First off, let me say that I’m sorry Chris you missed out on a great food experience, but we fully sympathize and understand why you chose not to be there. Chris, who are you anyway?
Even though our trip has undergone many, many revisions and the timing of when to be where had military grade accuracy, one date was rock solid. The French Laundry. As soon as we had decided to do it, we were confronted with the challenge of what the best reservation tactics would be. Californian friends and food bloggers told us to not set our expectations too high – it’s (still) pretty difficult to secure a table at America’s no.1 restaurant. Consulting Google brought different strategies to light, one of them, using Open Table, didn’t work for us. So I tried calling TFL directly, long, long distance. Got through within 10 minutes of speed-dialing, but was put on hold immediately – ahhh, darn, where’s my credit card? Five minutes went by – meanwhile I was holding tight onto my credit card – then 10 and 15. Had they forgotten about me? That’s when I heard a sudden click and somebody introduced herself as part of The French Laundry Reservation Service. Five minutes later a confirmation email had popped up in my Inbox – it was official, we were going to The French Laundry in September!
From the outside The French Laundry doesn’t look spectacular, we were more impressed by their vegetable patch right across the street (which will have to make way for a new Inn, or so the rumors say). Moments later we found ourselves seated on the first floor next to two parties of four and across another party of two. Our modest attempt to inquire about non-flash-discrete-photography was acknowledged with a positive nod, followed by a few flash shots at the table next to us. So there.
Reception and general service were impeccable, friendly but not overly communicative. That latter part was gladly covered by the last party yet to arrive in our room. Up until we enjoyed our first three courses in an atmosphere you’d expect from a three star restaurant, then a family of six
crashed the party were seated and clearly demonstrated vocal superiority from the get-go:
So picking up on the opening line, Chris couldn’t be there with the rest of the fam since he was the boyfriend of the twenty some year old daughter who he has just dumped. Especially dad couldn’t stop but making fun of Chris who was missing out on the feast. Which soon enough caused the girl to start crying. Big tears. Wow, this is stuff soaps are made of. Almost like roadkill you don’t want to, but you have to peek. It gets better. So the daughter gets up and walks around the table to be petted and calmed by mom, meanwhile the stand-in guy started selling himself to the family.
For all we know today, he has received various scholarships and only needs to pay back a 30 grant loan. He seems to do well, with a GPA of 4.2 – what a stud. Outside of the family tragic we learned the one or other inside news about Charlize Theron and a homophobic senator who’s name I can’t recall. If you’re thinking now wait a second I thought this was about food, I completely agree. While the other tables obviously found it extremely irritating, we tried to make the best out of it and almost enjoyed the extra entertainment. The couple across from our table (could have been a Harvard professor and Helen Mirren) was definitely not amused and decisively showed its disapproval, but the staff continued to serve the table and carried it off well.
Chef’s tasting menu:
CAULIFLOWER “PANNA COTTA””
with Beau Soleil Oyster Glaze and Sterling White Sturgeon Caviar
MOULARD DUCK “FOIE GRAS EN TERRINE”
Summerset Peaches, Whole Grain Mustard Aigre Doux, Arugula and “Foie Gras Genoise”
Ragout of Yukon Gold Potatoes, English Cucumbers, “Ikura”, Kendall Farms Crème Fraiche and Garden Dill
SWEET BUTTER-POACHED MAINE LOBSTER
Brentwood Sweet Corn, Swiss Chard and Applewood Smoked Bacon
FOUR STORY HILL FARM “POULARDE PARFUMÉE À L’AIL ET AUX THYM”
Wilted Spinach, Cippolini Onion and Caramelized Onion Jus
BOUILLON-POACHED ELYSIAN FIELDS FARM LAMB RIBEYE
Toasted Barley, Hen of the Woods Mushrooms, Thumbelina Carrots and Sauce Bordelaise
ANDANTE DAIRY “ACAPELLA”
Celery Branch, Perigord Truffle Vinaigrette and Grated K&J Orchard Chestnuts
Sultana “Financier”, Verjus Foam and Raisin “Coulis”
“DÉLICE AU CHOCOLAT ET À LA MENTHE”
with Amedei Chuao Chocolate-Mint “Parfait” and Mint Syrup
My favorite courses that day were the grape sorbet as well as the foie gras, Oliver would have picked either the cauliflower panna cotta or the lobster. They served some really fantastic and exceptional courses, but looking at it at large – e.g. the Poularde was sort of a let-down – not the totally-of-your-feet-whipping-fantastic-kind. If you ever decide to cough up the extra dough to spoil yourself with a visit to The French Laundry, make sure to reset your expectations to a normal level and simply enjoy great food. And I still wonder if guest management plays a role in getting a 3rd star? The behavior of the party of six was inappropriate for a high-class restaurant and clearly narrowing the pleasure of the other guests in the room, should this be tolerated by the staff? Or are you – as a guest – supposed to intervene yourself?