The Legend of The French Laundry
We are now at one of Napa Valley’s culinary gems. This also happens to be one of the highlights in our California trip, as it is one of my most memorable culinary adventures thus far!
The French Laundry is a French restaurant located in the small town of Yountville in Napa Valley, California. This restaurant with chef and owner Thomas Keller at the helm is the stuff that legends are made of. He is world renowned for his culinary skills and exceptionally high standards. He is the first and only American-born chef to hold multiple three star ratings from the prestigious Michelin Guide.
When he opened The French Laundry in year 1994, they have since been considered “legendary” — for their style and approach to cooking and fine dining. This restaurant has consistently received three michelin stars (the highest rating) and has always topped the list of best restaurants — in America and in the world. Thomas Keller is the same chef and owner of other highly acclaimed restaurants : Bouchon Bistro, Bouchon Bakery (both I included in my previous post here), Ad Hoc and Per Se. His restaurants are found in Napa Valley, Las Vegas, Beverly Hills and New York.
And I consider myself quite lucky to have been here for a second time. My very first time was long ago — ten years to be exact, year 2004. So to be able to come back and dine again in one of my favorite restaurants of all time is a dream come true for a food adventurer like me. It is like checking my bucket list not just once — but twice!
After being on the wait list of The French Laundry for 2 months (advance booking here is a must), we received a call from them that morning to learn that our reservation has finally been confirmed. Never mind if they said that they can only accommodate us for lunch (since that is their only available slot due to a cancellation) as we of course, originally wanted to go for dinner. We figured a meal at the The French Laundry is still a meal from The French Laundry! So off we went hurriedly, feeling as if we had just won the jackpot!
As soon as we sat down, we were given the menu and told by the maitre d’ that we were in for a special treat that day. The French Laundry was celebrating its 20th year anniversary on that same week that we were there! And as such, their world-renowned luminary chef, Thomas Keller had just come up with an even better menu for their guests, and yes — this once-in-a-lifetime menu was only available that week!
Since the restaurant was in a celebratory mood, they served Moet & Chandon 2004 Grand Vintage to all their guests to perfectly start off the meal.
We were served these delicious hors d’ oeuvres next.
Top : Cornets, made of salmon tartare and sweet red onion creme fraiche that was so deliciously fresh!
Bottom : Gougères, which were essentially like savory Gruyere cream cheese puffs. Amazing. It was best paired with that glorious Champagne!
The first course was made up of Ossetra and White Sturgeon Caviar.
Left : Royal Ossetra Caviar made into cauliflower bavarois and with Island Creek oyster glaze on top.
Right : Oysters and Pearls dish. Sabayon of pearl tapioca, also made with Island Creek oysters, topped with a Mother of Pearl spoon for scooping out that White Sturgeon Caviar.
The next course that followed was Salad of Hawaiian Hearts of Peach Palm. This dish was a mixture of marinated shiitake mushrooms, garden radishes, cilantro shoots and soft tofu purée. It was light and it surely whetted our appetite for more!
Then the huge humidor box of Black Winter Truffles was presented to our table…
Much to our pleasant surprise, the Black Winter Truffles were shaved generously on top of our Brentwood Corn Pudding!
Next on our long menu was our first seafood dish : Hawaiian Big Eye Tuna “Au Poivre” . This deliciously raw fish was surrounded by wilted arrowleaf spinach, garden turnips and sauce mignonette.
Beets and Leeks with another seafood dish was next : Sweet Butter Poached Maine Lobster with melted King Richard leeks, pommes maxim‘s and ruby beet essence.
Then followed the not so traditional Coq Au Vin : Red Wine Braised Poularde Ravioli with applewood smoked bacon, garden carrots, chanterelle mushrooms and consomme bordelaise.
Last but not the least from our main dishes, was the best amongst them all : Charcoal Grilled Japanese Wagyu, surrounded with caramelized Belgian endive, Black Winter Truffle confit, watercress, toasted walnuts and creme de topinambour.
This Japanese Wagyu Beef was incredible. It was perfectly juicy and tender since it was cooked medium rare. This dish tasted as good as it looked. (It didn’t feel heavy at all.) The taste was very clean and pure — words you don’t really use when describing meat, steak in particular. The meat’s juice and texture were preserved and intact.
This dish just sealed the whole deal for us. This restaurant was worth the wait and worth the long trip after all!
And to perfectly cap that amazing lunch, my most awaited part, the desserts were served.
Left to right, top : Puff pastry arlette, Jacobsen Orchards peach marmalade, petite lettuces and aged balsamic vinegar. Tahitian vanilla bean creme anglaise, poached Swiss meringue, Valrhona chocolate cremeux and spun sugar to top it all off beautifully.
Left to right, bottom : Mascarpone sherbet with tellicherry black peppercorn and strawberry syrup. And one of their most famous and traditional cakes, The Opera chocolate cake.
An assortment of Mignardises, much to my delight followed! Mignardises or Petit Fours are little sweets given after the main dessert. It is like having sweets after your sweets! This has always been a practice in most traditonal French restaurants as a way for chefs to show off their skills. This practice of serving little, bite-sized desserts after the main desserts also create that final and lasting impression about the restaurant, don’t you think?
Our first set of Mignardises : A beautiful box of assorted Chocolate Bonbons! (I almost fell off my chair when I was told I can get as many as I want!)
As if that wasn’t enough to fully satisfy this sweet tooth of mine, another set of Mignardises again followed : Chilled Semi-freddo in a cup, Macadamia nuts coated in chocolate and sea salt, warm and toasty hot Cinnamon Sugar Donuts and freshly made mini Macarons.
At the end of this long meal, we were completely overcome with culinary decadence. Every course was perfectly executed, every dish was done exactly the way it should be. Each item that came out of the kitchen blended seamlessly with the previous one. Every ingredient complemented one another. Each dish was unique in its own way, with only the best and freshest produce of the season artfully placed on our plates.
It all seemed like a well-conducted orchestra, composing a wonderful symphony of flavors. This restaurant did not just start the American fine dining revolution twenty years ago (and the celebrity chef cult status that came with it) but it also allowed us to experience the familiar kinds of food in extraordinary, elevated ways.
As a parting shot, allow me to share this inspiring cover letter on the 20th year anniversary menu of The French Laundry, written by no less than Chef Thomas Keller himself :
Even after twenty years, this 1890 stone building restaurant, nestled among the lush vineyards in the little town of Yountville, Napa Valley holds its ground. Thomas Keller, The French Laundry and the legend around them continues.
The French Laundry
6640 Washington Street
Yountville, California 94599
Tel + 707 944 2380
If you want to backtrack a bit and read the first part of my trip to Napa Valley, click here.