Have you ever been to a 3 Michelin starred restaurant? It is the highest distinction a restaurant can receive in the world. We hadn’t, until this past weekend when our hotel, Hotel Les Mars, got us into a 7:30 dinner slot at The French Laundry due to a cancellation on Open Table. I know. What are the chances?
- TFL is located in a 1900 sq ft, 2 story building in Napa, California. The building feels like a home, with a narrow staircase in the center of the room.
- Thomas Keller is the owner and main Chef. He purchased the restaurant in 1994 and kept the historic name of a steam laundry business established there in 1907.
- TFL received the number 1 ranking on the Top 50 Restaurants of the World list in 2003 and 2004.
- TFL was the first restaurant in the US to receive 3 Michelin stars in 2006.
- The restaurant is also a member of both Relais & Chateaux and Les Grandes Tables du Monde – one of only 9 in the U.S.
- 2016 is the first year since its inception the restaurant dropped below 50 to number 85. In 2015, TFL was number 50.
- $300k of fine wine was stolen (but since recovered) from the restaurant on Christmas Day 2014, during the restaurant’s renovations.
- Until recently, reservations opened up 2 months in advance. Now, reservations open up in advance at 1 month. They get filled within minutes of opening.
- A 10+ course menu (meat or vegetarian option) is offered at a base price of $310.
- Upcharges (usually $100 and up) are offered for most of the courses in order to enjoy premium ingredients like truffles, caviar and Wagyu beef.
- Wine corkage fee is $150.
- Their wine list is so expansive (124 pages), it is presented on an ipad. Many wines on the list are above $5,000.
- They have on average 14 servers per seating, servicing 62 guests. I read that head servers make about $100k/year.
- They purposely have no art on the walls or music so as not to distract from the dining experience.
This was the first item they served. What does this look like to you? Although delicious, I thought the presentation was odd.
Bread with cheese in the middle. Yum. Now we’re talking!
The texture was gooey and thick, but I enjoyed the flavors. The caviar was delicious.
This dish didn’t do it for me. Beautifully presented, though.
None of us remember what this was! Greg thinks this may have been a seafood dish. Looks like dessert to me! There were so many courses, we don’t remember eating this.
Very good. I wish the restaurant wasn’t so dark so my pictures turned out better. I didn’t want to be obnoxious with flash.
This was so salty, Jill and I had to send it back. Gasp! Surprising.
This was sent in replacement of the little lobster cake. It was tasty. Dave and Greg were also served an extra course so they wouldn’t have to wait.
This was off the vegetarian menu since I didn’t want either of the meat options for this course. It was buttery and rich.
Dave ordered this supplement while I had the agnolotti, pictured above. I tried a bite. This is the 2nd time I’ve had truffles. It was out of this world.
This steak is a Grade A10, the highest grade of beef you can get in the US. I read that the highest Grade in the world is A12 but only available in Japan. This was noteworthy. Each bite melted in my mouth. I enjoyed the steak and the potato puree equally. Each bite cost about $15 on top of the base $310 price of dinner. Epitome of decadence.
We found it interesting that the restaurant got Greg’s order wrong and brought out the lamb instead of this steak for him. When he told them he ordered the steak, they were quite embarrassed. They left the lamb for Greg to enjoy and promptly brought out the Wagyu dish a few minutes later along with complimentary glasses of wine for the table.
The semifreddo and donuts were divine.
This is where I started fading. What were those red dots on top? Not a clue.
Was it worth it? I am still processing the dinner in my mind. As a trained accountant, I generally think of most things in terms of numbers. For me, the value of consumption is usually correlated to price. This dinner cost $500 per person. For Dave, Jill and me, it was not worth $500. For Greg, it was worth every penny. Greg is a foodie. The rest of us aren’t.
But shouldn’t a meal at this price point be mind-blowing, foodie or not?
While I enjoy fine food, the higher end restaurants seem to present very small servings of items that are often “mushy” in consistency. Dave and I would say we enjoyed our dining at the Michelin starred restaurants in France during our biking trip (click here to see that post) more than our experience at The French Laundry.
What I will remember most about this restaurant was the way the staff moved through the room as they worked throughout the evening. It seemed almost like a choreographed dance. They never got in each other’s way, there were never too many of them in one area, yet they were always around. I read they are trained to make the guests feel like they are at a ballet. We did.
They made a few mistakes during dinner, but the way they handled them was first class.
The kitchen was on the first floor while there were diners on both the 1st and 2nd. The servers were constantly going up and down the stairs with food. The staircase had a width to fit only one person at a time. Each time a guest so much as walked by the bottom or top of the stairs, the staff would stop mid-step, turn around and clear the staircase to get out of the way.
Dave made a joke and told me to experiment by walking by the bottom of the staircase over and over to watch the “on the way down” servers constantly turning around to go back up the stairs. That would have been a fun video!
Despite my enjoyment in watching the staff “dance” and the few dishes I very much enjoyed, I’m not sure I’d ever go back.
The next day, Jill mentioned she would’ve been just as happy eating dinner at The Wurst (a bratwurst and burger joint in Sonoma we loved). Dave said, “You would have about 985 more dollars if you had.” We all had a good laugh.
Flavor Your Life with an Ounce of Salt. A Lifestyle Blog by Jen Oliak.