Wednesday, May 13

Restaurant Review: The French Laundry

The French Laundry
The French Laundry
The French Laundry
The French Laundry
Where do I even begin with this review? Ever since I can remember, I had always wanted to go to The French Laundry. It's been on my bucket list so when the BF and I planned a trip to Napa, we thought we had to at least try to get a table. Chef Thomas Keller's The French Laundry was the first restaurant to get three Michelin stars (the highest honor) when Michelin came to the US in 2006. It's no surprise that it's kept those three stars every year since. Anthony Bourdain named it "the best restaurant in the world, period" and it's been named the Best Restaurant in the World in 2003 and 2004.

The restaurant had been under construction for several months while it underwent a major renovation. The dining room was left untouched, while the kitchen is being completely rebuilt. I thought we'd have no chance of getting in, especially since the restaurant was still closed a week before we were going to Napa. Luckily for us, I saw on Twitter that the restaurant would be reopening with a temporary kitchen the week of our visit! I immediately tried calling the reservation hotline and after six attempts, I got through to be put on hold for twenty minutes. Once I was put through the line, I was told the restaurant was booked for two months (they take reservations two months to the day). I was told there was a wait list and put our name down in case there were any cancellations during the three days we were in town. I sadly hung up the phone and that was that.

When the BF and I arrived in Napa, I made him drive by The French Laundry so I could at least get a glimpse if we weren't able to eat there. I creepily took photos of the restaurant and peered into the windows to get a closer look.

The building the restaurant is housed in dates back to the 1900s and is in the National Register of Historic Places. The building was originally built as a saloon in 1900 then later became a residence and a French steam laundry (hence the name The French Laundry). In 1978 the building became a restaurant which Chef Thomas Keller purchased in 1994.

Fast forward to twenty hours and one missed call later. The BF and I were out wine tasting when I noticed a missed call on my phone. The Google search of the phone number showed it was THE FRENCH LAUNDRY. Cue major freakout session. I called the number back which was busy of course. I was waiting on hold while the restaurant called me back. After clicking over to the other line, we were told there had been a cancellation for that evening at 6:45 pm (it was 2pm) and asked if we wanted the table. UM YEA WE DO. Luckily the BF packed his suit jacket (which is required restaurant attire) so we were all set.

When we showed up for our reservation, it felt like a total rags-to-riches story. Just the night before I had my face smushed into the window of the dining room, and now the BF and I were sitting inside a private cove-like room on the main floor.

The French Laundry
The French Laundry Dining Room
Upon sitting at our wonderfully semi-private table, we noticed the signature TFL (The French Laundry) clothespin on our napkins (yes you get to keep it).

The French Laundry
The French Laundry
TFL offers two tasting menus, one chef's tasting menu, and one tasting of vegetables menu. Both are 10 courses each and both menus never use the same ingredient more than once. Think about that.

The BF and I both chose the chef's tasting menu which also included the option of menu supplements to the first courses.

The French Laundry
The French Laundry Menu
Ordering wine is quite the adventure at TFL. The wine list is MASSIVE and housed on an iPad for your perusing pleasure. While many of the tables were ordering half bottles of white wine and half bottles of red wine, we went with one bottle of red that we sipped throughout the night.

The French Laundry
Red Wine
The two amuse bouches are staples on The French Laundry's menu. The first was a French cheese puff, while the second was a salmon tartarte coronet, a cracker tuile cone filled with creme fraiche and chives, and topped with smoked salmon.

The French Laundry
French Cheese Puffs
The French Laundry
Salmon Tartare Coronet
The first course was another menu staple, "Oysters and Pearls," "Sabayon" of pearl tapioca with Island Creek Oysters, and white sturgeon caviar. This was quite a decadent course and certainly quite the way to start our ten course meal. The oysters were poached in butter (yum) and the caviar was super flavorful. The saltiness was a nice contrast to the creamy texture of the sabayon. This ended up being my favorite course of the evening!

A quick note about the service at TFL. I also experienced this type of service when I dined at Alinea. You don't have one server, you have a team. Each server is knowledgeable about every single course, ingredient, preparation, you name it. It's pretty incredible. As we sat back and watched them buzzing around the room it really made me appreciate the entire experience. It's not just a meal, it's a show and this was part of the choreography.

The French Laundry
"Oysters and Pearls"
Before our next course we were served bread and butter.  While that might not sound too exciting, there's quite the story behind the butter at TFL. The butter comes from Diane St. Claire's dairy farm, Animal Farm, in Orwell, Vermont,  which has just 10 Jersey cows. Diane sent Chef Thomas Keller samples of her butter who enjoyed it so much, he now purchases all of the butter she produces. With the opening of TFL's sister restaurant in New York, Per Se, Diane purchased additional cows (she named one Keller) to increase production for both restaurants. It was pretty freaking delicious! And the breads? They were beautiful!

The French Laundry
Bread and Artisan Butter
Our second course was Hawaiian Hearts of Peach Palm which really showcased TFL's on-site garden. This dish featured a bright color palette of green strawberries, apricot "pate," which was essentially cubes of apricot jelly, yellow endive, and spicy mustard. The juiciness of the fruit was nicely balanced with the mustard's spice. I also loved the beautiful edible flowers on top.

The French Laundry
Hawaiian Hearts of Peach Palm
After the two lighter bites, it was time for the fish course, a sautéed filet of Mediterranean "Loup de Mer," otherwise known as sea bass. The perfectly cut filet sat atop tomatoes confit that were absolutely to die for. I still remember how flavorful those little guys were! You can see them poking out from underneath the sea bass. The bright green puree was a fava bean "pistou" that was incredibly smooth and creamy. I loved how it added a nice bright contrast of color on the plate.

The French Laundry
Sautéed Filet of Mediterranean "Loup de Mer"
OK, this is where the sun went down and my photos started to get darker. The BF is usually my lighting assistant but no one was taking photos and we didn't want to make a scene. Hence the dark photos.

Course four was a "bouillabaisse" of sorts, and was another top course in my opinion. The green blob in the center was a Stonington Maine sea scallop wrapped in spinach. The broth was a sweet pepper-saffron emulsion with tangerine segments and garden chilies. You got a little sweet, a little spicy, and a lot of YUM.

The French Laundry
"Bouillabaisse"
The sea scallop ended our seafood courses and then we moved on to meat. The first meat course was butter roasted Thomas Farm squab served with a sunny side up quail egg, creamed quinoa, and garden turnips. The dish was finished table side with a generous spoonful of pistachio jus. I was very skeptical about this squab. I'd never eaten it before so I wanted to give it a chance. Unfortunately I couldn't finish it. I couldn't get images of birds out of my head! Anyway, this was the BF's favorite course of the night. To each their own! I did love the fresh turnips though!

The French Laundry
Butter Roasted Thomas Farm Squab
The next meat course, course six, was a charcoal grilled Snake River Farms "calotte de boeuf." This cut of meat is essentially the strip around the rib eye. It was served rare with beef sausage, bone marrow custard, English peas, sweet carrot puree, and Bordelaise vinaigrette. The meat was tender and perfectly seasoned, and I loved dipping it in the carrot puree! It was another dish highlighting TFL's garden.

The French Laundry
Charcoal Grilled Snake River Farms "Calotte de Boeuf"
We made it to the cheese course and thought we were almost done. Boy were we wrong. The one thing they don't tell you before dining at TFL is the importance of wearing pants that are two sizes too big. This is a sheer necessity.

The cheese course was the gateway to my fat kid dreams. That evening we were served a cave aged Comté. Comté is a French aged cow's milk cheese that I thought tasted a lot like Parmigiano Reggiano. It was topped with a cracker of sorts made from pressed almonds, as well as onion rings, green asparagus, sour cherries and watercress salad. The bottom of the plate had a thin layer of aged balsamic for an acidic kick. I'm salivating thinking about that cheese. Just amazing!

The French Laundry
"Cave Aged Comté'"
Courses 8-10 were all dessert courses! By this point, the BF and I were so full we thought we were going to self-destruct. But alas, we ate through the pain.

Our first dessert was a strawberry vanilla custard with fresh sliced strawberries and edible flowers. I distinctly remember the tart top layer of the custard which also had some nice texture from a sprinkling of sugar crystals. This was the perfect portion size too!

The French Laundry
Strawberry Vanilla Custard
...But wait, there's more! Course nine was a scoop of homemade pistachio gelato and tutti frutti confetti. It was another way TFL showed its playful side (the onion rings in the cheese course was another). The tutti frutti was tart and bright, directly contrasting the rich and creamy ice cream. Now I really have a craving for Fruity Pebbles...

The French Laundry
Pistachio Gelato with Tutti Frutti Confetti
Course 10 was a chocolate tube that was almost too pretty to eat. Almost. One you broke its crispy shell, it oozed chocolate fudge....

The French Laundry
Chocolate Log
Just when we thought we were done and had made it through to the end, we were brought a custom wooden box filled with truffles. Each hand painted truffle sat in its perfect little circular spot in the box. We were told to pick out whatever we wanted. I was giddy with happiness! Do I act like a responsible adult and just grab one? Hell no. Four it was. There were peanut butter truffles, chocolate marshmallows truffles, hazelnut truffles, you name it. Ugh they were insane and SO beautiful.

The French Laundry
Housemade Truffles
The French Laundry
Housemade Truffles
After the truffles came out, they were followed by another signature TFL course, "coffee and doughnuts." The "coffee" was a cappuccino semifreddo, while the doughnuts were pillowy soft cinnamon sugar doughnut holes. Amazing! But I could only take one bite of each because I was stuffed to the brim. So pathetic. I'm sorry Joey Chestnut, I've let you down.

The French Laundry
Coffee and Doughnuts
The French Laundry
Coffee and Doughnuts
...But wait, there's more! Rounding out the end of the meal was a selection of perfect French macarons and chocolate covered macadamia nuts. We ended up taking many of the desserts home, along with cute little shortbread cookies in TFL tins (not pictured).

The French Laundry
Macarons
The French Laundry
Chocolate Covered Macadamia Nuts
Once we were done eating, I asked if it'd be possible to view the temporary kitchen. I say temporary because while the restaurant is rebuilding a new state-of-the-art kitchen in time for its 20th anniversary, the current kitchen is being housed in shipping containers. Yes, shipping containers. The crazy thing is, you'd never be able to tell from the inside! The makeshift kitchen has a window allowing passersby to view the chefs at work. It also has a TV with a live feed into the kitchen at Per Se in New York (Per Se's kitchen has a live feed of TFL's kitchen too!). We had to stand all the way to the side because servers were walking in and out constantly. They would line up in a single file line picking up and delivering dishes in a perfectly orchestrated manner.

We watched each chef at work at their respective stations. No, Chef Keller was not there that evening, but we did catch a glimpse of Chef de Cuisine David Breeden who was super friendly! It was completely surreal to be standing in one of the most famous (temporary) kitchens in the entire world. I did not take it for granted!

The French Laundry
The French Laundry Kitchen
The French Laundry
Chef de Cuisine David Breeden in The French Laundry Kitchen
The French Laundry
Live Video Feed in The French Laundry Kitchen
The French Laundry
The French Laundry
So what else can I say? The French Laundry is every bit of amazing I expected it to be. I feel so fortunate I was able to check this meal off my bucket list and enjoy the experience of a lifetime. I think this goes without saying, but I give The French Laundry a perfect 5 ghosts out of 5. Did you expect anything less?



The French Laundry
6640 Washington St.
Yountville, CA 94599
707.944.2380
The French Laundry on Urbanspoon

3 comments:

  1. I've been dying to read this! Thanks for sharing. It sounded amazing :)

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  2. This for us was an experience that will forever be burned in our memories. I would say it's once in a lifetime- but I know for sure we will go back. Such a special place and an incredible meal. When planning- We searched high and low for someone that had captured their experience of this place on video and only found formal television excerpts... so we vlogged our experience so people could see a less formal and more real perspective of The French Laundry.

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