Shortly before we moved away from the bay area this summer, we had the opportunity to dine at The French Laundry, Thomas Keller’s iconic Napa Valley restaurant that is the recipient of three Michelin stars and is regularly named among the best restaurants in the world. We’d been to plenty of excellent restaurants in our five years in California, but I’m so glad we saved The Big One for our final days. Our meal here was the perfect to bid farewell to a wonderful chapter in our lives and to toast to the beginning of our Midwest adventure.
We had a lunch reservation, which was perfect for us since the meal takes three hours and we had a two hour drive home ahead of us afterwards. We started with two amuse bouches: a perfectly gooey Gruyere cheese puff and the famous salmon cornet, which is basically a tiny, savory ice cream cone with salmon tartare and onion creme fraiche. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about the cornet, since salmon tartare is not normally my favorite thing (or something I eat at all, to be honest), but I devoured it and could easily have eaten 10 more.
Our first course was the famous “Oysters and Pearls.” As revered as this is on the internet, I was apprehensive because I had never had caviar before and I don’t normally like oysters, but this was an incredible dish that is simply one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. The rich, buttery sauce paired perfectly with the briny oysters and caviar and I would have licked the plate if I weren’t in such a fancy restaurant. The pearl serving spoon is a cute touch as well. I’m already dreaming about a visit to Chef Keller’s NYC restaurant, Per Se, just so I can have this dish again.
Our second course was a Hawaiian Hearts of Peach Palm salad with melons, peppers and cashews. This wasn’t one of my favorite courses, simply because none of the ingredients do much for me, but it was certainly an unique combination with an interesting flavor and texture.
At this point we were served a warm, crusty brioche bread and soft, creamy butter. It might seem a bit silly to rave about bread and butter, but I’ve had a lot of it, in all sorts of restaurants, and this was bread & butter perfection.
Our third course, Sole Aux Crevettes, was a roll of fish filled with a shrimp paste. The fish itself was good but unmemorable, but I loved the cauliflower cream sauce and fried bits of cauliflower it was served over, which tasted like the best cauliflower bisque I’ve ever had.
Our fourth course, Butter Poached Maine Lobster with tomatoes, squash, and corn. Lobsters and corn are two of my favorite foods, so I knew this would be a highlight and indeed it was. While I didn’t find anything particularly innovative about the dish, it was well-executed and as delicious as it sounded.
The fifth course was White Quail with beets, onions, mushrooms and truffle sauce. I really started hitting a wall at this point. I have done successfully finished longer tasting menus, but the food at The French Laundry is so incredibly rich, it was hard to get through more than a few courses. So I didn’t enjoy the quail quite as much as I would have if it had been earlier in the meal, but I did note that it was incredibly tender and I really enjoyed the sauce too.
The sixth course was Herb Roasted Lamb with beans, potatoes, lettuce, and bearnaise suace. This was definitely my least favorite of all the courses. I found the lamb too gamey. Admittedly, lamb is not my favorite meat, but I’ve had versions of it I enjoyed much more. I also unfortunately forgot to snap a photo of this dish.
Finally, our seventh course and last of the savory courses was a goat cheese that came with an incredible walnut shortbread.
Just when I thought the meal was wrapping up (Indeed the only thing left on the menu was “Assortment of Desserts”), it was like a whole other tasting menu began. We were brought three separate plates that each could have been a stand alone dessert course. I don’t have the details about these since they weren’t printed on the menu but I believe they were (in the order shown below): a raspberry and vanilla cake, butter popcorn ice cream over sponge cake, and a chocolate and caramel cup. Of these the butter popcorn ice cream was by far the most memorable. It’s one of the most unique things I’ve ever eaten, and it was heavenly.
After these three desserts I thought surely the substantive dessert courses were over, but the next thing that was put on our table was Chef Keller’s signature “coffee and donuts” which is a coffee cup filled with a cappuccino semifreddo and fresh cinnamon sugar donuts. This was the other big highlight of the dessert courses for me.
Even after all this, the desserts were far from over. We were treated to an endless parade of mignardises, including macarons, chocolate covered macademia nuts, and chocolate truffles, along with tins of shortbread to take home that made wonderful breakfasts for a couple of days afterwards.
In addition to all our boxed up desserts, we left the restaurant with copies of our personalized menu signed by Chef de Cuisine David Breedon, a copy of their magazine, a booklet about the purveyors of all the ingredients in our meal, and personalized French Laundry clothespins and cookie tins — all told, many great souvenirs of an incredible experience!
I wish I had some magical advice to share about how to get a reservation. The truth is I just persistently called every day at 10 am for about a week (they take reservations two months out at 10 am Pacific time), and we were flexible with when we could dine, since we lived semi-locally. I will say that you should keep dialing until you get through to a human, even if you think it’s far too late in the day to get a table. The day I got our reservation I probably didn’t get connected to a person until 10:45 or 11, and I assumed we would have no luck, but miraculously they still had a table available. Despite what you might think that weekends are more popular, I think it’s actually easier to get a table on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday because the lunch service means there are significantly more tables available for the day. If I had to guess, I’d say Friday is probably the easiest day because of the combination of there being more tables available and it not really being the weekend yet, but that’s pure conjecture. I’ve heard good things about credit card concierge services but have not been successful with that myself. Good luck! If you’ve had success getting a reservation at The French Laundry, please share your experience below, I’d love to hear how others have succeeded.