After 20 years, I finally revisited The French Laundry.
The French Laundry, in Yountville, California, has become one of the most iconic restaurants in the world. Chef Thomas Keller opened the quaint wine country cottage restaurant back in 1994 and it’s become an acclaimed fine dining restaurant (has held three Michelin stars since 2007) where people travel half way across the world to experience his food. As a small child, I visited The French Laundry with my parents a few years after opening when the tasting menu was only a mere $45. The first time I visited, I didn’t get a tasting menu and supposedly I devoured my parents food. They made sure that for our second time dining there they ordered me my own tasting menu and apparently I loved every bite.Nowadays getting a reservation at The French Laundry is almost impossible. I luckily snagged a reservation almost four months ago to celebrate our anniversary this month. I had been looking forward to dine at a restaurant where so many esteemed chefs have worked such as Grant Achatz of Alinea, René Redzepi of Noma, and my boss Corey Lee of Benu. I was excited to finally dine at The French Laundry and taste their refined French American cuisine where they offer a nine course chef’s tasting menu with a few additional supplements (they also have a vegetarian menu).
The restaurant itself is small with two separate dining areas, upstairs and downstairs, and we were seated downstairs near a small window. We were lucky enough to be served by Tommy’s former coworker, Robert, who greeted us with a glass of Krug Champagne, not too shabby. We also got a specially designed menu just for us that included some supplements and completely different desserts than anyone else! We actually didn’t receive the menu until the end of the meal so every dish that came out was a surprise.The fanciest ritz cracker I’ve ever had. The crackers almost had a flaky texture and the caramelized onion filling had an intense sweetness that was just delicious. One of The French Laundry’s signature dishes is the salmon tartare cornet and while this version had fluke, it didn’t disappoint. The buttery cornet was filled with tangy crème fraîche on the bottom and topped with finely minced fluke tartare and fresh chives. A heavenly bite. An intensely flavored velvety squash soup with fragrant shavings of black winter truffles. Simple yet satisfying. Another The French Laundry signature dish that left me wanting more. Plump island creek oysters with creamy briny white surgeon caviar lay on a warm sabayon that had pops from the tapioca pearls. Pure bliss. While the assortment of these small dishes were beautiful, this was my least favorite course of the meal. The mediterranean rouget had an intense fish flavor that I didn’t care for and the steelhead trout roe was too firm and didn’t pop in my mouth like it should. I felt like all these dishes simply lacked flavor and didn’t excite me. Another stunning dish. A silky smooth egg custard reminiscent of chawanmushi with a luscious French black truffle mixture on top and a crispy tuille. Decadent and divine. Almost like a salad course, the meaty earthy beet was dressed with whole grain mustard vinaigrette and various bitter greens. A classic combination of flavors. Seasoning my foie gras with each salt was so much fun. Each salt came from a different part of the world and was unique in taste and texture. Rich creamy foie gras was accompanied by fresh ripe figs and sunchoke. The coffee date emulsion underneath the various condiments was slightly overpowering in coffee flavor for my liking. Of course foie gras should be eaten with warm bread and we luckily got two rolls each. Succulent lobster pieces were nestled in a frothy rich saffron emulsion and an earthy parsnip purée underneath. I wasn’t able to taste any vanilla flavoring since saffron has a strong distinctive characteristic. I absolutely love any type of laminated bread. Those beautiful flaky buttery layers of delicious goodness just has me mesmerized. However, their brioche lacked those exquisite layers and was completely empty in the middle. The butter was good but I swear nothing tops Lazy Bear’s cheesy funky butter. I loved the comforting French green lentil ragoût with sweet pumpkin cubes and crisp watercress. However, the pork itself was difficult to cut and slightly on the tough side. This grilled Japanese wagyu definitely made up for the previous pork dish. Honestly nothing compares to wagyu beef with that beautiful intertwined fat that gives the beef such an intense flavor and richness. Underneath the beef was charred garden cabbage and the potato on the side was stuffed with unctuous braised brisket. The sticky red wine shallot jus just tied everything together. A great finale to the savory courses. If you know me, you know I am obsessed with cheese. Holy shit…this was amazing. Essentially this was their take on a cheese course with a golden brown warm gougère stuffed with Etude cheese (goat’s milk cheese with earthy flavor) and a luxurious black winter truffle fondue. I wanted another! Cutely packaged homemade kisses with even a “happy anniversary” tag inside. Adorable and thoughtful. Fruit tarts are right up my alley as I’m not much of a chocolate lover. This delicate elegant tart had a strawberry cream topped with slightly candied cape gooseberries that popped in my mouth. Perfect quenelles of the most luscious silky smooth sherbet ever. The whipped garden honey on top was a great compliment to the cooling sherbet. This was my least favorite out of the desserts dishes. The chocolate pudding itself was rich, creamy, and scrumptious but the addition of avocado and truffle just didn’t work for me. I ended up eating the avocado and truffle together and then finishing my chocolate pudding by itself. A delightfully delicious coffee semifreddo was topped with an airy frothy cream. Such a cute presentation. Loved the mini donut that was served with the coffee semifreddo. A fun mix of various desserts to end the meal. Lastly we were offered various homemade chocolate and of course we tried one of each (we shared). My favorites were the passionfruit and hibiscus chocolate. After our meal, we received copies of our menu and we also got our order ticket which was a fun touch since we both work in the industry. We also received various items to bring home which also made the experience that much more special and thoughtful.
Before leaving, Robert gave us a tour of the wine cellar and kitchen. They recently spent 10 million dollars remodeling various areas such as the kitchen which has a sleek modern appearance, a 16,000 bottle wine cellar, a new office, and solar paneling. The renovation took more than two years and I was excited that I was able to see the final outcome.
After some time to reflect on my meal, I’m happy that I finally experienced The French Laundry. Was it the best meal I’ve ever had? No. I still feel that my experience at Benu last year was superior in terms of technique, flavor, and overall excitement. Perhaps that’s because I’ve dined at several high end French, American, and Italian inspired restaurants so the menu wasn’t anything “revolutionary” whereas Benu’s Korean inspired meal was something I had never experienced before. Of course going into this meal, I knew the food was going to be more classic and the majority of the dishes were prepared excellently with finesse. The fact that we recieved a special menu with various supplements such as foie gras, wagyu, and a plethora of dishes with black winter truffle made the meal even more special and personal. The French Laundry is a renowned restaurant and I can definitely see why it’s been so popular for over two decades. From the care and attention that’s put into the food using only the best ingredients, to the impeccable service, and the inviting atmosphere makes it a restaurant that every foodie needs to experience once in their lifetime. That’s why my overall rating is a 8-8.5/10.