The French Laundry is Thomas Keller’s 3-Michelin star rated Yountville restaurant which only serves prix fixe 9-course tasting menus. There’s the decadent chef’s tasting menu, and for the less carnivorous, there’s the tasting of vegetables. I had been wanting to visit The French Laundry for a long, long time. This year, as my mom and I share a birthday and were taking a trip to California to celebrate, was finally the time. Reservations are tough to get, so on August 4th (two months in advance) I found myself repeatedly calling the Napa restaurant to try to get it. All I was getting was busy signals. Finally, on my 52nd dial, I got through, and we had our birthday dinner reservations!
The restaurant is located in an old building which used to function as a French steam laundry (hence the name). The building’s history is paid tribute to in a number of ways, from the wooden clothespins on the napkins to the laundry symbols embossed on the light fixtures. The interior is classic and understated – wood floors, chairs and staircase; white linens; a small flower arrangement on each table.
A glass of Schramsberg “Cuvee French Laundry” Extra Brut, made especially for the restaurant kicked things off.
Salmon cornet and gruyere-filled brioche
A great pair of amuse-bouches to whet the appetite. The brioche was warm and soft with a creamy gruyere interior. The cookie-like cornet was filled with deliciously fresh salmon tartare.
“Oysters and Pearls”
Sabayon of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar
In a word – amazing. The salty caviar went so well with the creamy tapioca and the rich oysters.
Salad of Hawaiian Hearts of Peach Palm
Compressed Persian Cucumbers, Ruby Grapefruit, Greek Yogurt and Dill Pollen
The salad course was light and fresh. I especially liked the Parmesan crisps served with it.
Bread and Butter
I usually don’t like to fill up on bread, but these were very good. I really enjoyed the salted brioche, it had an almost croissant-like texture.
Sauteed Filet of Gulf Coast Pompano
Garden Radishes, Cerignola Olives, Brokaw Avocado Puree, Cilantro Shoots, and Pimenton Emulsion
The fish was good with a nice, crispy sear. I particularly liked the pimenton (paprika) emulsion, which gave the fish a nice smoky flavour. The radishes provided a fresh, crisp bite to offset the fattiness of the fish.
Sweet Butter-Poached Main Lobster
Garden Sunchokes, Young Onions, Toasted Piedmont Hazelnuts, Celery Leaves, and Butternut Squash Puree
The claw meat was sweet and tender, though I found the tail meat a little bit tough. The butternut squash puree was a nice accent.
I did have a minor complaint about the cutlery we were given at this point. Up until the beef course, we were always given a fork and butter knife. A butter knife is really not the optimal tool for cutting into a lobster tail, a real knife would have been appreciated.
Thomas Farms Squab
Cervelas de Lyon, Garden Salsify, Pearson Farms Pecans, Watercress and Wild Oregon Huckleberry Jus
Boy, do I love squab. Somehow they put pork sausage under the skin, which made this rich little bird even more decadent.
Charcoal-Grilled Japanese Wagyu
Fork-Crush New Crop Potatoes, Glazed Garden Carrots, Pommes Maxim, Pea Tendrils and Sauce Charcutiére.
Wow. This was my first time having Wagyu beef and it did not disappoint. It was rich, intensely flavourful and practically melted in my mouth. This whole plate was perfection from the crispy potato ring to the decadent, gherkin-laced sauce.
Andante Dairy “Legato”
Spice-Poached Quince, Garden Fennel, Riesling Gelee and Crispy Lavash
The cheese was a soft, ripened cow’s milk cheese. It was good, but what really stood out for me was the fennel and riesling gelee accompaniments.
And now on to the first of five(!) desserts. These weren’t listed on the menu, so I’ll do my best to remember/guess exactly what they were.
The first was a pear dessert. It featured a compote of pears on the bottom with a creamy pear mousse and topped with a madeleine. I really liked this, it was nice and light.
Rum & raisin ice cream with carrot cake. This was not my favourite, I didn’t care for the ice cream. The carrot cake and little carrot ball on the side were pretty good though.
Three layer chocolate cake served with caramel and brittle. This cake tasted great, but was a little too heavy for me at this point in the meal. This was the first course I didn’t manage to finish.
Birthday cake! It was a nice soft cheesecake.
Coffee and donuts
I really wish this dessert was served first, as it was my favourite of them all. “Coffee” referred to what I think was a cold, espresso-infused sabayon. It was almost like ice cream, but lighter. The donuts were lovely, soft, warm, and coated with cinnamon and sugar. In addition to this we got macarons, chocolate-covered macadamia nuts, and truffles (I tried the dirty martini flavour). A great end to the meal, even though I was so full.
My birthday dinner at The French Laundry was amazing. Of the 13 courses served (they say 9, but give you so much more), most were impeccable and there was only one dish I can say I wasn’t crazy about. The Oysters and Pearls, Squab, Wagyu and Coffee and Donuts were real standouts for me. The servers were wonderfully accommodating, and everyone who came by the table wished us a happy birthday. I’d love the chance to go back sometime.