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Eating Solo at The French Laundry?

Will be in San Francisco in February prior to some fellowship interviews and managed to secure reservations at The French Laundry for February 17th. While I'll be traveling with family (mother and aunt) who've always wanted to see the Bay Area, neither are 'foodies' and aren't willing to spend the cash to experience TFL. According to the fantastic reservationist I'll be seated at a 2-top and dining solo is 'not a problem at all, but if I'd like to bring someone they can certainly set the table for two.'

While I've certainly dined at other high end restaurants as a solo (Le Cirque and Eleven Madison Park) it just seems that TFL is on a whole different plane. Have any other Hounds dined solo at the Laundry and if so, was it awkward at all? Would it be worth looking for another dining companion? Thanks.

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  1. The atmosphere at TFL isn't extremely formal, so if you're comfortable dining alone you shouldn't feel too weird. But dinner can last up to four hours -- plus there's the drive from SF -- so you might want some company!

    1 Reply
    1. re: Ruth Lafler

      Agreed -- if the OP is comfortable dining solo at Le Cirque and EMP, he will certainly not feel out of place doing so at French Laundry.

    2. I've read that solo diners get treated extremely well there, so I think you have nothing to worry about. Enjoy your meal, with or without company.

      1 Reply
      1. re: JasmineG

        I've heard the same thing. That they really appreciate someone willing to go by themselves, they try to make it really worth while.

      2. Be sure to give us a report, we'd love to hear how it went.

        14 Replies
        1. re: walker

          I certainly will - if you look at my blog (http://uhockey.blogspot.com/) you'll realize I'm anything but short with words and reviews. :-) The San Fran agenda has set up quite nicely with the help of all the great people on this board.

          1. re: uhockey

            The very first time I ate at FL was by myself. It was an extraordinary experience - just go and enjoy.

            1. re: lizziee

              Done. Thank you all for your replies. I'll report back. :-)

            2. re: uhockey

              I'll be in town at the same time, care to share your San Francisco food "agenda"?

              1. re: miaedu

                Given the travel and such (days in Napa, Monterey, a hockey game in SJ):

                Day #1: Ferry Market Brunch / Gary Danko Dinner
                Day #2: Bread from Tartine / Lunch at Bouchon / Dinner at Redd
                Day #3: Quick stop at Citizen Cake / Lunch at Aqua / Dinner at TFL
                Day #4: Mama's Breakfast / Chez Panisse Cafe Lunch / La Folie Dinner
                Day #5: Dottie's True Blue / Lunch at Monterey Pier / Dinner at Arcadia

                1. re: uhockey

                  Are you talking about Mama's on Broadway in Oakland? Yikes!!! Skip it. Cooking does not live up to its weird popularity. Super bland, bad service, long waits, just boring food. For ten years, I have lived less than six blocks away and I never bother. Oakland has such better food that Mamas if you want to be in Oakland.

                  I just looked at the home page of your blog. Ah Ohio. I have eaten at Moto(did they show you the laser in the kitchen?) & am a fan of both greasy spoon and molecularG. So, unless you have a sentimental childhood or date/lover attachment to mamas, which people fiercely do, don't bother wasting you $$ or time. You will be sad.

                  We have great Dim Sum, Mexican, etc. for breakfast.

                  1. re: mmerino

                    As for Moto......they didn't show me much.....just a large bill for average service, decent food, and some neat 'tricks.' I'd eat at Trotter's 10 more times before heading back to Moto.

                    1. re: uhockey

                      heh. I felt the same as you after a five hour meal at moto. I did delight in the kitchen tour. We werent the only ones who went during the marathon. Maybe they aren't doing it anymore? We had to wear goggles-yay! or ouch!-laser in the eye...

                      As for dim sum it can be lovely, its not sloppy, drippy, salty, yuck, like Chinese American food is sometimes. Its delicate and an art form, to me, much like sushi. Have you done dim sum for breakfast? Its fun, I swear.

                      1. re: mmerino

                        I've never had dim-sum, no......but I can get it (perhaps not as good in Ohio) here. If I'm to experience a first, I'd rather do it here and not on a trip with literally hundreds of places I'd prefer.

                        additionally, my breakfasts while on vacation always fancy sweet over savory.

                  2. re: uhockey

                    This schedule is too busy. Eat and drive, drive and eat. Dinner Yountville, breakfast SF, Lunch SF, 4 hour dinner Yountville, breakfast Mama's SF, lunch Berkeley, dinner SF, breakfast SF, lunch Monterey, dinner San Jose.

                    1. re: wolfe

                      I thought the same thing when I read the itinerary; waayyy too busy, with too much driving. Would probably have replied to try and talk OP out of it, had I not read the unfair (and factually completely untrue) dissing of beloved taco trucks and Mexican food. If Mom and Aunt are joining the driving, they will be seeing the bay area from a car window.

                      Instead, I will just say to OP: good luck. Given your schedule and the rest, you are going to need it. In a lot of ways.

                    2. re: uhockey

                      Don't go to lunch at Aqua at all, and especially not before dinner at TFL. You won't get bread at Tartine in the morning, unless you mean a pastry. Don't go to lunch at Bouchon, it's gotten a lot of negatives on this board as of late, either go somewhere in SF, or somewhere better up in Napa. Do broaden your mind about ethnic food, and try not to make offensive remarks about it -- that won't get you far in the Bay Area, and you'll also get a much broader sense of what the food is like here; what you have now is a lot of the same, and will get boring by the end of the week.

                      1. re: JasmineG

                        Aqua no longer serves lunch, so that's easy. I think lunch at Bouchon would be great. It is described as elegent bistro food, which given the Bouchon cookbook, I can believe. Certainly better that lunch at Bistro Jeanty considering Bauer's recent review.

                        1. re: Paul H

                          Aqua only no longer serves lunch in January, they said that they'll be going back to lunch after the month is over, so if they do, the OP is fine since he's coming next month.

                          Bouchon has been getting very negative reports on this board as of late, which is why I recommend away from it.

              2. Ambitious schedule.

                I'll be doing a lot of solo dining during my trip in early Feb. I don't have a problem eating solo at all. I bring a book in case I get bored.

                My last 4 days will be all in San Francisco, and I don't have a real plan. Just going to wing it, try and hit a bunch of places.

                1 Reply
                1. re: sox74

                  one of the aspects of solo dining I really like is that it is much easier to wing it, since seats for one are often available (especially at the bar, though obviously not at French Laundry). Hope you report back!

                2. Thanks to the mods for the edit.

                  Considering the previous convo, however, if I were to get rid of Aqua - what would you recommend as a nice quality (yet "authentic") Mexican or Chinese experience - bearing in mind I do not eat beef.

                  Additionally, where would someone suggest for a truly GOOD Dim-Sum breakfast that opens at or before 8am on a weekend?

                  Regarding Bouchon - I ate twice at the one in Vegas on my recent trip and loved it - I need to try the original. :-) The gnocchi was heaven.

                  15 Replies
                  1. re: uhockey

                    Beef is really not the primary "protein" in Mexican or Chinese cooking. Pork would be the most common meat, and fish, of course, especially in restaurant cooking. If you eat pork, you really should try some carnitas.

                    But looking at your schedule, you're eating so many big meals I'm not sure something as rich as carnitas would be a good idea (your Day #4 schedule is particularly ridiculous -- a large breakfast, followed by lunch at Chez Panisse, followed by dinner at La Folie doesn't sound enjoyable at all).

                    Do dim sum at Yank Sing for lunch in stead of Aqua. Skip Bouchon. Really. Reports have been very negative since their recent remodel. Why spoil the memories of your good experiences in LV?

                    If you want lunch in the Napa area, you really should try Ubuntu.

                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                      I agree with all of this, and think that dim sum at Yank Sing is a good choice for this poster, except I don't think it should be instead of the Aqua lunch, since the Aqua lunch was scheduled for the same day as TFL. If your reservations at TFL are on the later side, then I would maybe have an early lunch at Yank Sing (like at 11, with just a breakfast of fruit or something), take a long walk, then drive up to Yountville for TFL. But if you're doing an earlier seating, skip lunch altogether that day.

                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                        Lets not worry about my eating capacity - I'm planning on splitting an appetizer and pizza w/ family at Chez Panisse - I'd just like to see the place and will be in Berkeley anyhow.

                        In my experience it really seems that beef is primary in most hispanic cuisine, along with pork - certainly not in Chinese.

                        I'm going to Bouchon, period. :-)

                        Yank Sing over Aqua may be a good choice - are there any earlier Dim-Sum places?

                        1. re: uhockey

                          Dim sum in SF is brunchy food, so 11 at Yank SIng is probably the earliest you can do, especially on a weekday. (Dim sum is usually best on Sundays.)

                          I second the Ubuntu recommendation.

                          1. re: uhockey

                            The best dim sum places will not be open at that hour - 8 am. In fact I don't know of any waiter service options at that time.

                            If you want good "take out" dim sum, you could go to Good Luck Dim Sum in the inner richmond. There are seats but this is a takeout operation that has seating. I enjoyed the chicken buns there.

                            Good Luck Dim Sum
                            736 Clement St, San Francisco, CA 94118

                            1. re: Senor Popusa

                              Given the OP's schedule of restaurants, he would seem to prefer a more upscale and sitdown place.

                              1. re: sfbing

                                Yup. That's why Jasmine and I thought Yank Sing was appropriate for this poster.

                                1. re: sfbing

                                  I agree, but there are no dim sum options at that level open at the time the OP requested. At that time you have to compromise on quality/ambiance or else get something else completely.

                              2. re: uhockey

                                When Bouchon was remodeling, there were service issues, but no longer. Some of the best items on the menu are:

                                Oyster’s on the Half Shell
                                Lamb’s tongue salad with frisee
                                Croque Madame
                                Boudin Noir with poached apples, potato puree and brown butter
                                Quiche of the day

                                Pics here:

                            2. re: uhockey

                              The bay area is not good in "nice quality" mexican food. In my travels in Mexico, my opinion, Mexicans aren't great at "nice quality" food either. If I was traveling in mexico, and only ate at "nice quality" places, I'd have a very poor opinion of mexican food. I have the suspicion that El DF is different, and I haven't traveled there yet.

                              I'm reminded of my father, who wouldn't eat a burrito when I first took him to Cactus Taqueria in about '92. He said "Is this peasant food?" with a sneer. I had to slow introduce him, and the best introduction was tacos - that's where the meat shines, where you can get a sampler of Al Pastor and Carnitas and whatnot, squeeze the lime on the top, and enjoy. You don't have to go "truck" to get great tacos, there's a number of great joints with lines out the door all evening that have sit-down space. Gordo's in the east bay comes to mind - it's in a non-threatening part of town, has a dozen tables, and first-rate carnitas.

                              As mentioned elsewhere, beef is not the most common part of mexican cuisine. It's all about pork and fish and corn, with some beef and chicken and wheat thrown in around the sides.

                              In the east bay, the commonly touted choices on the nicer side are Tacubaya, Donna & Thomas. If Cafe de la Paz is still open, they have some good dishes. Most people on this board pooh pooh those places, because the quality is twice is good at half the price elsewhere - but you don't get "nice".

                              Dim-Sum is not a breakfast food. The request of dim sum at 8am is about like asking for the best steakhouse that opens at 8am - a fine request for your schedule, but it's just not going to happen, or you'll get substandard dim sum and say "see, I hate chinese food". "chinese breakfast" is usually a big bowl of some kind of porridge often with "mix-ins", an egg in a shell (raw or boiled), some pickles, maybe a slice of ham. I'm not that partial to so much starch in the morning - I can't recommend it personally.

                              I'd recommend you consider a dim-sum lunch, and leave off the mexican for this trip.

                              As noted, Yank Sing is probably a great place to get introduced, the servers speak english, although I've had poor service the food is good and authentic - you can see from their website they're a bit upscale. They open at 11am on weekdays and 10am on weekends, which is normal.

                              The chinese are good at "nice quality".

                              But dim sum can be a little chaotic. There's an entire etiquette around how it works, between the cart ladies and the menu. Your best bet would be to show up at 11am on a weekday, before they're busy, and throw yourself on the mercy of the dragon-lady hostess (all upper tier dim sum places have dragon lady hostesses. It's a thing.) Say you've never eaten dim sum, you hear the dim sum here is very good, but you're a complete noob. Ask for the specialties of the house (like that fat shanghai dumpling on the front of their web site) and stay away from any large dish that seems goopy or expensive like shark's fin soup - it's all about morsels in steamer baskets (and maybe a little duck). You also have to be able to say no - they respect a little backbone - and there might be some attempts to foist expensive food on you.

                              Stating your inexperience up fron avoids things like the Tea Moment, when the vest-guy asks you sternly what kind of tea you want, and stares at you unflinchingly. You're expected to know the kinds of tea that kind of dim sum place would have, and know what kind of tea you'd like, and crisply answer.

                              1. re: bbulkow

                                Just to clarify, it's Dona Tomas, not "Donna and Thomas."

                                Dona Tomas
                                5004 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland, CA 94609

                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                  Although Donna and Thomas are the names of the owners/principals. Nice word play.

                                2. re: bbulkow

                                  Unless you're made of money, just say no to the suckling pig.
                                  As for tea, just say "jasmine"
                                  Jasmine: is the standby; green tea with jasmine blossoms
                                  Chrysanthemum: good for those with caffeine sensitivity or children
                                  Sau mei: white tea for the people who want to be different
                                  Bo lei: also known as pu'erh, is very dark and funky. used to be known as the tea for your grandma, now it is very in vogue.

                                  Gook bo: My choice- a mix of pu'erh and crysanthemum.

                                  1. re: sfbing

                                    And you won't get just a cheap china or metal pot, either. One of Yank Sing's trademarks is their lovely glass tea pots.

                                  2. re: bbulkow

                                    Actually dim sum is breakfast food. When I was growing up we often went to Chinatown on Sunday mornings for a Chinese "breakfast."

                                3. Dang. If i didn't have to be at a conference in Miami, I would have flown cross country to be your dining companion at TFL. You should definitely include dimsum on one of your morning/brunch meals. Yank Sing certainly gets points for ambience, but is rather overpriced for dimsum. In SF, the old standby for reliable d.s. is Ton Kiang on Geary. In the downtown/Moscone Center area, very close to Yank Sing, is Canton. While you're in the Berkeley area, you should consider a pilgrimage to Scharffen-Berger chocolates and take part in their chocolate tour. need to make rezzies. (Might make mom and aunt happy.) And right down the road is the sake museum. I'm jealous. As for the drive, I'd consider making it a night up in wine country, take BART as far north/as close to yountville as you can, arrange for a rental car pickup, stay overnight in the area, return the car and hop back on BART.

                                  3 Replies
                                    1. re: Glencora

                                      I actually had reservations for the 18th......they called and cancelled. :-(

                                      As for the trip, I actually got an offer to interview at UCSD later in the week and as such the trip has gotten extended and we're going to drive the PCH from SF to LA to SD in addition to the bulk of the trip in San Francisco and Napa area.

                                      I'll post a long review of everything when it is all said and done.

                                    2. re: jhupiter

                                      Canton is at least two levels down in quality from Yank Sing. The poster is interested in high-end dining experiences, including dim sum, which is why in this case we recommended Yank Sing.