Our first real introduction to the French Laundry was many years ago on Anthony Bourdain’s first show: A Cooks Tour. We’d browsed the legendary cookbook before, but at the time couldn’t really grasp it’s magnitude. At the time, the restaurant held the number one spot in the world, a concept that simple line cooks in culinary school couldn’t fathom.
Fast forward nearly a decade, and Kylee drops one of the biggest surprises on me, several months before my birthday. Now, getting reservations at multi-starred Michelin restaurants is always a little tricky – you don’t simply call ahead and book a time. This is especially the fact when said restaurant is one of the worlds Top 20 (number 14 at the time to be specific).
Typically, the reservation lines open for one hour each morning. If you’re lucky enough to get through in that window, you will receive a reservation exactly two months to the day you called. After trying for weeks to get through, Kylee was able to use a connection of an old Chef she once worked for. She was able to reach The Laundry through another line, and secured us a reservation.
A dream we’d never have expected to happen was going to come true.
Heading to Yountville
Following several days of stuffing ourselves with oysters and crab head on the streets of San Francisco, we picked up our rental car headed across the bay. The Golden Gate Bridge disappeared in the fog behind us as we drove up towards the Napa Valley.
After checking into the beautiful bed and breakfast Kylee set up for us, we headed out to explore the town. We still had several hours before our reservation, so we sampled some wine and checked out the sights.
Walking passed the French Laundry that afternoon, we saw a couple of the cooks picking fresh produce and herbs from the large garden on their property. It’s those subtle things that really make a restaurant stand out.
Onto the Good Part
Sitting down that evening, we were only half prepared for what was to come. First of all, this is the epitome of fine dining. The dress code is strict. I personally misunderstood the fine details of this, which was the only discomfort of the entire experience. Knowing the code was strict, I wore a full suit. This was perfectly acceptable for the occasion, only I didn’t realize that you must keep your jacket on during the entire meal. It was quite warm. Had I known this before, I would have opted for a sport coat over a lighter shirt rather than a suit.
What makes restaurants like the French Laundry stand out, is the way their menu is laid out. Rather than ordering one or two large plates, you sample smaller bites from ten or twelve. Thomas Keller was one of the greats to revolutionize this form of tasting menu. He believed that with this method, each bite is just as profound as the last, and just before you begin to get use to the flavours, you’re hit with something entirely different. Your senses are always shocked.
Here are a sampling of our favourites (out of 13!) from that evening.
Beginning with a punch to the face, a French Laundry staple: Oysters and Pearls. A “Sabayon” of pearl tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar
One of the $50 supplements we chose: “Gnocchi” with Jamón Ibérico, razor clams, Meyer lemon and Australian black truffles.
“Pavé” of Mediterranean Turbot with potatoes, leeks, hazelnut, truffles and beet emulsion.
Butter-poached Maine lobster tail with a cauliflower puree, pickled eggplant and an almond vinaigrette.
Four Story Hill Farm Poularde, figs, pole beans, smoked sunflower puree, and brown butter sauce.
Four hours later, completely stuffed and quite drunk, we clear up the bill and begin to leave. Before reaching the door, our waiter asks if we’d like to visit the kitchen.
“Of course we would!”
Although we’ll likely never cook professionally in such a legendary kitchen, it was amazing to stand there and soak in the atmosphere.