The French Laundry is the holy mecca of American fine dining. It’s the kitchen where a lot of American top chefs graduated. Corey Lee was the Executive Chef at French Laundry before he opened up Benu. Grant Achatz of Alinea is another decorated chef who came out of the French Laundry kitchen. It’s the restaurant where you go to get your foodie card validated. Well, if you can get reservations.
The French Laundry epitomizes fine dining, class and luxury. The Chef/Owner is Thomas Keller. He’s the only American chef to currently have two Michelin 3* restaurants (i.e., Per Se and The French Laundry) and both have been listed on the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best restaurants list for nearly a decade. Here are French Laundry’s accolades for the past two years:
- 3 Michelin stars since the beginning of time
- #86 on the San Pellegrino 2016 World’s 50 Best Restaurants
- #50 on the San Pellegrino 2015 World’s 50 Best Restaurants
- #44 on the San Pellegrino 2014 World’s 50 Best Restaurants
- #47 on the San Pellegrino 2013 World’s 50 Best Restaurants
- #1 on the San Pellegrino 2003/2004 World’s 50 Best Restaurants
Let’s say this. If you think you’ve done fine dining, I will tell you have not until you dine at French Laundry. Fine dining does not include an a la carte menu. It’s a tasting menu with service that resembles the ballet or a New York Opera. The service was great and the way they dropped off the dishes were like a dance routine. It’s Mikhail Baryshnikov ballet not Jabbawockeez.
Anyway, there’s an expectation to French Laundry and standards are high for people. However, I didn’t come in with any expectation as usual. I was happy I got my reservations on the day I wanted on my first try. Plus, I was ecstatic to make my reservations after having to jump on another plane to another city at the last minute due to flight delays.
Long story short. My flight was supposed to land in SFO at 4:50 PM. I hopped on the plane at 3:15 PM with a slight buzz, took a nap then woke up at 4:15 PM realizing the plane was still on the ground. Everyone had to de-broad the plane and be re-routed to different flights. I had to hop on a flight to SJC 5 minutes before take off to make my reservation cause the other flights would not gotten me to Napa in time. In other words, there was nothing on this Earth that was going to stop me from making my French Laundry reservations.
Now, the food. There was a vegetarian tasting menu and the Chef’s tasting menu. My friends and I went with the Chef’s tasting menu. I’m going to mention only my favorites and not the 6 courses of dessert that came at the end of the meal. One of my friends went to town on the dessert section and she even asked for a to go box. It’s a woman’s sweet dream.
- Oysters & Pearls – This is Thomas Keller’s signature dish and served with “Sabayon” of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar. I had it at Per Se and would have to say French Laundry does it better. The ingredients taste a lot fresher. The dish was the first on the menu, served warm and very soothing. It’s oysters, caviar and tapioca. The caviar had no hint of salt, the tapioca was silky and the oysters had a rich oceanic flavor. Easily in my top 10 memorable dishes I’ve ever had. I could eat this dish everyday but who couldn’t eat oysters and caviar everyday?
- Foie Gras Au Torchon – The supplemental dish came with Riesling Poached Bartlett Pears, Crystalized Pear Chip and Red Crimson Pear Marmalade. The slow poached Foie Gras was served with 6 different salts from around the world. It was prepared the same way as Per Se but the garnish/toppings were different in the Fall. It had a sweet white chocolate layer and topped a thin Crystalized Pear Chip. The creamy rich Foie Gras was amazing and turned into butter as you chew it.
- Sweet Buttery Poached Alaskan King Crab – The savory portion of the meal started with this dish. It’s a piece of Alaskan King Crab cooked in sweet butter, which made it very delicate. I didn’t need a knife to cut it and used the side of my fork. It had a very soft texture and strong robust flavor to it even though it was very delicate.
Lastly, French Laundry is one of those memorable restaurants that leave a lasting impression on you. It’s a restaurant that lived up to the hype if you enjoy subtle flavors and textures. It’s a restaurant that put American fine dining on the map. It’s a restaurant that should be on your bucket list. It’s a restaurant on top of its game for years passed and for years to come. It’s a restaurant I can’t wait to go back.
- Service - 9/109/10
- Presentation - 8/108/10
- Flavors - 8/108/10
- Decor - 8/108/10
- Ambiance - 8.5/108.5/10
The French Laundry is America’s Fine Dining Holy Mecca and Chef Thomas Keller has been the poster child of American cuisine for over 20 years. The American French restaurant has stuck to its core of classic and traditional French cuisine over the years as other restaurants in its class modernized their dishes. The French Laundry will always be an American institution and should be on everyone’s bucket list.