Our First Ever Experience at The French Laundry
This past holiday season, Steven and I were lucky enough to visit a restaurant that people all over the country have on their foodie bucket lists: The French Laundry in Yountville California.
We already knew that our Christmas trip to Napa Valley was going to be incredible, with the discovery of wineries that specialize in whites and sparkling whites (my stomach can’t handle the reds,) and the opportunity for my parents to finally meet his mother and brother on Christmas Eve. So when the opportunity to visit The French Laundry opened up for the 23rd, we were thrilled.
The French Laundry is a 3-Michelin star restaurant, that while established in 1978, came to prominence after its current head chef Thomas Keller purchased it in 1994. Keller’s masterful skills, combined with the restaurant’s unique eclectic take on American-inspired French cuisine, charming atmosphere, excellent service and fabulous location in the romantic Napa Valley has made it a go-to destination that people plan entire trips around, and reserve for ultra special occasions.
For anyone planning on visiting this restaurant sometime in the near future, here is the rundown of our experience. And we promise that you won’t be disappointed.
The restaurant’s building - which was originally a saloon back in the day - has a warm and cozy atmosphere, that makes you feel like you are visiting someone’s home in the late evening. The restaurants lighting is quite dim, and most of what you eat by is candlelight. When we were seated, we found that our napkins had been pinned in a fan shape with adorable old-fashioned clothespins that were branded with the restaurant’s logo. The signature clothespin symbol followed us to the menu, which was separated into two 9-course options.
One option was the “Tasting of Vegetables” menu, and the other was the “Chef’s Tasing Menu.” We chose the latter. There is also an option to do a wine pairing with each course. But if you’re anything like me, one glass from their wine menu will suffice!
On the “Chef’s Tasting Menu,” there are options provided for certain courses, with some including a supplement charge. For example, below there are two options for the first course, one being Oysters and Pearls and the other being Royal Kaluga Caviar for a $60 supplement. The following photos will be of our personal selections of each coarse. We decided to just go for it when it came to our favorites of each option. If there’s ever been a place where it’s 100% worth it to go big or go home, The French Laundry would be it.
Note: The following courses are specific to the menu from December 23rd, 2018 and course options may/will change with time depending on the season, year and trends.
“Salmon Tartare with Sweet Red Onion Créme Fraîche”
The first item they placed on the beautiful oversized graphic plates we were greeted with, was a delightful napkin-ring sized display piece that held a tiny cone made of salmon. Resembling tiny cones of ice cream, the infamous salmon cornets did not disappoint. The crispy salmon acted as the perfect savory shell for the creamy and decadent créme fraîche within.
This first bite of food was a clear indication to me of what this restaurant was capable of. Not only did it have a complex rich flavor and texture combination to it, but when one person in our group wasn’t in the mood for the salmon tartare, our waiter noticed and provided us with an alternative version of the dish, to make sure everyone had an equal experience.
ROYAL KALUGA CAVIAR
“Bodega Bay Dungeness Crab, Wild Sorrel and Sicilian Pistachio Butter”
Being that caviar is a dish that Steven and I are always excited to indulge in from time to time, we both decided to try the Royal Kaluga Caviar. And it ended up being my favorite thing on the menu. Not only was the presentation adorable, with Steven and me receiving inverted design versions of each other’s dish, but it was the most generous portion of caviar I’ve ever had, and the flavors surrounding didn’t overpower or take away from the dish’s main ingredient. So often, Steven and I find that the biscuits or accoutrements that come with caviar are overly buttered or salted to the point where we can’t fully experience the flavor of the eggs themselves. But this dish knew what it was doing and is something I hope to have again sometime in the near future.
HUDSON VALLEY MOULARD DUCK FOIE GRAS “TERRINE”
“K&J Orchards pearls, English walnuts and Straus Yogurt”
While the English walnuts were omitted from my plate (because they paid close attention to the reservation’s note about my tree nut allergy,) I felt like I still got the full experience of this dish. The fois gras was delightfully creamy, the yogurt added a nice lightness to the dish and the pear was prepared in such a way, that I almost didn’t recognize it. It was like eating a juicy piece of pear-flavored hard candy.
The fois gras was served with a small soft roll and a selection of 6 different types of salts for sprinkling. Steven and I agreed that the black salt was both of our favorites. It was so delicious that it inspired me to step up the variety in my salt collection at home!
Applewood Smoked Passmore Ranch Sturgeon
“With a Ragoût of Rancho Gordo Pole Beans, Cipollini Onions and Kettle Garlic Jus”
For some reason, when I think of side dishes to serve along fish, beans never come to mind. But now I have been shown the light. With the sturgeon, onion and pole beans cooked to perfection, this small dish of white meat ended up feeling as comforting and homey as meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Something about this combination of flavors and textures almost redefines the way you think of sturgeon as a main course.
Hand Harvested MainE Sea Scallop
“Melted Belgian Endive and Sauce ‘Pamplemousse’”
The dish that followed the sturgeon was a delicious Maine sea scallop accompanied by a light grapefruit sauce. It was the perfect FOIL to the homey sturgeon that came before it, making it a wonderful palette cleanser. It got our mouths feeling light enough for the next course.
BREAD AND BUTTER
“Bitter Cocoa Laminated Brioche and Diane St. Clair’s Animal Farm Butter”
It was then time for a small break from the main courses. Bread and butter was served in a preciously dainty display. While the cocoa swirl in the brioche makes it reminiscent of a chocolate croissant, the cocoa’s flavoring is quite subtle and not at all sweet. This brioche remains a savory treat, with the cocoa giving off depth in a way that we typically don’t get to experience, as most cocoa we taste is being combined with a sweetener. It was a nice change.
Wolfe Ranch White Quail
“Crispy ‘Spatzle,’ Caramelized Brussels Sprouts and ‘Sauce Soubise”
Quail is one of those foods that pops up on my restaurant menus only once in a blue moon. And when it does, I take advantage of it. Quail has an intense salty flavor I always enjoy, as well as a juicy texture I personally feel that chicken and turkey just can’t quite compete with. And The French Laundry’s presentation - while small in size - definitely delivers on the entire experience of ordering quail.
“Dégustation” of Broken Arrow Ranch Venison"
“Glazed Sour Apples, Toasted Marcona Almonds, Arrowleaf Spinach and "‘Beurre Rouge’”
While I had ordered the Wagyu originally for this course, this alternative dish was delivered to the table. And while they fixed the mistake, they generously let us have the dish on the house. This adorable round lollipop-resembling piece of venison had wonderful flavor and texture to it. If you’re not a fan of beef, this dish is an excellent alternative for this course.
Charcoal Grilled Japanese Wagyu
“Romaine Lettuce “a la Plancha,” “Pommes Maxim’s” and “Sauce Périgourdine”
This course - which I considered to be the main event - did not disappoint. I’m not typically a fan of steak, but when it’s Wagyu and it’s done by The French Laundry, you know it’s going to be good. It was tender, flavorful and combined beautifully with a crispy piece of roasted potato and pan-fried romaine. Even after all of the unforgettable courses that came before it, it was still a stand-out dish.
“With Andante Dairy ‘Etude’ and Périgord Black Winter Truffle ‘Fondue’”
Right before dessert, we enjoyed a Gougere, which is a savory pastry made of a dough that’s been combined with cheese. Served over fondue, it was a dream come true for a cheese lover like me.
Assortment of Desserts
“Fruit, Ice Cream, Chocolate and Candies”
The staff paid close attention in picking sweets and candies for me, considering my tree nut allergy the whole way through. While I couldn’t have macarons with everyone else, I didn’t feel left out as plates carrying cake, ice cream, candy and a frozen coffee treat came my way.
Before we left, we were given a selection of gourmet chocolates to choose from.
thomas keller Kitchen TouR
And as if the fantastic attentive service and delicious food wasn’t enough; Before we left, we were approached by the man himself, Thomas Keller, and given a tour of the restaurant’s kitchen. I’m not sure if everyone is offered this experience before leaving or if we just got incredibly lucky, but it was fascinating. When visiting a restaurant this highly regarded and well-managed, you often wonder what has to go on behind the scenes to insure the type of success. Being that the restaurant is small, I never could have imagined how large the kitchen would be, or how many staff members it would take to run the place. But it apparently takes a village. I witnessed the most spotless kitchen I’ve ever seen, and an extremely busy, yet well-organized and friendly staff bustling around. Almost like a choreographed dance, they were somehow able to quickly maneuver around appliances and each other, with immense confidence and focus.
Behind us was a station where Keller himself typically stood on an average day, which gave him a great view of everything happening in every inch of the kitchen. On the walls, we saw screens that showed live footage of the kitchens in Keller’s other restaurants around the country. We are guessing that he just likes to keep a close eye on all of his businesses at all times. And in front of us, were the views photographed below. Many workstations for the preparation and plating of the food, as well as a table where all of the orders and requests of the guests were managed to a tee. Seeing just how much work had to go into making a handful of tables happy every hour of the day really was inspiring.
And that’s what made me realize what makes this restaurant a Michelin-star recipient that people all over the country talk about. Not only does this place source incredible ingredients to be made by fabulous culinary experts, but it creates an all encompassing experience that delights you from beginning to end. The restaurant’s staff makes you feel important, prioritized, heard and worthy of their hard work. And you leave feeling like you’ve had the luxurious experience you expected and paid for.
And if you were wondering if we got a photo with Thomas Keller, we didn’t as we were a bit too intimidated to ask for one. But the memory of being shown around by him, will always stick with me. As a foodie, a traveler, and someone who always wants to learn more about the art of hospitality.
When I received my leftovers at the end of the night, they were presented to me in the beautiful branded bag below. And inside the bag was also a small branded tin filled with The French Laundry’s infamous shortbread cookies. Each of us received some. They were the perfect treat for the holiday season (not that they lasted very long in our house.)
This experience at The French Laundry really showed me what hospitality and making people feel special is all about. After years of hearing hype about it, I walked into that restaurant expecting a lot. And somehow, thanks to Thomas Keller and his staff, I left feeling like I still got more out of it than I expected. Even after the leftovers and cookies were gone, I was left with the beautiful tins and clothespins from the beginning of the meal, which served as a reminder of the amazing time I had, eating some of the best dishes I’ve ever come across, meeting a famous chef, and of course sitting around a table with Steven and his family, enjoying great conversation.
Thank you so much for checking out this review. If you ever have the privilege of visiting The French Laundry, I hope that your experience is everything you had hoped for. Personally, I was not let down at all and definitely recommend this restaurant for your next anniversary, birthday or congratulatory dinner with loved ones. It’s really a one of a kind treat. And thank you once again to Steven’s mother, for taking us there in the first place.
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