the sentiments that the cuisine is better than French Laundry. Kinch was recently one of the guest chefs at Providence in LA. He conjured up a mussel dish that was literally the talk of the town.


                              1. re: Porthos

                                Plus, Bruni left out restaurants that he'd already reviewed in depth. So, the list was actually Frank Bruni's top 10 new restaurants for 2007 outside NYC that he had not already reviewed in depth.

                                I like Ubuntu, but would not put it in the same league as Cyrus or the French Laundry. As I posted elsewhere, the style veers wildly from rustic to refined. The price is reasonable and the food is good, but I would consider it for a semi-casual lunch rather than a TFL alternative.

                                1. re: daveena

                                  I wouldn't put Ubuntu in the same league as French Laundry either ... I want to go back to Ubuntu and even if I strike it rich I don't want to return to French Laundry.

                                  That being said, I was surprised that someone upline suggested Ubuntu since the OP seems to want that FL/GD ambiance ... and Ubuntu is way too casual. It was just agreeing with others that Ubuntu shouldn't be dismissed as a 'vegetarian' restaurant. And like it or not, pulling out recs by the NY Times ... whatever the correct semantcis ... it was high on a NY Times list ... might go to help the OP to convince friends to go in the unlikely event she decides to consider it.

                                  1. re: rworange

                                    Really? You wouldn't try TFL again, if you didn't have a budget to think about? I definitely would... I'd like to see what it's like to eat there with no cap on the wine budget, and with all the pricy supplements. With my current finances, though, I won't go back on my own dime... I'd rather eat at Cyrus twice.

                                2. re: Porthos

                                  Manresa is certainly among the top 5 restaurants in the Bay Area, perhaps the best, but is not in wine country like the OP asked for.

                          2. Gary Danko is a Michelin 1 star and French Laundry is a 3 star so (if you believe in the judgement of the Michelin) there technically is no exact French Laudry alternative. The closest would be Meadowood (2 star) though as stated before has changed chefs. Terra and La Toque are both 1 stars and probably the best and most romantic. The Auberge du Soliel is worth the view and might be a good place for lunch.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: rocio415

                              We ate at Gary Danko's, and although it was definitely a fine meal, we expected a lot better for a tasting menu that was priced not too much less than the meal we had at the French Laundry. We'd actually prefer to go to Redd over Gary Danko's, and Redd doesn't even try to be that kind of restaurant. Although we really like Redd, its dishes definitely lean more towards the accessible side. They don't go too far out on a limb which might be a consideration of you want some culinary tour de force.

                              I've been told often that Cyrus in Healdsburg is considered the next best thing to TFL although we haven't been yet.

                              I agree that Auberge du Soleil does have a one of a kind view. It can get pretty toasty during the afternoon during mid summer in Napa Valley so I suggest an early lunch (also it's nicer to have a lot of the balcony to yourself as you start the meal). The drive to and through Soleil is really nice too so long as you don't miss one of the many scenic curves or blind turns and plow into someone. I liked the food more than my wife who seemed to get the short end of the stick with menu selections. I've got some pics at our site if you're interested.

                              Etoile at Domaine Chandon is pretty too (inside and out). We weren't so crazy about the tasting menu though which also struggled, in some cases mightily, to meet the expectations of its price tag. That being said, I had some Kobe beef there that still gives me warm fuzzies. The beef was obnoxiously expensive, but I can at least say that I have tasted the future when you can genetically combine a cow and a stick of butter.


                              1. re: napaeats

                                The French Laundry is $240 including service charge vs. $96 for Gary Danko's tasting menu. Even after factoring in tip for GD, TFL still costs more than twice as much.

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  Looking at my records, I see that I accidentally booked in the cost of the lodging to stay down in SF one night with the Gary Danko's meal. So that brings the price down.

                                  But even then, with the tax & tip, our GD meal was about $220 per person with the wine pairing when we went as a group. TFL was about $375 per person with the same group. Both meals were about 1.5- 2 years ago. (Not that we wouldn't still go to GD again if we were in that neck of the woods and had the opportunity...)


                            2. cyrus. it best approximates the french laundry experience(elegant surroundings, precise service, excellent innovative food).
                              terra would be next on my list.
                              martini house would be third, tho it in no real way comes close to the f.l. in the ways i've described above.
                              everyone here has given terrific suggestions. right on the money imo.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: bataille2

                                I've had a couple of the Martini House tasting menus that came pretty close.
                                Not the regular menu, though.

                              2. Patricia Unterman thought meadowood was worth every bit of the $300 for dinner.

                                1. I'm glad to see that Terra is still so well thought of. I've had wonderful meals there, including their sea bass, cooked so carefully and delicately that I seriously considered having another serving instead of dessert.

                                  I've been in Southern California for the last couple of years but went to Manresa from the beginning (and to Sent Sovi, when Kinch was there). Sent Sovi was very nice and Manresa was excellent, but I'm surprised to see it mentioned with the French Laundry.

                                  So, things change -- looks like I need to make a trip to the Bay Area. (Hey, OP, let me know if it turns out you don't need that French Laundry reservation!)