The French Laundry. Say just those three words to any foodie and you'll immediately elicit a response. Then, tell them you got reservations and the look of awe takes over. Why? Because The French Laundry is one of the most famous restaurants in the world. Having garnered three stars in Michelin rating system for the past six years in a row, having been named by many as the top restaurant in the world, and having maintained a ranking in the Top 50 Restaurants in the World, The French Laundry has more accolades than most restaurants have utensils.
As a classic French restaurant, I wondered if they'd accommodate me and my vegan diet. A quick email confirmed that they would. So, then I had the challenge of getting a reservation. This restaurant is well-known as one of the hardest at which to land a reservation -- not only because of its popularity, but also, its small size. With only 17 tables and reservations taken exactly two months in advance, it's a source of stress if you decide you'd like to attempt to get in. After reviewing many websites dedicated to telling you just how hard this feat will be, I decided to give it a go. I don't have a black American Express card and I wasn't staying at a fancy hotel with concierge service so I was on my own. I made the decision to go to the area 62 days prior to my visit and had only two nights I could dine there, so I had two chances to get in. I knew the phone lines opened at exactly 10 a.m. PST so I got on two phones and began dialing at 1 p.m. EST. After many attempts over 15 minutes, I got through, was on hold for over 30 minutes, then was told there were no reservations. That was a fail.
The next day was my only chance left, so I was on it. I started dialing a minute beforehand on two phones and got through immediately. With my heart beating quickly, I remained on hold for nearly 40 minutes and when the lady came on to tell me she had a 5:15 p.m. or 9:30 p.m. reservation, I could barely breathe. I quickly regained composure, confirmed the experience would be at least three hours and requested the earlier reservation. I held my breath until the email confirmation came through, then danced with joy. It would be a long 60 days of anticipation.
Fast forward to the day of the reservation and there I was picking up my friend at SFO who flew in from Seattle to dine there with me. This, my friends, would be an experience of a lifetime and I'm happy I had a friend who appreciated that. Before going, I did a lot of research to understand Chef Thomas Keller's style and set expectations appropriately. Before we knew it, we were arriving in front of the beautiful vine-covered stone restaurant. The fantastic service started when we arrived as they walked us to our table. The dining room was classicly simple, yet elegant, with white tablecloths and white napkins pinned with the famous French Laundry clothespin -- a keepsake.
They offer a meat-based option and vegetable-based option. Of course, I was being served the vegetable option veganized. This would be a nine-course prix fixe meal for $295 with service included. The hardest choices to make are really which wines to enjoy. Their extensive wine list is on an iPad and it can be overwhelming. Luckily, we both knew what we liked and ordered accordingly. We started with a bit of the bubbly and began our culinary journey.
I'll start off by saying that I really enjoyed everything I had. So, here goes. The amuse bouche was a carrot tartare with olive and a fried potato. Scrumptious.
Our first half bottle of wine was a Gruner Veitliner Reid Lamm Kamptal Reserve 2013. It was crisp and perfect for the first half of our meal. The first course was the Summer Melons "En Gelee." This cold dish was layered with garden mint blossoms, little melon balls and melon gelee with Persian lime salt and port wine granite -- a wonderful combination.
The second course was the Salade Verte. This green salad consisted of compressed garden cucumbers with sweet onion relish, Brokaw avocado mousse, and nasturtium leaves. I loved this dish.
The bread basket came around and they brought me three selections -- sensitive to the fact that I am vegan. The breads were incredible.
The third course was the Champignons a la Grecque. This was a roasted mushroom terrine with hearts of palm, and cherry belle radishes. It was great when spread on the olive bread toast.
We ordered our next half bottle of wine of the Domaine Drouhin Laurene Pinot Noir. Fantastic!
For the fourth course, I had Early Girl Tomato. Marinated sungold tomatoes, wild purslane and corn veloute made up an incredibly rich and flavorful dish.
For the fifth course, there was the Garden Squash Royale. This one was sooo good. A crispy eggplant panissse was surrounded by squash, cerignola olives, toasted pine nuts, and wild arugula.
The sixth course was the Swiss Chard Agnolotti made with braised chard ribs, corn, and popcorn risotto. So creative!
The seventh course was figs with marcona almonds. With this, I ordered a dessert wine as well.
The eighth course was a peach melba with ortese raspberries. Very light and good.
The ninth course was soy vanilla ice cream with blackberries.
But, the food kept coming. Next came ice cream over chocolate cake with chocolate bits.
And finally, passion fruit sorbet with fruit gelees and powdered sugar covered macadamia nuts.
I just couldn't stop eating. As if that weren't enough, we were each given a box of chocolates to take home -- mine made vegan specially for me. They were delicious.
The check came and we just burst out laughing as a four-figure check is always amusing. The total came out to be $1,019 -- a bill for an experience for sure.
After paying, they walked us back to the temporary kitchen as they are under renovation. It was very cool to see the chefs at work.
Finally, they offered to take our picture in front of the door.
How do I feel about this experience? Well, it is iconic for sure. The food was innovative, creative, and classicly good all at the same time. The wines were spectacular. The service was flawless. The sommelier was impressive. The ambiance was perfect. And the tour of the kitchen really sealed the deal. The only thing I thought could have been done better was when they gave me a copy of the menu that included non-vegan cheeses and such. A finishing touch would have been a customized menu showing what I actually ate. Regardless, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most and definitely worth the pricetag. I'm pretty sure life will lead me back here someday, but for now I'll just relish in the fact that I finally got to experience The French Laundry -- a defining moment in my culinary history.
The French Laundry
6640 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599