A Night to Remember

No, I did not go to the French Laundry last night.  But I guess that’s obvious by the date on the menu.

Lately I’ve been trying to make reservations for another night at this food paradise. 

However, if you are familiar with their reservation policy you know it’s easier said than done. 

The restaurant takes reservations sixty days in advance.  They start accepting calls at 10 a.m. and usually sell out in 15 minutes.  From what I understand, reservations are taken first from anyone waiting in line outside (honoring relationships with locals), then they accept the phone reservations.

Since there are only 17 tables, it’s slim pickins’ on any given day.

I’m still amazed the Wild Boar was able to get a table for six on his first attempt, several years ago.  Luck I guess.

It was for my Birthday, and as a surprise, the Wild Boar ”somehow” commandeered these reservations with only one busy signal and then success.

I can’t even tell you how ecstatic I was.  The perfect gift for a confessed food glutton like myself.

The crazy thing, and I don’t know if it’s different now;  you can’t call and confirm these reservations once you have them. 

The restaurant gives you another number where you can leave a message but no one ever calls you back.  I’m not sure what you would have to say to get a call back.  Apparently, this restaurant is just too exclusive to deal with you until you are sitting in their dining room.

We pulled up, parking across the street from the once real laundry building turned restaurant extraordinaire.  Many chefs in their crisp white uniforms were in the garden harvesting vegetables for the night’s meal.  It was surreal and movie-like.

My heart was racing.

Walking into the place two months after the original reservation was made, you have no idea if they still have record of it.  Has it been deleted?  Or maybe you imagined getting reservations in the first place.  What if they wrote you in on a different day? 

It’s stressful because when you enter this serene, stone, building;  it’s very quiet.  The type of quiet that makes you sweat.  The walls are stark white.  Behind a large counter are two staff members in blue suits who just stare at you until you introduce yourself. 

It’s as if, they don’t believe you have a reservation either.  You give them your name and cross your fingers, praying you are on the list.

Thank God we were.  

We were led upstairs, it was early, 5:30 PM.  I remember feeling slightly disappointed our reservation was so ”pre-party hour” but in retrospect, thank goodness they were.  (We didn’t finish dinner until 11:30 PM.  And yes we were eating the whole time.)

What strikes me as funny is how we knew the portions at the French Laundry were very, very small.  We imagined happily eating our 7 tablespoons of food and generously thanking the staff for letting us enter Thomas Keller’s Temple of Food.  We would stop at Sizzler for all-you-can-eat-shrimp before going back to the hotel.

Not a chance.

We chose to have the “10 Course Prix Fixe” meal.  They did offer a five course as well, but give me a break, why on earth would you do that?  You’re at the French Laundry…you have no idea if you’ll ever come back!

Also, in addition to what was on the menu, there were several courses served that were not listed.  The food did not stop coming. 

As soon as we were seated, the mood suddenly changed.  The staff was completely accommodating and the sommelier extremely helpful and knowledgeable.  You could chat loudly and no one seemed to mind.  It is a very formal environment but also very relaxing. 

Course after course, specially designed Limoges China, unique to every dish, was placed in front of us with all types of serving ware we had never seen before. 

I’m not kidding, I had never laid eyes on half the tools used to eat these masterpieces.  However, the atmosphere is such you do not feel embarrassed to inquire what to do with them.  It was entertaining to see what would arrive next.

Every offering was more incredible than the one previous.  

The flavors were concentrated and melded together perfectly.  We were stuffed, beyond belief.  

Our theory of starving at the French Laundry was put to shame.  With every course we had different wine; some full bottles, some half-bottles some only by the glass but all paired perfectly with each food selection.

I’m going to post the menu that night, it changes slightly daily and always seasonally.  If anything, it’s a good read for entertainment.  I’m not sure where you would ever get any of the ingredients for most of these dishes.

Of course we started with the famous Salmon Coronets which are not on the menu.  Yes, they were as perfect as they look.  When does one not need an ice cream cone of salmon?  I can no longer think of a time.

So here we go…the menu….

“Oysters And Pearls”
“Sabayon” of Pearl Tapioca with Beau Soleil Oysters and Iranian Osetra Caviar

Salad of Big Island Hearts of Peach Palm, Marinated Pearl Onions, Breakfast Radish, Cutting Celery Salad and Perigord Truffle Vinaigrette

or (this was the only choice)

“Torchon” of Moulard Duck “Foie Gras”, Baked French Butter Pears and Toasted “Brioche”

“Mo’I”, Sautéed Filet of Hawaiian Threadfish, Pickled Jerusalem Artichokes, Glazed Baby Bok Choy and Piquillo Pepper “Gastrique”

Sweet Butter Poached Maine Lobster, Caramelized Fennel Bulb, Crystallized Fennel “Chip” and Sauce “Noilly Prat”

Slow Braised Breast of Marcho Farms Veal “Farci Aux Champigons Des Bois”, Anson Mills White Polenta “Croûtons” and Veal “Jus”

Pan Roasted Medallion of Elysian Fields Farm Rib-Eye of Lamb, Melted Garden Eggplant, Vine Ripen Tomato “Stew” and Italian Basil-Infused Extra Virgin Olive Oil

“Abbaye De Citeux” Slow poached Royal Blenheim Apricots, “Tartlette” and Apricot-Black Pepper “Gastrique”

Gravenstein Apple Sorbet “Avec Son Gelee” and “Creme Fraiche”

Valrhona “Manjari Chocolate Box” with Tahitian Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

“Mignardises”

Holy cow, right?  There were also two other courses not mentioned on the menu.  It was unbelievable.

Not to mention it was my Birthday.  The biggest tip I can share with you is to make sure you tell the French Laundry it is your Birthday even if it’s not.  There are perks.

At one point, between courses, our waiter came walking towards me with the famous ”Coffee & Doughnuts” dessert adorned with a candle. 

I seriously had a tear in my eye when I saw it.  I had desperately wanted to try this dish since seeing it in the French Laundry Cookbook (page 261).  

This dish is Thomas Keller’s Cinnamon-Sugar Doughnuts with a Cappuccino Semifreddo.  The trick is, the semifreddo, a partially frozen mousse, is cold beneath the hot, frothy steamed milk.  Brilliant is all I can say.  But again this was in addition to the menu and all the extras as well.  I thought I was going to explode.

Whatever of the “Mignardises” are not consumed are wrapped up in a beautiful box and sent home with you.  You honestly feel you will never eat again.

During the course of the meal you are able to leave your table and stroll in the candlelit garden with your wine. This helps digestion I suppose. 


The bill came with 4 bars of this chocolate stamped with the French Laundry’s logo, the clothespin.  These bars are quite large and are wrapped in cellophane with French Laundry ribbon.  

Yes, I saved one…I will not eat it.  I’m actually not sure if everyone gets this or if they gave it to me because it was my Birthday.  Does anyone know?

What I also loved (and have kept) is this very large Laundry ticket you are given as your bill.

It’s adorable.  I have smudged out many of the numbers because we just don’t need to go there!  

It was a lot but so worth it.  It is definitely one of those life experiences great to have in the memory bank.

It was the perfect evening.  

Thanks Wild Boar, Dan, Lisa, Sean and Sandy for celebrating with me, almost four years ago.

What a night.

 

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34 Comments

  1. Sweet butter poached Maine lobster. Dear Lord.

  2. We just came home from a great vacation in Florida and ate at a wonderful restaurant run by a chef who was trained by Thomas Keller at French Laundry, I know what you mean about arriving at 5.30 and leaving at 11.30 and chewing the whole time. It was such a wonderful way to enjoy a meal.
    I would love to have that butter poached lobster and that chocolate box.

  3. Meg 3

    Okay, that’s it, you are officially my hero…sigh…you have actually eaten there…double sigh….

  4. grace 4

    in other news, “eat at the French Laundry” has been added to my list of things to do before i die. :)

  5. Greta 5

    I had the #2 w/out onions at McD’s on Saturday. They served it with Diet Coke. That’s the same right? Totally the same.

    Jealous.

  6. Are you kidding? I eat like this every night. Not!

    I’m dying because I can’t even begin to imagine how much it really costs! But I’m so glad you have momentos to remember it by!

  7. Hahaha…you smudged out some of the numbers because you don’t want to go there. That is so funny! When I saw the bill I thought “She got all that for $95 dollars?!?” then I saw the smudge. It sounds like it was completely decadent and over the top! Everyone should have a meal like that once in their lives!

  8. krysta 8

    No beet ice cream! Like grace said this is one of my to do’s before I die. I have a question though since I don’t care for wine (and no, I won’t order soda or beer) what are the options for someone like me and will they raise an eyebrow?

  9. Okay, so I know this was not the intended reaction, but this had me laughing in addition to my mouth watering. (Not a good combination, but I’ve cleaned the drool off my desk, so it’s all good.) As I was reading the menu and description of the restaurant, I was alternately thinking, “I don’t even know what that is” and, “But, man, does it sound good!” Then I started picturing my family there and that made me laugh. You’re really taking a risk when you take these folks out in public. Then I saw the bill and something my 13yods said last night flashed into my brain. I don’t remember why we were talking about fancy restaurants (fancy as you get ’round these parts anyway) but we were. Ds said in his best redneck voice, “Ya mean like Applebee’s?” This is a reference to Talladega Nights, but it works for us, too. Anyway, as I looked at that bill and remembered that comment, it’s just a good thing I wasn’t drinking my coffee as it would be all over my monitor by now. Funny stuff, I tell ya.

    It sounds like a wonderful evening and the perfect birthday gift for you, though. Your hubby sure knows the way to your heart, doesn’t he?

    Now, when are you going to explain what that menu means? How do you melt an eggplant?

  10. Similar thoughts on a fine Philadelphia resturant link to blog.charcuteire.com

    Triggered by Le Bec Fin changing from a Prix Fix style and losing their fifth star because of the change.

  11. Teri 11

    I am moving to the Bay Area this June but probably will not try “French Laundry” after seeing the smudge spots on your price tags…. scary. But definitely sounded like you had the best experience in the world, from the beginning to the end. Thank you for sharing such an amazing experience and letting us live vicariously… I was thinking of buying the cookbook but it still wouldn’t match the experience (and I probably wouldn’t know how to pronounce half of the recipes anyway!). Even the chocolate bar was amazing!

  12. Stacy 12

    Sounds like you had a wonderful evening! I think it would be a bit too fancy for me though–don’t know if I’d fit in. Plus, I’m afraid to know what those smudged out numbers are. Wow.

  13. I am swooning.

    Something like French Laundry is worth the price tag, because it is a very occasional sort of thing and a true experience. There is a Chinese place here in Sac that is somewhat expensive, but oh heavens, for a special occasion it is so worth it. So once a year or so, we do it.
    My goal is to someday take my mother to French Laundry. I know she’d love it and we could truly have an amazing time. Someday…

  14. Claudi 14

    Oh GOD! Sounds like my kind of place! Fingers crossed baby that you get in again, and then you had SO better virtually take me with you. I don’t care if we have to break out the damn fairy dust, but I WANT IN! :)

  15. annbb 15

    I am quite envious…jealous as a matter of fact!
    The two restaurants I desperately want to dine at is French Laundry and, of course Chez Panisse.

    What a MARVELOUS birthday present!

  16. Elle 16

    Wooooow. Is all I can say. :)

  17. OK your killin me. I was thinking so was this a $500 meal? Looks like maybe more. I don’t even know what a lot of that was but ribeye lamb ,I can figure out. Rare of course. The best thing about food presents is that you don’t have to figure out where to put them, they decide. What a memory. Most experiences like that are once in a lifetime and can’t be repeated. What a grand evening You felt like a Queen I am sure. I was born to be royalty, don’t know what happened, some where I lost my throne.

  18. It is too much food for me. It is too expensive for me. It sounds wonderful for you.

  19. Vonda 19

    This looks fantastic….I love the idea of such a long slow several course meal. I have some friends from Paris who cooked us an unbelievable seven course meal once and it was amazing. I only wish they were still here visiting…I might become French if they were.

  20. eliza 20

    you’re such a lucky lady! what’s your plan for your birthday this year? can i come with you? :D

  21. WOW. Your description and enthusiasm is infectious. Unreal. I want to go … NOW! I’m am quite curious what the bill came out to. But more than that, I wonder, how much of the pleasure you gained from that night came from the allure of the place and the exclusivity of it, and how much actually came from the fact that the food was really THAT GOOD.

    Either way, great piece!

  22. Well firstly, happy birthday! Secondly, sweet butter poached lobster – OMG, i am so jealous and thirdly, you thought you had to get your fat pants out the other day!!!??? After all that you probably had to drag them out of the closet again… ;)

  23. Mike 23

    One of these days, I’ll go there. For now, I’ll just drool and dream…sounds like a really memorable meal and a great way to celebrate…

  24. Steph 24

    That sounds like quite an experience!

  25. Jill 25

    I would so much rather pay good money for a memorable meal than any other form of entertainment. Sounds like a wonderful night and money well spent!

  26. Wow, do you know what it’s like for me to visit your blog? I enter a different world every time. I was salivating already with the million dollar cookies, and then this! Wild Boar is one heck of a guy! I can’t even imagine any males I know thinking that far in advance!

  27. Jayne 27

    I am nearly weeping with…I don’t even know what. Joy for your night four years ago? Envy? Just seeing the first photo at the top of your post, with the chef’s tasting menu – I admit, I gasped. What a phenomenal experience! Wow.

  28. april 28

    Love the ticket, too cute.

  29. Wow – this is the most intense restaurant experience (from getting a reservation to eating the actual meal) that I have ever heard of. What a special birthday celebration.

  30. I am in awe of your experience. What a birthday.

    It doesn’t sound like the kind of place you go just because it’s Tuesday and it’s raining and you don’t feel up to cooking…

  31. melissa 32

    funny that claudia mentioned her per se post, as it is the other restaurant I am dying to visit.

    cathy, all I can say is WOW. I can’t explain why, but reading this even brought a tear to MY eye.

    I visited the site. they list the price for their 9-course menu. yeesh. still, I will make the drive up one day.

  32. Gwen 33

    Just found your site via At Your Cervix- and you are my new heroine.

    Dinner at French Laundry is on my to do before I die, list, and place of choice for dinner when I hit the big four – oh.

    Maybe you can get the Wild Boar to give my hubs some lessons?

    I’ll be back, love your blog.

  33. All people deserve very good life time and business loans or just college loan would make it much better. Just because people’s freedom relies on money state.

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