My culinary dream came true in the summer of 2012 while Jason and I celebrated our 1 year wedding anniversary in Napa Valley. I had booked us lunch reservations months in advance to get us a table at The French Laundry restaurant. One of my bucket-list items was to dine at The French Laundry ever since studying Chef Thomas Keller in “Art Culinaire” course at culinary school.
The class had us recreating some of his signature dishes from The French Laundry Cookbookwhile we learned about his respect for food, emphasis on executing basic techniques, and his relentless strive for “pleasure and perfection.” With such high expectations and incredible vision for his restaurants, Thomas Keller quickly became one of the most influential chef’s in my life.
Here are the steps I took to snag a reservation:
- Phone reservations are accepted two months in advance, you can call their reservation line starting at 10 am to 5:30pm. They serve dinner Monday through Friday and lunch Friday through Sunday. I called right at 10 am and the lines were always busy, so I stayed relentless like Thomas and called every 15 minutes for the first hour. I finally got through each day after 2pm, so I asked to be put on the waiting list. If you really want it, be persistent!
- There is an OpenTable.com option, and I tried it but that also did not work. There are only a few tables available on the website, so the odds are not too good, however it is worth a try.
- The trick is to be flexible! There is more of a chance to get in during lunch, however it’s mostly luck to get in.
- Then you wait. I actually gave up hope, until the Monday before our trip, I got the call in the middle of a movie at the theater and I made sure as hell to pick it up and respond. Receiving a call from The French Laundry can arguably be better than winning the lotto! Lucky for us a party cancelled, so we got in for lunch at 11 am on Friday.
When you finally get to enter the restaurant, you feel like you received a special one day pass into a secret culinary society. The restaurant was constructed in 1900 and is made of the valley’s river rock and timber, the environment creates a relaxing and comfy ambiance. There is a downstairs dining area and upstairs dining area which felt a little more warm and open.
There are not very many tables in the restaurant which makes sense why it can be so difficult to get in. However with the more intimate dining service, I felt that the waitstaff could provide each guest continuous attention, which was fine dining service at it’s best!
Jason and I dined on the first floor in a semi private area with the exposed rock walls and a small skylight which was perfect for getting enough light to take some pictures of our food.
When handed the drink menu, we were surprised to find that it was an iPad! The French Laundry wanted to be more considerate in regards to the environment, so the digital menu was provided.
We had visited the Schramsberg Vineyard earlier in the week, the very first sparkling wine producer in California, so my husband decided to order a glass of the “cuvee French Laundry” and I ordered the Weegmuller riesling.
The French Laundry offers two menu’s each day, a 9 course chef’s tasting menu and a tasting of vegetables. One of the most exciting special features on the menu was the foie gras selection. Being that it was going to be illegal to sell foie gras in California on July 1, 2011, I got lucky to have my last experience to be at The French Laundry. With our lunch choices selected, we were ready to have hands down the most exquisite dinning experience of our lives.
“Cornets” and Gougeres- Salmon Tartare with Sweet Red Onion Creme Fraiche and savory gruyere cream puffs
“Oysters and Pearls”- “Sabayon” of pearl tapioca with Island Creek oysters and white sturgeon caviar
Bouchon Bakery Rolls and Butter
Salad of Hawaiian Hearts of Palm- Shishito peppers, K&J Orchard nectarine, Virginia peanuts and cilantro
White Truffle Oil-Infused Custards with Black Truffle Ragout
Foie Gras Au Torchon- Graham cracker, Brooks cherries, nasturtium and white chocolate-vanilla glaze
Brioche Toast and Tasting of Salts to Accompany the Foie Gras Torchon
Atlantic Halibut “Confit A La Minute”- Grilled bread “panade”, yukon gold potato, celery, Brentwood corn and “chowder sauce”
Sweet Butter-Poached Maine Lobster Tail- Royal Blenheim apricot, belgian endive, Sicilian pistachios, red ribbon sorrel and summer truffle
Grilled Salmon Creek Farms Pork Belly- Summer pole beans, green tomatoes, and “ranch dressing”
Elysian Fields Farm Lamb Saddle- Ricotta “gnudi”, baby beets, meyer lemon, “Ficoide Glaciale”, and green peppercorn jus
“Reblochon”- Fennel, rainier cherries, walnuts, nicoise olives
White Peach Sorbet- Pine nut scone, extra virgin olive oil “gelee”, mint and 100 year-aged balsamic vinegar
Cream Cheese “Bavarois”- Acacia honey, Silverado Trail strawberries, and black pepper “Aigre-Doux”
“Marjolaine”- Praline mousse, “Dacquoise” and banana sherbet
Mignardises- An assortment of filled bon bons
Surprise Sweets- Chilled semi-freddo, homemade donuts and candied macadamia nuts
Close up on the warm, sweet and delicious homemade donuts
At the end of the meal, we were completely overcome with culinary decadence. Every course was perfectly executed; text book knife skills, every item on the dish was cooked and composed seamlessly and complimented one another. Each dish was unique and reflected the flavors of summer and featured vegetables from The French Laundry garden. All of the ingredients were from only the best purveyors. Every ingredient had a purpose, like the assembly of a expertly conducted orchestra, composing a symphony of flavors. The servers made sure that you were take care of nearly every moment of your time at the restaurant, almost obsessively, however it was appreciated.
Chef Thomas Keller’s influence on the menu and the execution of the menu items by his brigade at The French Laundry was beyond impressive. Here’s a quick tip – Ask to see the kitchen after your meal! We asked and they delivered, we got the opportunity to meet the chef’s and tour the cleanest kitchen I’ve ever seen! The kitchen was spotless and 3 Michelin stars were proudly displayed above the oven vents reminding the chefs to work each day with highest standard of culinary excellence. One really neat thing you don’t often see in a restaurant kitchen was a large flat screen television which was connected to the Per Se restaurant in New York, so the chef’s could communicate and collaborate with the other kitchen.
There is no one that I would have wanted to experience The French Laundry with more than my amazing husband Jason. This has been the most memorable and delicious wedding anniversary so far! I can’t wait to see what new culinary adventures are to come, however for now, the inspiration and standard has been set by The French Laundry.