French Laundry preparation questions and last minute surrounding meals
So we are finally doing the big one this Saturday for our 5th Anniversary....
We are driving up Friday early evening and staying in Napa through Sunday. We have lunch reservations at 11 am on Sat. at the French Laundry... I have a few last minute questions...
First off, should one of us do the veg menu? We want to try as many different things as possible; however, typically the meat courses are more interesting to us. What I would really want to do is to have the veg option for the courses where there is only one meat option (and would both be getting the same thing) and the alternate meat option for the other courses, but I am not sure that they would allow that....
Secondly, do they still offer a wine pairing? I have read contradicting things... If so, we were thinking about sharing one pairing. If not, we are planning on telling the sommelier that we would like to spend $250 on wine... is this enough lately or should we bump it to $300? Also, how much wine will that normally get us (for example compared to the tasting at Manresa or Acquerello ; this also helps answer my next question)?
We are still debating on how we are getting to Yountville.... My SO has a high tolerance and super fast metabolism, and he may be able to drive us home at the pace we will be eating/drinking (also if it is a nice day, we can walk around some afterward if I bring a change of shoes). But in case he is not comfortable, anyone know how much a taxi to Napa is?
Coffee and Donuts - I keep reading that you can/should ask for this... How do you go about doing that (should it be ahead of time)? Also, does it come as an extra course (and is there an extra charge?) or does it come instead of something else (in that case is it worth missing out on something else)?
Finally, other restaurants.... in all my thinking about the French Laundry, I completely forgot that we will also have to eat Friday night, Saturday night (maybe), and Sunday lunch... I looked and unfortunately most of the places that I want to try or retry are already booked. (Ubuntu still has reservations Fri. and Sat, so we can probably do them for one meal; we haven't been since Fox left).
Anyway, I am looking for suggestions on nice places where we can either walk in and eat at the bar or good restaurants that still have reservations open (or don't take them at all). For Fri. and Sat. night we will probably want to stay within 15-20 minutes of Napa; Sunday for lunch we are more open to driving further. I don't want to wing it because the last time we did that we would up with some disgusting vanilla balsamic pork dish at the now closed Napa Valley Grille... Any help would be appreciated (btw we eat everything and anything)
Thanks in Advance
I know it sounds stupid, but sometimes taxi's can be exuberantly priced, and if it is $60-$100 round trip, I'd rather put that towards more/better wine or another nice meal and walk around afterward until we can drive. I try to be cheap where I can so we can afford things like this...my financial priorities are with my stomach (or rather with my taste buds).
- veg menu - You can ask if you can pick and choose and I heard that they often try to make it possible
- wine pairing - still available for $250
- driving: Napa is very close to Yountville and so it isn;t really a problem to drive even after some wine over several hours.
- other restaurants: Ad Hoc in Yountville, Oenotri in Napa, Redd
re: the veg menu, many of the dishes have an option of two, but the veg menu is meant not to be vegetarian (in fact it isn't entirely vegetarian unless you ask for it). But if you love meat courses, than I would stick with the meat. I don't like meat as much, but love fish so didn't do the veggie menu. I think next time I will ask for a pescatarian menu. My husband doesn't like fish, so he had things off of the veggie menu instead of the fish courses. He said they were some of his favorite courses. Between the 4 of us, with 1 gluten free, one fish hater and the choices on the menu we often had 4 different dishes at the table for each course.
I requested the coffee and donuts when I made the reservation and they said they would try their best to accommodate the request. They did give our party of 7 the coffee and donuts as a special extra dessert. I noted that a table next to us had the coffee and donuts as well so I assume it's a popular request. You should call and request it before your visit just in case.
After having visited the French Laundry, I wanted to come back and answer my own questions (some of the answers I was given were out of date) as well as give a review:
We had been looking forward to this meal for a long time...Our expectations were very high... Mine were so high that I was actually nervous on the way there... I have never felt that way about a meal before (at least not one that I was not cooking). My SO was quite apprehensive as well... he even had some bizarre dream the week before about going to the French Laundry and having the sommelier be insanely snooty (Brief Dream Summary: Sommelier: "Do you like <Gibberish>," SO: "I don't know what that is." Sommelier: "Hmmm <Pause> Well that won't do. <Walks Away>"). Obviously, we had been thinking about this meal for a long time.
Despite all the build up, it somehow lived up to our ridiculously high expectations. It was an amazing meal, and as soon as we sat down (we were the first ones in the building), the wonderful staff made us feel relaxed and all nervousness faded to excitement. The service was exceptional. Whoever trains the staff must relentlessly drill into them that this is a monumental special occasion for many of their diners. The service was flawless and without any snootiness. We truly felt special to be there and that it was our special day.
The Food - We both chose the regular chef's menu, but they allowed us to have some of the items off the veg menu for courses where there was only one choice (so we got to try more things). So for every course, we each had something different except for the Oyster and Pearls and the lobster course (we shared everything else).
Oyster and Pearls - This dish also lived up to it's reputation and was my favorite dish of the evening and quite possibly the best thing I have ever put in my mouth (so it is a good thing we were not sharing it or there would have been carnage). Oh the sweetness of the oysters! Heavenly!
Tartare of Earshell Clam; Sea Urchin, Young Coconut "Gelee," Grilled Hawaiian Hearts of Palm, Snap Peas, Carrots and Madras Curry "Aigre-Doux" - I'm a sucker for sea urchin, and this sea urchin was so good... so sweet and unctuous! The Earshell clams were wonderfully flavorful and not like any clam I've had before. The snap peas were so fresh, I am sure they had just picked them; the hearts of palm were also outstanding.
Sweet Butter Poached Maine Lobster Tail; Glazed Pear, Black Truffle "Pain Perdu," Piedmont Hazelnuts and Celery Branch - The lobster dish was also one of the highlights; it was cooked to buttery perfection and the truffle "Pain Perdu" was deliciously interesting... I would not have thought that earthy truffle flavor would go so well with lobster.
Roquefort; Ricotta "Gnudi," English Walnuts, Broccolini and Young Fennel - This redefines cheese course for me... The "Gnudi" were pan fried crisp on the outside and creamy and pillow like on the inside. The Roquefort was pungent but did not overwhelm the other components. I now have an new goal: to try and come close to recreating this simple yet very technically difficult dish at home ( I see lots of trial and error, emphasis on error, in my future).
We also had mind blowingly delicious white asparagus dish, foie gras dish, and lamb saddle dish. There was also a rabbit dish that was by far the most flavorful and juicy rabbit I have ever had.
There were just two dishes that were just great and not amazing. They were a black cod (with rice, black garlic, and crispy eggplant) and a milk poach chicken breast. Normally black cod is one of my favorites; however, this one wasn't as flavorful as I had expected (maybe it was because the skin, which to me is the best part of the fish, was removed); I also found the eggplant pairing a bit strange. The chicken breast dish just proved to me (once again) that even in the hands of a master, chicken breast is just not amazing or exciting.
The sorbets and desserts from the menus were delicious as well, but not as memorable as the other dishes. However, it was our anniversary (5 years), so they brought us an extra dessert: a chocolate covered "cake" that was filled with this insanely wonderful super vanilla moose/marshmallow like substance. This extra dessert blew the other desserts out of the water. It was light, fluffy, gooey, heaven.
Also, we found out that they now bring the coffee and donuts dessert to everybody (it was delicious as well, but not near as good as the vanilla cake). They apparently got so many requests for it that they just decided to include it as an extra dessert before the mignardies (maybe this is related to the price increase this year). We were so full that we took the mignardies (6 truffles and chocolate covered macadamia nuts) home; it has been 2 weeks and we still have one truffle and a few nuts left... all the truffles we have eaten so far were very good.
Regarding wine: They no longer do wine pairings. Instead we spoke to the very kind, unpretentious, sommelier (who did not speak gibberish) and told him we wanted to spend between around $250 and possibly as high as $300 on wine. Our final wine bill would up being $311, so he mostly listened. Regardless, the wines he chose were fantastic and paired well (my favorites being the glass of Brunello and the half bottle of White Burgundy). We mostly did wines by the glass (7 glasses to be exact) and one half bottle. It was just the right amount of wine, and I could not have touched another drop).
We are so slow! We were there from 11am-3:30pm! That is 4.5 hours! There were others who came in after us but left before us. Also, I was so full that I could hardly eat any dinner (which worked out because the food at Ubuntu was near inedible) or breakfast the next day. I can't imagine doing the extended tasting menu... I would need a second stomach and an intermission! Btw, since we were so slow, my SO had no trouble driving us back to our B&B in Napa after our long lunch.
To summarize: It was definitely a memorable experience; one of the best meals I've ever had... quite possibly the best. It is definitely worth saving up for... I'll take a meal at the French Laundry for an anniversary over pricy jewelry any day.
The French Laundry
6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599
We recently dined at FL too and found it had improved over last summer. Keller was in the house cracking the whip. You can always ask the waiter for an extended menu, with additional canapes or other dishes. We were in a private room for this last meal. The service improved significantly due to this, making it almost worth the $100 per person premium.