Updated: May 21, 2015
Review: French Laundry Restaurant:The French Laundry restaurant has an incredible reputation amongst culinary fanatics and my wife has wanted to go there for more than a decade. We've had the pleasure of dining at such world famous places like Guy Savoy and Taillevent in Paris so we knew what we were in for with a 9 course meal on tap from Chef Thomas Keller and his group. The restaurant is so unassuming - it's located in an old house in the town of Yountville, CA. Right across the street is the garden that provides them with all the vegetables and herbs in their dishes. Napa Valley is a beautiful region that is more renowned for wine growing but the selection of high end restaurants is slowly gaining. In Yountville alone are some very special dining options like Bouchon, Ad Hoc, and Bottega. Thomas Keller dominates this town with his cuisine.
|Chef Timothy Hollingsworth cooking away.
We had our reservation set for February 10th, 2011 at 5:45PM and it had been a long time coming. Ever since 1999 when we first got married my wife had dreams of having a meal at the French Laundry. You can read up below on the reservation system which can be daunting and frustrating to the average person. I would have to say that getting your reservation is half the battle and once you are locked in the excitement grows. My wife was nervous as walked into the restaurant but Larry Nadeau (Maitre D') is so calm and friendly that we were instantly at ease. At $270/person there is no doubt that I had some questions in my mind if the meal would be "worth it". I overhead another diner say she was at the French Laundry and checking it off her "bucket list". People come from all over the country and world to dine here and that's what makes it so amazing. This little restaurant hidden in a small town like Yountville is recognized by foodies worldwide. There is a dress code for men - jackets are required, no jeans, no t-shirts, no tennis shoes, no shorts, and ties are optional. Expect the meal to last at least 2 hours, but I would say set aside 3 hours for the entire process. Remember that eating 9 courses takes time and you want to enjoy the experience. Definitely don't have a big lunch before going to their dinner. The interior dining room seats roughly 25 people downstairs and then there is additional seating upstairs for another 20+. You get the feeling you are eating dinner in a rustic country home. The atmosphere is very formal, but the waiters and staff are friendly and thoroughly knowledgeable about the food and wine selections. You can choose from the Chef's Tasting Menu or the Tasting of Vegetables - both are 9 courses. The official website for the French Laundry is online at http://www.frenchlaundry.com/. They have details on menus, wine list, reservations, maps, directions, etc. It's a first rate restaurant that is worth at least 1 visit in your lifetime. We were lucky enough to get a sneak peak into the kitchen before we left. The opportunity to watch the kitchen staff in action was really memorable - especially for my wife. We were allowed a few pictures and about 2 minutes of their time and off we went (see the photos of Tim Hollingsworth in action). They were also nice enough to have the menu from that night signed by Thomas Keller and given to us as a souvenir.
French Laundry Menu - Wine List:The menu is posted daily (see it here http://www.tkrg.org/upload/fl_menu.pdf) to the website and some items like "Oysters and Pearls" are a signature dish that are on the menu daily. They try not to repeat any single ingredient and keep the diner surprised at the next course. Our menu included items like Foie Gras, Lobster Mitts, Atlantic Cobia (fish), Duck, sorbet, chocolate, cheese, and a few extra items thrown in by the chef. The meal flowed nicely and we were always given time to finish each course before the next one arrived. The waiters described the dish each time they brought one out and of course they were all delicious. I was definitely a little full by the chocolate finale, but worked through it in the end. With 9 courses you may wonder how to "pair wines" with a meal like that, but I suggest getting 2 half bottles so that you can enjoy a white to start and then finish with a red. We actually had a nice glass of champagne to start followed by a Chardonnary and then drank a 1/2 bottle of an Oregon Pinot Noir. The wine list is extensive and goes way beyond the average wine drinkers knowledge base. We had the sommelier help us with the white wine and the champagne. How much are the wines? We paid roughly $100 for the half bottles, and the 2 champagne flutes cost of a total of $50. You can see the entire wine list online at http://www.tkrg.org/upload/fl_wine.pdf. There is a $75 corkage fee for every 750ML bottle that you bring in. You can only bring wines that are not on their list and there is a limit of 1 bottle for every two guests at the table. The wine selection includes wines from Italy, Germany, France, Austria, California, Oregon, Spain, and several other spots.
French Laundry Reservation Tips:This is perhaps the most important section of this review. It tooks us over a decade to figure things out. I've even heard of some people calling daily for 6 months just to get a reservation. The French Laundry can demand that of potential customers as any seat in the house is a hot item. We had tried for years to get reservations and it never worked. The phone # you call never seems to get answered by a real person. You can't leave a message or just email them for a table. With limited seating each night, you can imagine the overall demand that we all have to fight through. I would have guessed that with the recent recession that reserving a table for 2 (at $270/each) would become easier but that is not the case. We ended up using my wifes VISA card concierge service to secure the reservation 60 days in advance. That is my suggestion for those seeking to claim a table for yourself. Some say that the Opentable.com website will let you have access to a select few tables each night, but those fill up quickly as well. There is no way to just stop by and get a table as they don't accept walk-in guests. The night we dined at the French Laundry all the tables were full - both upstairs and downstairs. You can call their reservation phone # at 707-944-2380. Good luck!
French Laundry Location - Parking:The good news is that the location is one in which parking is quite easy. There a few spots in behind the restaurant as you turn down Creek Street. Turn into the gravel parking lot on your right hand side and there are parking places there. Otherwise, park on Washington Street in front of the restaurant. The French Laundry is in Yountville, CA - roughly 10 miles north of the town of Napa. We flew into the Oakland International Airport and it took us 1 and 15 minutes to get up to Yountville. It's a bit longer of a drive if you are coming from SFO (San Francisco Airport). Just follow Hwy 29 to the town of Yountville and get off on the Madison exit. Take one of your immediate rights onto Washington and then follow it down for a 1/2 mile or so. The restaurant doesn't have big signs or anything (see the photo below), but it's easy to spot. The large garden across the street gives it away. .
|Plating one of the many nightly gems they produce..
|Nice set of pots and pans to work with..
|View from the front of the restaurant on Washington Street..