Special Feature: Products Sally Recommends
The French Laundry
6640 Washington Street at Creek Street
Yountville, CA 94599 707/944-2380
Cuisine: California with French influences
Pluses: Chef Keller is 1997 James Beard outstanding American chef award recipient; Creative use of ingredients
Minuses: Very hard to get a reservation at the last minute; No ∑ la carte menu
Don't Miss: Coffee and Doughnuts for dessert; any of the tasting menus
Prices: Very Expensive
Overview: Dinner nightly 5:30 p.m. - 9:30 p.m. (until 9 p.m. Sundays) Lunch Friday-Sunday 11:30 a.m. - 1:45 p.m.
Reservations accepted two months to the date in advance
Outdoor dining patio and garden
Convenient street parking
Visa, MasterCard and American Express accepted
In keeping with the low-key spirit of the town of Yountville in California's Napa Valley, the French Laundry, in a building which was built as a steam laundry at the turn of the century, has no sign. Look closely and you might spy the address posted on one corner, but otherwise, you just have to know where it is.
For dinner there are three choices: a fixed ten-course "Chef's Tasting Menu," featuring many of Chef Keller's specialty dishes; a five-course menu, with choices for each course; and a vegetarian version of the five-course menu. At lunch a five-course menu, with choices for each course, is served.
Since his arrival at the French Laundry in 1994, chef Thomas Keller has gradually modified the kitchen, the dining areas and the garden to make the restaurant work better with his style of cooking, all the while receiving rave reviews for his imaginative cuisine. In 1997 Keller received the James Beard award for outstanding American chef. He has received many awards since that time.
Realizing that I had not indulged myself in a meal at the French Laundry in a few years, I suggested to my husband that we splurge and celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary here. Much to my delight, I enjoyed what was the best meal I have ever eaten in the United States and, perhaps, anywhere.
Adventuress that I am, I went for the ten-course "Chef's Tasting Menu" which included Chilled English Pea Soup infused with white truffle oil and served with a Parmesan Crisp; Poached Maine Lobster with baby corn, "Trompette Royale" mushrooms and Concord grape glaze; and Saddle of Venison wrapped in Applewood smoked bacon with caramelized Savoy cabbage and Gravenstein apples. There was a cheese course, followed by three (!!!) desserts: Yellow Nectarine Sorbet, "Gteau Marjolaine," and, with coffee, geometric-shaped chocolates wrapped in colorful foil. My only regret about ordering the Tasting Menu was that chef Keller's signature dessert, Coffee and Doughnuts (cappuccino semifreddo with cinnamon-sugar doughnuts), was not one of the included desserts; I made sure my husband ordered it and gave me a taste!
In the manner of fine restaurants in France, we were presented with complementary appetizers to whet our appetites. This amuse-gueule, as it is called in French, was a shrimp concoction. At other tables we observed different complementary appetizers being served...I can only guess that these are the whim of the chef at that moment, a good use of extra ingredients, or a little bit of both. At the end of the meal, we were treated to an additional complimentary dessert -- a Sweet Carrot Pot de Cr»me, served in a tiny covered white pot.
Each course was beautifully presented. We marveled at the array of China patterns to complement each dish. We spent nearly four hours enjoying this leisurely meal and did not feel we had overeaten...the combination of small servings for each course and the slow pace makes it all possible. The French Laundry seats only 60 people; it is wise to reserve in advance.
The cost of dining at the French Laundry is comparable to that of dining at a three-star restaurant in France; I found the food and ambiance even more enjoyable. I am eagerly looking forward to my next celebration here.