It has been a while since my last post. Have not been traveling as much though that has slowly been changing. And now I have had some extra time to catch up on a few posts I had been meaning to do. Including this one!
In April, I went out to the Bay Area to visit some family and friends, during this trip we had a 2 night getaway in Napa Valley. Not my first time, but that last time I was in Wine Country was circa 2014 or so, so it had been a while and actually in my prior visits I had not done Napa proper, mainly stuck to the Sonoma side. Further, every time I have ventured to the area and/or have had time in the Bay Area I have tried and failed at getting reservations at The French Laundry, Chef Thomas Keller’s ubiquitous Yountville restaurant. At first it seemingly was to be the same fate, but the internet helped change that.
So was it worth the experience? I would say, it lives up to its reputation and hype and worth checking out at least once. Did I think its 3-Michelin Star worth? No, everything was as expected and solid but nothing overly wowed me. I dont think I’d necessarily go out of my way to come again, especially because of the stress in getting a reservation and the logistics of actually getting here. Unless its for some super special event or menu, such as their seasonal Black Truffle and Caviar dinner. The service is expectedly top-notch, the wine selection is incredible, the ambiance even during COVID and outdoor balcony dining was fantastic. The food, mostly was fantastic, a few small misses, but over all delicious and all 3 of us agreed, the lamb was simply one of the best we had had and my aunt and uncle both normally dont eat lamb. Is it worth it? I definitely think the base menu with a few supplements here and there is worth it. I was admittedly quite buzzed/ drunk by the end of the meal from the delicious wines poured at dinner but also, folks, Napa wine tastings on a sunny hot day can catch up to you real fast and out of nowhere, stay hydrated and sober up before your once in a lifetime dinners.
Well, I also failed this time, and American Express Platinum Concierge also failed (at the time in March for April reservations they did not have dedicated AmEx seats given limited capacity). Both myself and AmEx had to log on to Tock to try our luck when reservations opened on the 15th for the following month at 10AM PST, seats were gone in seconds and a party of 3 is very hard to reserve, try going with 4, seemed to be the easiest and most widely available even after 10AM.
NOTES: you pre-pay for the entire meal, taxes and tips included, you cannot cancel but you can sell or “transfer” your reservation to another tock account and the transactions are all done through Tock’s secure internal platform. Supplements (ie: wagyu), and alcoholic beverages not included and can be settled at the end of the meal. Further, at the time there was only outdoor dining or parties of 2-6 could book $800/person dining inside one of the few classic dining rooms they had. In checking Tock now and given Napa’s reopening, it looks like things are in full swing and back to normal, but they still have courtyard seating as an option to book. Finally, the updated booking release is back to normal as well. Reservations open on the 1st of each month for the following month, still at 10AM PST.
I put my party on the waitlist for both evenings of our trip, AmEx was kind and offered other options in the area and assisted in booking Restaurant at Auberge, which turned out to be fantastic. However, the internet can be a beautiful place. I googled around about the French Laundry waitlist and and tricks or tips on getting off of it eventually. Previously this worked in my favor in taking the internet’s advice and eventually I had one of my top dining experiences ever at Chef Massimo Bottura’s Osteria Francescana. While there was not many advice like there was for Osteria Francescana, I stumbled upon a few Reddit threads, including one wherein folks post requests for reservations as well as folks trying to sell their reservations. As luck would have it, I came across someone trying to transfer a reservation for a party of 3 on April 1, my ideal date, at 7:45PM. I quickly created a Reddit account, messaged them, and after we both established that we were real/ genuine and legitimate people, we agreed to the transfer on Tock. It was quick, simple and easy and I did not pay the person directly, rather I paid via Tock and just like that the reservation was transferred under my name and account and the person was relieved! We had helped each other out in one weird 21st century internet miracle.
Getting There/ Dress Code/ Menu Prices
The French Laundry is located in downtown Yountville in Napa Valley, about an hour or even less from Downtown San Francisco. Your best bet is to hire a car or drive. Uber/Lyfts are also available and it was not terribly difficult to get one after out dinner at 11PM on a Thursday evening, I am sure with reopening its now even easier. Hiring a car though, its likely the best option as you dont want to skip out on the incredibly extensive wine and beverage list here. If you do drive, note there is no valet or dedicated French Laundry parking lot. At the time, there was plenty of street parking near and around by the looks of it, but as tourists start flocking into the region, I can imagine this will get more difficult. The other option is to stay at the many accommodation options in downtown Yountville and just walk! We stayed at The Setting Inn, a short 5 minute drive from the restaurant but secluded and away from everything, would highly recommend it.
There is no official dress code. Even in calling to confirm this, they simply said to dress comfortably but obviously dont come in your gym clothes and running shoes. However, most people still go the path of dressy as this is usually a place for special occasion dining / for most it is a once in a lifetime experience so why not make the most of it? But its also nice they do have this relaxed dress code for travelers, especially like me with carry-on only for a week-long trip, adding a sports coat or full suit in there for a single meal is tedious!
When I went there was the $350 menu, the $500 Chef’s Signature and the $800 special dining room menu that came with caviar, Dom Perignon and the likes. Now it looks like there is the base $350, $450, $500, and a seasonal $1000 Caviar and Black Truffle dinner. With multiple seating areas to choose from, each price corresponding to a dining area and the menu available there. At booking on Tock, our dinner came down to $377/person including taxes and gratuity.
We arrived just in time. From what I gathered, if you arrived early you could enjoy a glass of champagne or wine in their outdoor covered foyer area complete with fireplace. We were promptly greeted and taken to our table. A nice corner table on the second floor balcony of the original French Laundry building (where the historic laundromat was housed). We had a lovely tree shielding us from view from the courtyard below, and the closest table near us had just wrapped up their dinner. It felt like a private dinner.
At the table was already laid out the napkin pinned together with the famous French Laundry laundry pin.
Our waiter promptly arrived with the iPad housing the insanely but impressively extensive wine and beverage list. No menu, he simply walked us through it and detailed that we had a choice between 2 appetizers and 2 mains (both choices came with included and supplemental), the rest were all part of the 9 course menu. Seeing as we were family, we ordered the same things. Hand rolled Ricotta “Agnolotti” cheese rind “Consomme” and shaved perigord Black Winter Truffles, served in a truffle shaped bowl (supplemental) and the Herb Roasted Elysian Fields Farm Lamb: charred eggplan “Bechamel”, crispy chickpea “panisse”, nantes carrots, fragrant basil and sweet Curry Jus (simply fantastic). For wines we started with a half-bottle 2018 Kistler, McCrea Vineyard Sonoma Chardonnay as recommended to go with our starters and then a beautiful 1993 Dalla Valle Cabernet Sauvignon. I also had a nice glass of Egly-Ouriet Champagne and wrapped the evening with 2008 Beres Tokaj Hungarian Tokaji Aszu.
The entire meal from start to finish took about 3.5 hours. Service was well paced for the most part, though in the middle it got a bit slow. I also wanted my glass of champagne to enjoy with the signature Oysters and Pearls dish, which by the way lives up to its reputation and is just one beautifully textured, balanced and delicious plate. but the waiter who came by then forgot my order/request and never came back with the wine list for me to order. Our main waiter was also on point and fantastic. All staff here are as expected, friendly, professional, courteous but unpretentious. They also did not mind if I went in to place an order of wine or get clarification on something. The meal concludes with a kitchen tour, from there you exit and leave the restaurant.
Now, I let the pictures do the talking.
Amuse bouche Salmon TarTar Cornets
“Oysters and Pearls” “Sabayon” of Pearl Tapioca, Island Creek Oysters and Regiis Ova Caviar
Compressed Persian Cucumber Salad, toasted sunflower seeds, tomato water “Gelee”, tender garden herbs, brokaw avocado mousse. I really enjoyed this one too, sweet/sour and fun
Bread and Butter: bitter coca laminated brioche and straus family creamery butter
Applewood smoked Hawaiian Swordfish “Terrine”: “Oeufs Mayonnaise”, garden turnip relish, crispy dill “lavsh” and horseradish infused creme fraiche
Sweet Butter Poached Nova Scotia Lobster, english peas, wild napa valley onion blossoms and young ginger “Bouillon”; fairly delicious but a tad salty which overpowered it
Hand rolled Ricotta “Agnolotti” cheese rind “Consomme” and shaved perigord Black Winter Truffles, served in a truffle shaped bowl. With table side truffle shaving service
One of the best lamb dishes I have had, everyone at the table agreed. Tender, juicy, flavorful and no Lamb taste.
Herb Roasted Elysian Fields Farm Lamb: charred eggplan “Bechamel”, crispy chickpea “panisse”, nantes carrots, fragrant basil and sweet Curry Jus
“Gougere”: andante dairy “etude” and preserved Perigod black winter truffle “souffle”
quite delicious and aromatic
Fruit, Chocolate, Ice Cream and Candy, assortment of Desserts
Wines of the evening
I am so grateful to have stumbled on that Reddit page and for that beautiful soul who was needing to transfer their mistake reservation for a party of 3. After many years of failed attempts I finally got to experience the French Laundry, albeit within COVID Restraints. But with those protocols, the experience was not diminished one bit in my opinion. It was still a delightful treat of a dinner. While I was not necessarily mind-blown by the experience or any one particular dish, everything was solid, a few that were a tad on the salty and overpowering side, but still delicious. The signature dishes you read and hear about did not disappoint. And that lamb is still what dreams are made of. Also, what a wine list. If California wines arent your thing, no worries, plenty of global selections too. The service and ambiance was as expected. All round a classic, on point destination fine dining experience that is worth that one time splurge / the journey to get here.
Finally Good Luck on getting yourself a reservation, and remember dont give up if you dont snag it right away and end up on the waitlist, the internet is your friend in this case!