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Shit to Do Before I Die: Eat at French Laundry

January 13, 2010

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well,” stated Virginia Woolf, which is why I believe everyone should eat at a the French Landry once in your life.  Now, I know that this is a bold statement and one you might have a problem with it if you are one of those people who eat to live (not live to eat), but I will hopefully convince those people shortly.

Why is eating at this restaurant really something you should do before you die?  If being the best restaurant in the United States isn’t reason enough for you to make the trip.  You can always use it as bragging rights or because, the reason I prefer, that it is the best ingredients prepared with meticulous care by someone with amazing talent.  All of which results in amazing experience and mind blowing food.

The French Laundry

Those of you who live to eat, this blog should be nothing new.  Those who have not discovered how food can be elevated from substance to an art form, I hope this will inspire you to try something new.  That is what we aim to do here at Travelverse with our ‘Shit to do before you die’ blogs, inspire you. By the way, I wouldn’t mind if you ate at Le Bernardin or Joel Robuchon, but if you going to splurge and only once, why not go American?  And why not the French Laundry when it is arguably the best restaurant in the United States?  If you don’t agree then you can agree that Thomas Keller is the best American Chef in the United States and if you don’t agree with that then you’re a lost cause.

First off I am not putting down any kind of food, I love simple food, but eating at a restaurant like The French Laundry is an experience.  How is it an experience? Well, a way to look at dinning at this restaurants is that it is an event.  Dinner can take up to 2 hours and longer!   Some of you might say “there is no way that I can sit there that long” or  “two hours is way too long!”  Well it is pretty easy in fact and the time will fly by.

Most of the dinner will involve conversation.  Conversation about the food, wine, what is going on around you, random chit-chat or a maybe even a heart to heart if your doing a wine pairing (the dinner is 9+ courses). If you can’t talk to the person you are with for that long then you should probably rethink your relationship, because you are given plenty to talk about.  You should try to talk about the food and the wine, what you like, what you don’t like- it is half the fun!  Try things that sound interesting or that you haven’t had before too, you might be surprised at what you like! I will say that you should put yourself in the hands of the chef for the best experience.

The menu consists of a 9 course tasting menu of small dishes. You have a few choices and a vegetarian option but for the most part the menu is set. I am sure they will make exceptions but remember what I said about leaving it up to the chef? Plus, making decisions is over rated. To describe the purpose of the menu I am going to quote the restaurant’s website, because I would not be able to say it better. “What we want you to experience is that sense of surprise when you taste something so new, so exciting, so comforting, so delicious, you think, “Wow”- and then it’s gone. We want the peak of sensation on the palate to be all you feel. SO we serve a series of small courses meant to  excite your mind, satisfy your appetite and pique your curiosity.”  Now some of you with big appetites might not believe that these small plates will fill you up. It will, my dad and I have large appetites and we were full after dinner.

In the Kitchen

Preparing Lobster & Bacon

I tend to go to these restaurants with my family and they tend to be the most memorable experiences that I have with them lately.  Once you get older it is hard to find the time to spend quality time with your family. What better way to spend time with family than over great food and a great atmosphere?  Dinner with my family was one of the most memorable experiences I have had with them in the last 3 years (the other was our family road trip through Italy).  We still talk about our dinner at the French Laundry from almost a year ago.  I believe it turned my sister into a gourmand.

I know of a few tips for getting a reservation at the French Laundry. Be flexible in your date, you have to make a reservation two months in advance and there are a lot of people that want reservations at this restaurant.  The later reservations seem to go first, so go for an early one. I prefer the early reservations due to the length of the dining experience. I haven’t tried it but I believe you can make a reservation at 12:01AM on opentable.com on the day that is two months prior.  I called and while I was on hold, I went to opentable.com and made my reservation for the time I wanted.  There is not sure fire way, so again be flexible in your date.

If you are looking to experience a dinner like this and have no way of making it to Yountville, Ca (where the French Laundry is located), don’t worry.  There a ways to find restaurants that can offer you similar experiences near you.  One is the Michelin guide which is a pretty solid restaurant guide.  They use a star rating system.  Their rating system is as follows:

* A very good restaurant in its category (e.g. Commis in Oakland, CA or Gramercy Tavern in NYC)

** Excellent and worth a detour (e.g. Manresa in Los Gatos, CA)

*** Exceptional cuisine and worth the journey (e.g. French Laundry, Le Bernardin in NYC or Joel Robuchon in Las Vegas)

The downside is that Michelin does not go to every city, so if you are looking for something closer to home I suggest using chowhound.com or opentable.com – I prefer chowhound.com because you can search the boards for recommendations or make a post asking for recommendations on what you seek.  I suggest searching the boards first before making a post.

Everybody has their own tastes, whether is about food, art or architecture, which makes it difficult to recommend things like restaurants.  I recommend that you do some research before you choose a restaurant to find one that fits your tastes but the French Laundry comes highly recommend! Whatever restaurant you choose, I am sure you will have a memorable experience.

***French Laundry is located at 6640 Washington St., Yountville, CA in the Napa Valley.  More information is available by visiting their website at www.frenchlaundry.com.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. A fan permalink
    January 13, 2010 5:42 PM

    When I first heard about French Laundry, it was from a classmate who said it was worth every penny (and it costs many pennies). After I went, I agree. It is a dining experience that is hard to rival. The wait staff is very informative, attentive & not at all snooty. The food is amazing, both creative and delicious. The atmosphere is great for leisurely conversation. The French Laundry was on my “shit to do before I die” list and it was a perfect evening.

    • darrenbrazil permalink*
      January 13, 2010 5:55 PM

      i love that others are creating their own “shit to do…” lists, haha, awesome!

  2. Nicole permalink
    January 18, 2010 2:14 PM

    Jon you are right! French Laundry is one of the best places to dine. If you tip them well, like you did, they show you their kitchen. The staff was very kind and patient. The sommelier was amazing and the best I have worked with. I am very picky with wines but he found me at two that I loved. I also tried Wagyū for the first time. It is so good- a must for any foodie. It cost an extra $100 but was worth it.

    • jonmarcotte permalink
      January 19, 2010 1:45 PM

      Tip is included in the price, what I did was tip extra because how amazing the staff was. They had a lot of patience with my sister picking out a wine that suited her taste(which is no easy task and usually includes at least 3-4 tries before she finds one that she likes) and they did give us more than the standard dinning French Laundry experience. They helped in creating an amazing memory for me and my family and I was appreciative.
      You do not have to tip extra to be able to see the kitchen. You can ask and if they are not busy I am sure they will be more than happy to show you.

  3. jonmarcotte permalink
    January 25, 2010 10:42 AM

    Another tip for getting a reservation at TFL. If you have a confirmed hotel reservation for the day you wish to dine at the French Laundry, some hotel concierges are able to call a special number at 9:30 am for reservations for their guests. They are allowed 1 table per hotel per day.

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