We Finally Did The Laundry! Was It Worth It? By Jen Oliak

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?

The French Laundry

On our way out from the hotel to TFL with our friends, Jill and Greg. Don’t ask me why I wore this outfit when I’d need to be rolled out after a 10+ course meal!

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History/Interesting Facts
  • 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.

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Restaurant
  • 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.
French Laundry Salmon Belly and Creme Fraiche

Amuse bouche (single, bite sized hor d’oeuvres off the menu). Sesame tuile “cone” filled with red onion creme fraiche with tartare of salmon belly.

This was the first item they served.  What does this look like to you?  Although delicious, I thought the presentation was odd.

French Laundry Gruyere cheese gougeres

Additional amuse bouche: Gruyere cheese gougeres.

Bread with cheese in the middle. Yum.  Now we’re talking!

French Laundry Oysters and Pearls

Oysters and Pearls with White Sturgeon Caviar and “sabayon” of pearl tapoca – salty, creamy, sweet, milky.  Served with a mother of pearl spoon made of oyster shells.

The texture was gooey and thick, but I enjoyed the flavors. The caviar was delicious.

French Laundry

Hawaiian Hearts of peach palm with watermelon, melon, fennel.

This dish didn’t do it for me. Beautifully presented, though.

Ounce of Salt Jewelry

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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.

French Laundry Sea Trout

Slow Cooked Fillet of Wild Scottish Sea Trout with Cherry Belle Radishes, Horseradish Creme Fraiche and Garden Dill Butter.

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.

French Laundry Langoustine Boudin

Langoustine Boudin “En Brioche” – little lobster.

This was so salty, Jill and I had to send it back. Gasp! Surprising.

French Laundry Brentwood Corn "Galette"

Brentwood Corn “Galette”: Toasted Cornbread, Chanterelle Mushrooms, Arrowleaf Spinach and Brentwood Corn “Pudding”

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.

frenchlaundry pasta

Gold Bar Squash “Agnolotti” with Garden Zucchini, “Parmigiano-Reggiano,” Opal Basil and Saffron Infused Garden Tomato Butter

This was off the vegetarian menu since I didn’t want either of the meat options for this course.  It was buttery and rich.

The French Laundry Truffles

“Macaroni and Cheese” – handcut macaroni, braised bacon romaine lettuce, parmigiano-reggiano and shaved Australian Black Winter Truffle for and additional $125 on top of the base price.

French Laundry Black Truffles

Australian Black Winter Truffles presented in a humidor.

French Laundry truffles

They shaved the truffle onto the plate at the table.

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.

French Laundry Japanese Wagyu

Charcoal Grilled Japanese Wagyu with Potato Puree, Arrowleaf Spinach and “Sauce Charcutiere” ($100 supplement).

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.

French Laundry dessert

Cappuccino semifreddo, donuts, chocolate and caramel covered macadamia nuts, macarons.

The semifreddo and donuts were divine.

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Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

French Laundry dessert

Cheese Cake

This is where I started fading. What were those red dots on top? Not a clue.

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Rectangular piece of chocolate filled with something we don’t recall.

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Boxed “to go” truffles along with butter cookies were given to each couple on our way out.

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.

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source: Yelp.  We sat at the table next to the stairs.

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.