All About Food, Destinations: North America

The French Laundry

November 1, 2013
I had the fortune, or misfortune when it came to my wallet, of dining at The French Laundry last Sunday. The opportunity literally fell on my lap–a friend had made reservations, couldn’t make it, and knowing how much I love food, asked if I wanted to take her reservation. Dinner reservations at the #47 Best Restaurant in the World without lifting a finger? Yes please! I’ll take that! So at 7pm on Sunday, I set off for Yountville, CA to ensure I arrived early for the 8:45pm reservation. 
Prior to our dinner, I had done plenty of research including reading people’s experiences online and talking to friends about their experiences. I wanted to arrive prepared for our $270 8-course tasting menu at this 3 Michelin Star restaurant. Turns out, there are a number of “secrets” you will learn about if you do your homework.

First of all, non-alcoholic beverages are included in the $270, which also already includes service fee. When we were seated we were only offered water, wine, and beer. However, if you check the very last page of the wine list, you’ll notice a listing of non-alcoholic drinks. Though we opted to get a bottle of wine, the non-alcoholic drinks did looked quite tasty. 

Hibiscus Soda

I chose to give the Hibiscus Soda a try. My glass was brought out with an ounce of deep crimson hibiscus juice and an actual hibiscus. The waiter asked me to tell him when to stop as he poured club soda into the glass. The result was a very refreshingly cool drink with a hint of sweetness.


Several complimentary bites are served to start off your meal. Our first was a Cornet– salmon tartare with sweet red onion creme fraiche, which was wrapped in a perfectly folded little white napkin. I took a bite of the cornet, gingerly peeled away the napkin from the rest and finished it with a second bite. It was a magical moment. My taste buds experienced all kinds of amazing sensations that words cannot even begin to describe. I was ready for this sensation to continue as we moved on to the next complimentary bite: the Gougers–a brioche oozing with melted cheesy goodness. 

“Oysters and Pearls”
“Sabayon” of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar
Next up was the official first course off the tasting menu. I cannot say that I am a huge fan of caviar, but the combination of the oysters and caviar with tapioca was divine.

Hen Egg Custard with a Ragout Perigord Truffles
 Secret #2: There are menu items that do not cost additional, but that you have to request for in order to get it. This signature Hen Egg Custard dish is one of them. Served in an egg shell with a chive crisp, the creamy custard and truffles complemented each other well. This was my favorite dish, so I am glad I did my research and found out about this beforehand.

Butter Service
Next came the butter service. To the left is an unsalted Californian butter and to the right is a salted Vermont butter. Hands down, the salted Vermont butter was the winner in my book.


Garden Kohlrabi Salad
Compressed Hosui Pear, Ruby Beets, Burgundy Amaranth and Juniper-Infused Creme Fraiche
 Apparently, Thomas Keller’s vision of a “salad” is completely different than the leafy greens that I think of when someone says “salad”. This dish was good, but not great. I suppose that’s how they get you for not ordering the “Hand-Cut Tagliatelle”, which is served with Shaved White Truffles from Alba. The Tagliatelle could have been a replacement for the salad at an additional $175 supplemental cost to the $270.


We were then offered a signature bread, the Pain au Lait, which is from Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery down the street. It was served crisp and warm so the butter melted perfectly on it.

Sauteed Fillet of Mediterranean “Loup de Mer”
Caramelized Garden Cabbage, Glazed Turnips, Applewood-Smoked Bacon, Watercress and Dark Raisin “Mostarda”
 I had high hopes for this dish given there was bacon in it and everything with bacon has to taste good! Sadly, it was flavorful and tasty, but did not have the same effect on my taste sensations as the earlier dishes.


“Georges Bank Sea Scallop “Poelee”
Toasted Basmati Rice, Celery Root Confit, Glazed Carrots, Garden Dill and “Sauce Blanquette”

Course #4 was a perfectly cooked scallop served with creamy Basmati rice. Topped off with dill, this dish was another one of my favorites.

“Rillette” of Four Story Hill Farm Poularde
Spice-Poached French Prunes, Garden Salsify, Young Onions, and Sugar Pie Pumpkin Puree

The poularde and prunes married together so well, I did not mind that the pumpkin puree barely had a hint of pumpkin flavor. For those who, like me, do not know what a poularde is, it is a young hen that has been spayed for fattening, 

More Bread

I get the feeling the servers are watching you VERY closely. I mentioned wishing there was more bread to clear off my palate between courses. Not 5 seconds passed before a server arrived with a basket of bread options. I chose a pretzel roll and a multigrain roll. 

Broken Arrow Ranch Venison
Wildflower Honey-Poached Cranberries, Toasted Oats, Creamed Parsnips, Garden Celery and Cumberland Jus

For course #6, there was an option to order the Charcoal-Grilled Japanese Wagyu for a $100 supplement. We chose to stick with the venison and boy am I glad we did. I ordered my venison medium rare. The sauces and accompanying ingredients on this dish paired well together resulting in a melt-in-your mouth deliciousness. 

Andante Dairy “Acapella”
Braeburn Apples, Compressed Treviso, Crispy Chestnut Tuile, and Hadley Orchard Medjool Dates 

Soft, creamy cheese with slivers of fruit pieces. Always a great combination.

“Assortment of Desserts”

The first of our dessert assortment was a biscuit atop a light, apricot sauce.

This was followed by a dulce de lece ice cream served over a crumble.

Next was a chocolate cake accompanied by a sugar crisp and meringue. 

“Coffee and Doughnuts”
Another “secret”, yet not so secret item is Thomas Keller’s famous dessert of cinnamon-sugar doughnut holes served with a chilled espresso ice cream semifreddo. Again, this dessert is something you have to ask for and costs nothing additional. This was by far my favorite dessert. A few of the other “Assortment of Desserts” were also brought out at this time including 2 macarons, a red velvet and some sort of tea-flavored one, along with chocolate covered macadamia nuts.


Our server then brought out a wooden box of assorted truffles. I chose the peanut butter and jelly, mint, and the olive oil. I ended up not being able to eat another bite and asked the server if I could pack my truffles. She offered to also pack the macaroons and remaining macadamia nuts. SCORE! Present to take home!

At the end of our 3.5 hour meal we were presented with these short bread cookies in a beautiful tin box to take home. I also requested a copy of the menu. How else can you remember what you ate from the daily changing menu?! The menus came in a nice folder along with a booklet of French Laundry purveyors. To end our experience, we received a tour of the kitchen and got to see the staff planning the dinner menu for three days out. According to the hostess, the kitchen staff work every 3 days. After our kitchen tour, we headed back to the car to make our trek back home–full-bellied and happy!

So what are my thoughts overall?
The meal was fantastic and my taste buds were dancing. The staff, however, was not as attentive as I would have thought. Granted, we looked much younger than most of the other folks dining that evening, this still was not enough of a reason to “overlook” us. Will I be back again? Maybe one day, but probably not anytime soon. My wallet and my stomach will need a bit of recovery time!

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  • Reply Anonymous November 2, 2013 at 8:34 am

    Awesome write up!

  • Reply Frederick Mack November 3, 2013 at 2:05 am

    Amazing write up. Thank you for the heads up on all the inside secrets to obtaining menu items most people would just oversee. The venison you reviewed sounds like something to die for. I will definitely try it one day.

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