Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The French Laundry - An Anniversary to Remember

Made it to The French Laundry!
Anyone who has spent any significant time watching The Food Network over the last decade or so will likely have at least heard of Chef Thomas Keller and his world famous restaurant in Yountville, California, The French Laundry. He’s been on Top Chef Masters, mentioned by a variety of other celebrity chefs, as well as have had at least one of his restaurants listed on The Top 100 Restaurants in the World year after year. Not to mention if you look at the Michelin Guide at all, The French Laundry is always on the list. Although we dined there last year, they closed shortly after our visit for renovations. Now that they are open again, I thought I would finally post this, now that people can actually dine there now!

Personalized Menu
Given it’s fame and longevity, they recently celebrated their 20th anniversary, it’s also one of the top ten hardest restaurants to get into. Although by no means the hardest, the recognizable name means that anyone visiting Napa Valley with a few hundred dollars to spare on dinner try to get a reservation. For us, it’s been by far the hardest restaurant to get a reservation to, even though we’ve dined at other restaurants listed higher on The Top 100 Restaurants in the World, and have had an easier time getting reservations to other places listed on the Ten Hardest Restaurants to get a reservation for.

Vintage Champagne
They have a reservation line that opens at 10am sharp, accepting reservations only two months to the date you wish to book for. As you can imagine, their reservation line is almost always busy and calling requires persistence and patience. Even the use of our trusty Visa concierge service, which has always been successful in the past getting us reservations at the best restaurants in the world failed us, even though we were willing to take any lunch or dinner opening they had within the ten day period we would be in San Francisco. You can also try OpenTable.com, but most of the available reservations we could find were for tables of four.

Laundry Pin
We actually lucked out getting our reservation on OpenTable.com the Friday before we left Edmonton. A random check on OpenTable.com revealed an available table for two on the evening we were going to leave San Francisco for home. However, we snagged the reservation and paid the hefty fee to get our plane tickets changed to leave a few days later. Considering we only know of one other couple who have managed to get into The French Laundry, and another couple who have tried for years to no avail, we jumped at the chance to visit and see what all the hype was about.

Yountville itself is a small, sleepy little town, but with high calibre restaurants lining Washington Street, you can imagine that finding accommodations there can be pretty difficult, at least at a reasonable price. Instead, we opted to rent a car to drive there from San Francisco, and stay overnight in a hotel in Sonoma. Sonoma is just over an hour by car from San Francisco, and Yountville is about 35 minutes from Sonoma. So getting a reservation and physically getting to The French Laundry requires quite a bit of effort.

Sabayon of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters
and White Sturgeon Caviar
When we arrived at The French Laundry, there were two couples who were getting their pictures taking outside of The French Laundry, even though they were not going to be dining there. So coveted were the reservations that one gentleman we ran into outside who had previously worked at NOMA, took a reservation for one, just for the chance to eat there.

"Rouelle" of White Sturgeon and Garden Chard
The space itself, inside and out, look nothing like a restaurant. Named The French Laundry, as the space was once used as such, it looks like a quaint two story house with a beautiful outdoor patio. The serving style was reminiscent of our experience at The Fat Duck, with all the servers hiding in an alcove together, waiting until they were needed by diners or the kitchen. When passing by them, you can hear them verbally sharing information on each guest, tracking what courses were next, what each guest needed, even who had gone to the restroom so they knew not to bring out he next course until all diners were seated at the table.

Sweet Butter Poached Main Lobster
Upon being seated, we were poured sparkling wine (sparkling apple juice for the male human) on the house, as the humans trip to San Francisco was to celebrate their 5th wedding anniversary. The menus themselves were customized, to congratulate the humans on their wedding anniversary. The French Laundry does not provide any a la carte menus but rather the choice between two tasting menus - one a Tasting of Vegetables, the other the Chef’s Tasting menu. We of course opted to try the Chef’s Tasting menu, as we had starved ourselves practically all day for this meal, knowing there would be quite a lot of courses.

Slow Roasted Salmon Creek Farms Pork Breast
To begin, there were two amuse bouches, a salmon tartare with creme fraiche, served in a tuille, which was had a light and unadulterated salmon taste, with a hint of crunch from the cone shaped tuille. The gougeres were served warm, consisting of a light pas de choix, filled with molten aged gruyere cheese, delightfully simple.

Cookies and Cream
For the bread, instead of presenting diners with just any old bread, we were given two different kinds of brioche from Bouchon Bakery, one which was almost like a croissant in it’s flaky, light and buttery texture, while the other was denser.

The chefs tasting menu was almost like a marathon, with so many dishes to consume, the servers were used to gauging when diners needed a longer break before continuing on. They were also used to giving diners encouragement, as I could hear them telling diners at other tables who were overwhelmed by the sheer number of courses that they had confidence in the diners that they could finish the tasting menu.

Cappuccino Semi Freddo
My favourite dishes of the evening were a caviar with claims and sabayon, and a lobster with brown butter sauce, walnuts and a truffle gastrique. The saltiness of the caviar was reduced by the luscious sabayon, while the clams melted in my mouth and eaten all together was a heavenly combination. It’s one of those dishes you have to experience in order to understand what makes it so special, since I’m not usually fond of the saltiness of caviar, however the dish was perfect composed so all the components together created a spectacular taste sensation For the lobster dish, there was no shortage of plump lobster meat in a rich brown butter sauce, while the mild acidity of the truffle gastrique helped to cut through the richness of the brown butter sauce. Although there were many other delightful dishes in the tasting menu, describing them all would make this an excessively long post, and also wouldn’t do the dishes justice.

There’s apparently no such thing as a single dessert on a Chef’s Tasting Menu at The French Laundry. Dessert was a multi course affair itself! It started with a play on cookies and cream with a cookies and cream ice cream which was smooth without being overly rich or sweet, the cookie crumbs giving the ice cream a delightfully dichotomous texture of creamy and crunchy. There was also a chocolate ganache cake, macarons, chocolate covered macadamia nuts, and their version of coffee and donuts. Their donuts were brioche donuts tossed in cinnamon sugar, served with a cappuccino semi freddo which was airy and tasted strongly of espresso.

Chocolate Ganache Cake
Although dinner for two at The French Laundry is prohibitively expensive for the majority of people, it’s one of the few insanely expensive meals that I would return for. It’s not hard to see between the food and service why The French Laundry is one of the best restaurants in the world. So if you want a first class experience and can shell out the money for a first class meal, then The French Laundry needs to be on your bucket list of places to eat at!

More photos at PhotoBucket!

The French Laundry
6640 Washington St
Yountville, CA 94599
Twitter: @ _TFL

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