Rachel's Food Tourism: The French Laundry
As you all know, I love to cook. However my (and my husband’s) love of food also extends outside our home. Great food tends to be what my husband and I save up for. Some people may save up for theater tickets or a giant TV, we save up to go to the French Laundry. In this new series, I will share some of the amazing restaurants where we’ve dined. Some of them will be fine dining establishments with Michelin stars, others will be a great BBQ joint, or some of the best fried chicken I’ve ever had. I plan on sharing a new place with you every other or month or so and I hope this is something you enjoy!
This one will be about The French Laundry, but first I wanted to say a few things about fine dining. My husband and I are by no means rich. Like I said above, amazing food is a priority so we save money to occasionally enjoy a wonderful meal at world renowned restaurants. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that we are everyday people and our money is as good as the next person’s. We have learned to keep this in mind when going to some of these fancy places. We’ve realized that if we are going to spend this much money, we better make sure it’s what we want! With that in mind, I’ve come up with some tips that I hope are helpful for those of you venturing into the world of fine dining for the first time:
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions– Part of what you’re paying for at a fine dining establishment is impeccable service. This could include anything from recommending a wine pairing, answering a question on how to pronounce something on the menu, or explaining what an ingredient is. Any place that is not willing to answer your questions, is not a place you want to be!
- If you really enjoyed the meal, ask for a copy of the menu- In my experience most places are happy to provide the memento, as it shows just how much you enjoyed their restaurant.
- If having a wine pairing, make notes of the ones you really liked- this way you can have them at home (I’ve even created a wine “wish list” on Pinterest to start keeping track of wines I want to save up for), or enjoy them the next time you’re out.
- Make reservations- I’m sure this probably goes without saying, but I thought I would say it anyway. 🙂
- Find out about the dress code- This is especially crucial if you’re traveling. The last thing you want is to find out the restaurant you’ve been dying to eat at requires a jacket, tie, or other attire. If you look on the website and it’s still not clear, feel free to call the restaurant. We went to several restaurants in Napa that had “Napa Casual” listed as the dress code…not helpful, so we either Googled it or called the place.
- If doing a tasting menu, find out if the wine pairing is included in the price- From the little experience we have in the fine dining realm, there doesn’t seem to be consistency so find out ahead of time. Most of us have to budget for a really nice meal, so you don’t want to get to the restaurant only to find out that the amount you budgeted for doesn’t include wine (that’s the worst!).
- Tell the restaurant ahead of time if you have time constraints- At places with a multi-course tasting menu, you should expect to spend several hours there. If you need to get to a show or something else, make sure the restaurant knows ahead of time.
- Consider getting a taxi/Uber- You want to experience this to the fullest and leave the worrying to someone else. To me that means letting someone else worry about the transportation. This allows to relax on the way to and from the restaurant and also gives you the freedom to decide at the restaurant if you want the wine pairing or not.
Some of these guidelines may seem like common sense, but I’ve made all of these mistakes at least once. Restaurants can be pricey, so I want to make sure you won’t miss out because of details!
Ok, now onto the French Laundry!
We splurged on a trip to Napa Valley for our 5th wedding anniversary last year and ate some of the best food of our lives! The French Laundry was definitely way up on the list of highlights. It has 3 Michelin stars (feel free to read more about this in the link at the beginning of the post) and I can see why! The food was insanely delicious! The service was also impeccable, they made us feel special and catered to our every whim. The dining room was quiet without being eerily so and the tables were spaced so that we didn’t feel like we were on top of our neighbors.
They even had a menu printed out for us to take home with our names and date on it, which was really great! It prompted me to start a scrapbook of all the menus we received on that trip and other great restaurants we’ve been to. It’s a nice way to remember the amazing experience we shared. 🙂
I also splurged and made some additions. I had wine with my meal. The restaurant didn’t do a pairing per se, but instead brought me a few different varieties that would pair with several of the courses. The waiter did give me several options and that seemed to work best for me.
We began the meal with champagne, which was a festive start (you know how I love bubbly!).
Then the waiter brought us an amuse-bouche, which is a small taste of something at the beginning of the meal. For us that was a cone filled with smoked salmon and then these lovely cheese puffs.
It’s hard to know where to go from here! I want to share the whole meal with you guys, but since you see the menu above I feel like that could be a little long-winded. Instead I’m sharing pictures of all the food with highlights of our absolute favorites.
The official first course was the signature “Oysters and Pearls”. It was a savory custard of sorts with oyster and caviar. So indulgent and tasty! While it was creamy, it wasn’t overly heavy and the caviar added the perfect pop of salt.
Even the bread was delicious and it came with an amazing salt set and TWO kinds of butter!
Garden carrot salad, duck fois gras terrine, and yellowtail fillet were all exceptional.
One of my favorites of the meal was the “Rouelle” of Pekin Duck
It was savory and meaty and had an amazing jus on top. That sauce was somehow meaty and nutty in flavor. So delicious!
One of my husband’s favorites was this “Callotte de Bœuf”
It was perfectly cooked (medium rare for my husband) tender and savory beef. The Bordelaise sauce was rich without being overwhelming, kind of like a light beef gravy. The little Cipollini onion that came on the side was also perfectly caramelized, so it melted in your mouth.
Then came the dessert courses, yes that’s right desserts, as in plural! I’m sure you guys know by now how much I love desserts, so I was in pure heaven!
The Desserts Parade (my title, not the restaurant’s, he he) started with this amazing “Moses Sleeper”.
It was like the most refined pear tart you could even imagine! There was a pear kind of gel that somehow tasted juicy and fresh sandwiching a light cream. Then a delicate piece of the most buttery shortbread on the side. Heaven!
Next in the Dessert Parade were 3 additional plated desserts- it was insane (in a good way)
My favorite of the trio was the restaurant’s take on cookies and milk. These people are wizards! There was a delicate crispy chocolate chip cookie on the bottom, topped with ice cream, and that was topped with a thin lacy cookie! There was also a chocolate ganache dessert with olive oil (I know, I know, it sounds bizarre, but it just worked). The third was a cookie with a jam and a light sort of plum gel on the side.
Then just when you think you couldn’t possibly handle more desserts, they come around with a huge box full of handmade truffles, at least eight different flavors. The server comes by your table with tongs and you can choose as many as you want. It took all of the willpower in the universe for me to not just say I wanted one of each (the service was so friendly, I probably could have and no one would’ve batted an eye, mind you!). My husband and I each picked out 2. Of course we chose different flavors, so we would each get to taste four flavors (we Pounds’s are no dummies, he he). Somewhere in there they also brought a nice coffee service.
THEN, the piece de resistance- because we were celebrating our anniversary they brought even MORE sweets!
They gave us Yuzu meringues that were delicate, slightly sweet and a little tart. They also presented us with their take on “coffee and donuts”, which was a coffee semi-freddo and brioche donuts, along with 2 kinds of macaroons and chocolate covered macadamia nuts. I was beside myself with bliss! By this point we were both stuffed to the gills, so we asked if we could take the rest with us. Not only did they package up the remaining macaroons and chocolate covered macadamias we didn’t eat, but they also threw in 2 gorgeous tins of shortbread in a nice French Laundry bag. I still have those tins, but haven’t been able to think of anything worthy enough to put in them.
This meal was luxurious and special in every way. When we left they had a copy of the dated menu and wine list in a nice folder for us to take. The chef even signed the menu! They also gave us a booklet with all of the purveyors all of their ingredients come from, which I thought was pretty neat.
The French Laundry also has a garden where it grows a lot of the produce and herbs it uses. We took a leisurely stroll through the garden after that amazing meal.
I’m sure after all of that, your question is- ok, yeah that sounds great, but how much did it cost? Fair question. The food, wine and tax came to a total of about $1200. I’m sure many of you will balk at that. For us this was a once in a lifetime event and we saved so that we could enjoy it without guilt. I hope you get to do the same someday!
So that’s the first of many more restaurants I hope to share with you. I hope this is something you’ve enjoyed reading about. I’ve also started a Pinterest board with my restaurant goals. Slowly throughout our lives, we’ll get to them.
What restaurants have you been to that left a lasting impression? Do you have any restaurant “goals”. I’d love to hear about it in the comments!