My Love Affair with The French Laundry



My long awaited, much anticipated date with TFL took place on August 19th.  The restaurant had beckoned me for years and I was finally ready for the trip.  The four of us flew to San Francisco and continued on to Napa in a rented Chevy Tahoe.  But like all dates, much preparation had to be done in advance of the actual meeting.

Reservations are nearly  impossible to get!  TFL opens its calendar exactly two months in advance.  I began calling at 12:00 PST, as instructed but after hitting re-dial 52 times (yes I kept track), still no luck.  And I knew my chances were getting slimmer by the passing moment as others got in before me.  This is when American Express Platinum paid off – I called the concierge and 12 hours later, the reservation for six was confirmed.  Many web sites offer tips on how to actually get through to TFL, or how to snag one of the very few tables they release on  Trust me, use the concierge!

Reservations are really impossible to change!  The table for six included my family of four and two friends who joined us.  In the two months between reservation and dinner, two more friends asked to come.  I knew it was a total no-no to reduce the number in the party, but had no idea we couldn’t increase it either.  Any change in the number forces you to release your table and get back in line for a table on that date.  Needless to say, my late friends could not be accommodated since I couldn’t break the date I had worked so hard for!

The wine list is 90 pages long!  I got it in advance through the Amex concierge (I’m convinced TFL does not answer the phone).  This was the best prep we could have done, because honestly – who really wants to sift through this much information so soon after arriving into these hallowed halls?  Fortunately for me, Friend 1 – the wine connoisseur – studied the list and chose several excellent, well-priced bottles in advance.   If not for this, we would have thrown ourselves at the mercy of the sommelier!

Was it good to bring the kids?  Wildly so!  They were served sparkling grape juice while we had champagne, grape juice while we had white wine, and a pink fresh fruit juice cocktail while we had red – all from wine glasses.  I know that taking the family to THF is not for everyone – and believe me, I would not want my experience compromised by young children.  But my pre-teens loved it, and they were treated like real adults.  And this I think is the key – take your kids if they will eat what adults are eating.  TFL has a fixed menu and they don’t really deviate.  As an aside, we did have a “vegan-ish” eater in the group who was not accommodated, but he chose the vegetable tasting menu which was vegetarian but not vegan.

And now for the food.  The internet is wildly abuzz about the glory of TFL cuisine and I simply add myself to the list of people who have fallen in love with this place.   The staff moves like an orchestra, the dishes look like lovely little fresco’s, and the tastes just explode in your mouth like fireworks.  The courses are well-conceived, building on one another in taste, texture, and heft.  By the time desserts arrived, I was satiated but not stuffed.  I felt truly truly convinced that I had consumed perhaps the best meal of my life.

So what did I eat?  Who really cares? 

The internet offers many pictures and descriptions of the changing menu and mine meal was similar in the range of ingredients and options.  I have attached my menu.  Since the boys asked, our host gave us a quick tour of the kitchen.  It’s incredible that all this fabulous-ness comes from such a small kitchen, really showing the power of quality sourcing and skillful execution.  Special surprise – we met Chef Keller!  He somehow managed to be utterly charming though I’m sure he heard our compliments thousands of times before.

While this was a fabulous three hours for my party of six, I was surprised by diners around us who seemed more interested in sharing TFL with the world than in actually enjoying the food.  Their lack of conversation, constant picture taking, and phones in their hands were sure give-aways that facebook friends were following their every course.  I wonder why TFL doesn’t limit electronic devices in the dining room?

I went to the French Laundry totally prepared for the disappointment that invariably follows sky high expectation.   There was none.  The entire experience was perfect.  So how will I top this???  Chef Keller says to try Per Se!



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