Dining at the French Laundry has been on the bucket list for some time. I even had an itch to try and make it happen for my 25th birthday but that didn’t pan out. So it went back onto the list titled “One Day.” Prior to that I had only heard stories of dining there, the experience, the food, the wine and the epic price tags that went along with all of the above. For me dining at Laundry was a goal that needed to be achieved.
So when I received a message on the Book of Face on November 15th, 2013 with the opportunity to dine there on January 18th, 2014 only one thing went through my mind: “Hell to the yes!” Not only would my lovely girlfriend/assistant winemaker/unpaid intern Brittany be dining there, but so would 5 of our closest friends. Frankly, this was a ridiculously easy choice to make (and a damn good one at that).
With the reservation on the books I immediately went to the Laundry website to check out the wine list, the menu (which can change on a daily basis) and the review sites to see what others had to say about their dining experiences. One review that I highly recommend is from Scott S on Yelp from October 10th, 2013, especially if you are a first timer; though it could probably be useful for those who have been once or twice. His points are spot on so if you want more info and more of a “how-to” check it out.
Now into the heart of the experience:
We were a group of seven in the middle of the ground floor dining space surrounded by couples and one or two groups of 4. With the amount of personality we had at our table we did confirm with our awesome host, Andrew, to make sure we weren’t disturbing anyone; to which he said something to the effect of, “No way, this your dinner. You are here to have a good time so do it – we love it.”
The menu for the night looked like it was going to be jaw dropping, and it was. We ended up with 11 courses total with 8 bottles of wine; 5 off the list and three that we brought along. The first two were more of an apéritif; two bottles of Gaston Chiquet Blanc de Blanc D’Ay Grand Cru Champagne. This was followed by a Paul Déthune Brut Rosé Grand Cru Champagne. These were paired up with the first two courses: “Oysters & Pearls,” Hen Egg Custard and Carnaroli Risotto Biologico. These were my second favorite dishes and pairings of the evening (yes I did go through and rate them even though I am splitting hairs). Both were very rich but weren’t heavy. Oysters are my jam but this brought them to a brand new level. The hen egg custard was off the chain, the hint of truffles was perfect.
Moving on we got into the extremely light and refreshing Hearts of Peach Palm, a nice break after a very rich start, the “Fish & Chips” and Stonington Maine Sea Scallop “Poélée.” The extra fun thing about this course was the bottle we ordered off of the wine list. We ended up with a KILLER Chablis, 2010 Louis Michel & Fils Les Clos (thanks Wilson!) that paired with the “Fish & Chips” to perfection. The other two course were amazing in their own right but that smoked sturgeon was off the chain. Yup, the fish & chips and Chablis were my favorite pairing of the night meaning that my favorite pub food has a new bar that is set impossibly high… damn you FL!!
As we got into the latter half of the experience we popped open a 2008 Patz & Hall Freestone Hill Pinot Noir and a 1990 Chateau Pavie-Decesse Saint-Émilion Grand Cru. Both of which were some big guns that made a very solid transition into the Devil’s Gulch Ranch Rabbit sirloin (apparently rabbits are big enough to have sirloins), Elysian Fields Farm Lamb and Japanese Wagyu. All of that tied for second place with the first few courses; especially the rabbit and wagyu. Both basically melted in your mouth and were so SO good that I might have had a dream or two about them already… maybe.
The last 5 courses had a 2002 Mary Moore Merlot and a couple of 375’s of 2004 Topaz “Special Select” Late Harvest wine. For me the highlights were the “Dégustation D’Agrumes” and the Maple-Bourbon Ice Cream. You haven’t had ice cream until you have had that maple bourbon ice cream by the way. The only bad thing was that none of us could convince them to put together some pints of each to-go for us. Oh, and the donut holes were the best donut holes that I have ever experienced.
And just like that, the experience went by and I’m sitting on my couch nine days later wrapping up this post. I will end it with a couple of thoughts:
- If you walk in looking at this experience in one dimension you are probably aren’t going to enjoy yourself. Pay attention to the food, the presentation, the service, the professionalism and soak up what could be passed off as minute details.
- Yeah, it is pricey. Dinner is $295 per person and corkage is $150 per 750mL (as of January 18th, 2014). So if you are a couple, plan on spending about $450 per person unless you are only drinking water. Some of the menu items can be supplemented but this will usually mean dropping another $75+ per dish. Needless to say it is easy to go off the deep end and have your credit or debit card catch fire. My strategy was to over budget a bit. Take some time to plan and save up. Stop buying $4 cups of coffee for a month or something so you have the option of going bigger if you want to.
- I greatly prefer the group setting (judging on the rest of those dining around us). It was a constant conversation that allowed us to enjoy the entire experience that much more. Sharing this experience with a group of friends is the way to go if you can swing it.
- You have to have fun with it. Yeah it is the French Laundry, it is a big deal and you don’t want to be that couple or that group but you also don’t want to be dining in a library.
When I do it all over again I would save up a bit more so I could supplement whatever I wanted and maybe pick one or two ridiculous wines off the list. If you are a foodie/wine lover that digs the ultra fine dining scene you best have the French Laundry on your bucket list.
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