LEGENDARY- ELEGANT- SERVICE- INVENTIVE- NUMEROUS
OUT OF 10
FOOD-9 SERVICE-10 DECOR-9 PRICE- VERY EXPENSIVE VIBE- EXCLUSIVE COUNTRY HOUSE CHIC
Yes, it is meant to be the best restaurant in the United States as decided by “Those People” that decide such things. It’s hard to go into the “event” which is a dinner at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry without a mountain of expectation.
A small miracle of knowing people who know people, who know a chef who knows a chef and some more begging got us a reservation on a Sunday night. A wonderful gift from a dear friend.
Surprisingly, the French Laundry is housed in an a small upscale countryhouse nestled in the foodie town of Yountville in the Napa Valley, California. Built in 1890 as a French Steam Laundry, this rustic two-story stone house is surrounded by a country garden planted with vintage roses, perennials and seasonal herbs. Across the small street is Keller’s display garden where dozens of rows of all types of herbs, fruits and vegetables grow on living display for the public to wander around and feel romantic about the harvest of our mother earth.
Thomas Keller’s Garden across the street
When entering the French Laundry there is a small, hedged garden around the house and tasteful fairy lights illuminate the intimate garden courtyard. The house has several rooms of several sizes with tables seating larger groups and couples.
The service is absolute perfection. I had never experienced anything close to this level. When you are welcomed they already know your name. There is so much staff to cater for every minute detail and they seem to know what you are thinking before you do.
I was cold and was brought a beautiful cashmere pashmina for me. A bunch of loud southern politicians were getting into heated discussion and they tastefully asked if we would like to change tables to a different room. It was royal service. Everything was paced perfectly, and predicted.
The ambience is romantic and old fashioned, however the dining rooms are exceptionally quiet and people whisper to each other and appreciate the dishes in what someone quite aptly called the “church of Thomas Keller”. I found the beginning of the meal uncomfortable but excitingly anticipated the circus which was to come.
Super soft brioche bread with salted and unsalted butter.
The 9 course tasting menu with lots of extra treats in between is vast and adventurous. It costs $270, service included plus wine. It is excessive, indulgent; a once in a lifetime experience which any foodie should save up for. It is outrageously expensive- think of it as appreciating the fine art of cuisine, theatre and a holiday. The meal duration is about 4 to 5 hours.
The bread at the French Laundry is probably the best bread I have ever tried. It is light, rich and fluffy all at the same time. You can also get the same bread at Bouchon Bakery, his casual bakery in several cities in the USA.
“Oysters and Pearls” “Sabayon” of Pearls Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar
The Oysters and Pearls” “Sabayon” of Pearls Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar is one of Keller’s signature dishes. The tapioca was very rich and creamy (too much so) but the marine saltiness of oyster and caviar was interesting.
For me the much better dish was the Royal Ossetra Caviar- Dungeness Crab “Chawan Mushi”, Santa Barbara Sea Urchin and Scallion “Emincee” which was a much more delicate “chawan mushi” (japanese egg custard) topped with the flavourful sea urchin and delicate crab.
Moulard Duck “Foie Gras au Torchon”, Santa Rosa Plum, Fennel Bulb, Whipped White Honey and Pine Nut Compote.
The tasting menu gives you two options for most courses and there is also a vegetarian tasting menu. The Moulard Duck “Foie Gras au Torchon”, Santa Rosa Plum, Fennel Bulb, Whipped White Honey and Pine Nut Compote was very rich, sweet and buttery. It was served with fluffy, crusty warm bread. The refreshing flavours of the plum, fennel and sweetness of honey was wonderful. This course of foie gras was almost dessert-like to me. Like the highest quality “jam on toast” around. I wonder what Keller would say if I told him that!
“Caesar Salad”- Sweet Butter-Poached Maine Lobster Tail, Caramelized Romaine Lettuce, Garlic Crisp and “Bottarga di Muggine”
Keller enjoys deconstructing classic dishes and there are a lot of “quotation marks” in his menu. The playful and luxurious interpretation of “Caesar Salad”- Sweet Butter-Poached Maine Lobster Tail, Caramelized Romaine Lettuce, Garlic Crisp and “Bottarga di Muggine” was light and delicious. The delicate dish had textures that were soft and stringy.
Fillet of Corvina, Chantarelle Mushrooms, Wild Ramps, Cilantro, and Madras Curry
A soft and delicate Fillet of Corvina, Chantarelle Mushrooms, Wild Ramps, Cilantro, and Madras Curry was very light but had punch from curry and mushrooms, bringing a warm and subtle depth to this light fish.
Other course included a Wolfe Ranch White Quail- “Ris de Veau”, Quail Egg, Yukon Gold Potato, Romano Beans and Radish (im always underwhelmed by quail- like sad little chickens.. hmmph..) and the decadent, rich and bold Elysian Fields Farm Lamb Ribeye- Eggplant, Brentwood Corn, Toybox Tomatoes, Spanish Capers and “Salsa Verde”. Meat is cooked to perfection and the balance of dishes were wonderful. The staff is very specified in the kitchen with each member meticulously caring over each course at their station.
The courses are all very small (4-5 bites) but numerous. I didn’t eat all day to prepare for this meal from advice given by people who had eaten at Per Se (Keller’s New York restaurant). There are so many flavours and little tastes of joyful creativity. It is a true show!
Chef plating the Cheese Course of “Cadence”- Silverado Trail Strawberries, Celery Branch and Hazelnuts.
The Cadence cheese was pungently flavourful and paired well with the strawberries and hazelnuts. I have NEVER had a cheese course as good yet light as this.
Caramelia Chocolate “Cremeux”- Gros Michel Banana, Georgia Peanuts, “Dentelle” and Salted Popcorn Icecream
By the time the desserts came we were so full and desensitized (like watching the second act of cirque du soleil) but for the sake of journalism, curiosity and honouring the food carried on.
The rich and bold Caramelia Chocolate “Cremeux”- Gros Michel Banana, Georgia Peanuts, “Dentelle” and Salted Popcorn Icecream was the sophisticated knock off of the “nutty, banana, chocolate” combo seen before.
“Coffee and Donuts” – Coffee mousse with foam and warm sugared donuts
Not on the menu, but told to order it by a chef friend of mine was the “Coffee and Donuts” . It was good and playful but I am not a donut fan. The light and fluffy coffee mousse under a fluffy cappuccino top was a textural delight.
Mignardises – Handmade chocolate to end the meal
A personal tour of the kitchen at French Laundry
Invited to visit the kitchen at the end of the meal was exciting. The sterile, lab-like stations showed how refined and perfectionistically this entire establishment is run.
French Laundry is by far the best service in the United States. It is elegant, royal and decadent and the food is an outstanding journey showing impeccable execution, ingredients and composition.
It is awkwardly formal but for the cost you almost want to feel like you are dining with the Queen of England. Overall, an exceptional experience witnessing someone whose passion for food developed fine cuisine from his small home town in the North East to now be one of the most celebrated Chefs in the world.
YOUR MAJESTY; PERFECTION OF “SWEET AND MEATY”
THE FRENCH LAUNDRY
6640 Washington Street,
Yountville. CA 94599
707 944 2380