This post is extremely difficult to write, and I do it with great sadness. I don’t even remember how long I’ve been waiting to go to The French Laundry 6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599, often named as the best restaurant in the United States. It’s pretty difficult to get reservations, which requires constant redialing for 40+ minutes, exactly 2 months to the date you want to go. After that, no change can be made to the reservation. Since we live in NY, I literally planned our flights and travel itinerary around this reservation. If the reservation itself was tangible, I would have carried it around with me in my pocket every day, armed with pepper spray to defend it.

Clothes pin and ribbon 3

The evening started well. I couldn’t have been in a better mood about my dining companions, Lon (the hubby) Peter (one of my best friends who just moved to California), and Bobby (Lon’s very awesome friend). Four is such a perfect group size, large enough to share more dishes, small enough for good conversation. We took photos in the little garden and got to see the kitchen (surprisingly small, pristine clean) before being seated in the dining room. I was just a tad disappointed in the plain gray room with low ceilings, which sank a little deeper when I saw the second floor dining room (where the bathrooms are) that was brighter with higher ceilings. Decor has never been that important to me though. It’s just an added plus.

Amuse 1

We started with warm gougeres, cheese flavored pate a choux.


Amuse 2

Next, cones filled with creme fraiche and a scoop of salmon tartare. The salmon seemed pretty average.

salmon and vreme fraiche cones

First Course

“Oysters and Pearls”, a dish I’ve heard about, is their most fantastic dish. The two Island Creak Oysters, the size of small marbles, are the most perfectly clean but briny oysters, that burst a little like soft grapes. The pile of white sturgeon caviar are like juicy sea salt drops that swim through the creamy puddle of sabayon that the soft tapioca adds more texture to. All the spherical shapes roll about on your tongue softly until they just melt away.

Oysters and Pearls

Bread 1

A very nice brioche-like bread was served with two butters, one from Vermont and one local (CA). Neither really impressed me. (Blue Hill had the best butter.) I was also surprised that they were not brought to room temperature so they were difficult to spread.

briochelike bread and butter

Second Course

Here, we had a choice of Fennel Salad or Moularde Duck Foie Gras ($30 supplement). We got two of each and shared. The fennel was limp and boring and I didn’t taste the Earl Grey gastrique. The hazelnuts, pears, and flowers didn’t help much.

fennel salad

The foie gras was ultra smooth, but really didn’t taste like much, which really disappointed me because of the extra cost. The almond “genoise” underneath with huckleberries on top made it look like a dessert, a beautiful presentation, but it ended there. The Tokyo turnips and marcona almonds were both delicious individually, but didn’t add anything to the foie gras.

Moularde Duck Foie Fras Au Torchon

It was served with a trio of salts, which you needed to bring out any flavor at all.

trio of salts

Third Course

There was three choices so we shared again. The Sauteed Filet of Hawaiian Moi was nice, but not memorable. Again, the accompaniments were all perfect and fresh, but I would not have remembered what was there had they not given me a printed menu on our way out. (In case you’re curious, it was edamame, breakfast radish, jingle bell peppers, and meyer lemon condiment.

Sauteed Filet of Hawaiian Moi

The Japanese Octopus was pretty standard octopus with some vegetables. Again, nothing stood out. It was actually under-seasoned so the bites with nicoise olives were better bites.

Sea of Japan Octopus 2

The Grilled Pave of Japanese Toro sits on charred scallions, navel oranges, and Akita Komachi rice, in a shallow pool of Matsutake Mushroom Bouillon. It’s a light Asian inspired dish but isn’t worth the extra $45. (Go get a piece of fatty tuna cheek at Sushi Yasuda!)

Grilled Pave of Japanese Toro

Bread 2

Your choice of ciabatta, sourdough, whole Grain, or baguette, all fresh and crusty but no favorites.


Fourth Course

The Sweet Butter-Poached Maine Lobster “Mitts” are the most perfect bites of lobster ever, such densely packed parcels of meat, tender and juicy, a little flaky. It’s topped with a bacon chip and served with a salad, a nice country farm feel. Our only complaint is that the pickled pearl onions are the perfect touch of acid but there wasn’t enough to be eaten with each bite.

Sweet Butter Poached main Lobster Mitts 4

By now, I had gone to the bathroom twice I think. When I came back my napkin was gone. It seems their practice is to take napkins away when people get up and bring a new folded one back. This time, I guess they forgot to bring one back.

Fifth Course

Here a choice between two for poultry. I preferred the Four Story Hill Farm “Poularde”. Never mind the carrots and spinach, which are more for looks. This milk fed chicken is so juicy for white meat, with even texture and density throughout the thick piece.

Four Story Hill Farm Poularde

The Rouelle de Tete de Cochon, hog’s head, is presented here as a fried disc with baby corn and ranch dressing. It was as good as any fried pig part is but nothing beyond that. Well, it wasn’t oily, but I was really more taken by the teany toy box tomatoes, with all the flavor of a big tomato packed into 1/4″ sphere.

Rouelle de Tete de Cochon

You know, I can’t be sure, but Bobby and I felt like we weren’t really being cared for by the staff, possibly because only he was ordering wine. Pete and Lon were driving and I just wasn’t feeling like it. It’s not a nice feeling to have when you’re paying this much (and getting some supplementally priced dishes).

Sixth Course

I’ve had Elysian Fields Farm Lamb before. It’s very tasty lamb and the rib-eye here was cooked perfectly. Again, I don’t remember the accompanying flavors at all here and can only tell you from reading the menu: sunchokes, beets, arugula and sauce aux pignongs de pin.

Elysian Fields Farm Lamb Rib-Eye 2

Bread 3

Slices of bread are brought for the cheese course. I liked the loaded currant one which went nicely with the cheese. The others were average.

sliced breads

Seventh Course

I like that there is a cheese course but Comte seems like such an average choice. It’s served with a mission fig pop tart and celery.

Comte with Mission Fig Pop Tart

Eighth Course

I was appalled when the Honeydew Melon Sorbet was served while Pete was in the restroom. I have never been served at a fine dining restaurant while someone was not at the table. To top it off, this dish was melting as we all waited.

The cold honeydew and compressed watermelon was very refreshing and the basil oil and seeds went surprisingly well with the fruits, giving even more summer feel. This was the first dish where I felt any flavor synergy.

Honeydew Melon Sorbet

Ninth Course

Two of us got the Gateau Saint Nizier au Manjari. It sounds fancy but it was just average chocolate cake squares with mango chili relish that didn’t really go with it. The coconut milk sorbet and lime foam didn’t do much for us either.

Gateau Saint Nizier au Manjari

Two of us got the Lemon Verbena Vacherin. None of us tasted any telicherry in the panna cotta, but all of us enjoyed the very strawberry consomme, brightened with lemon sherbert.

Lemon Verbena Vacherin 2


Pete and Bobby both had double shot espressos with the mignardises. We all loved the macadamia nuts with a faint cocoa scent and flavor.

macadamia nuts

The rest was brought in what I think is a glass rimmer tray, but there was only one of each. They did bring more when Lon asked for it but it feels awkward to have to ask for more of these.

petit fours

By the end of the meal, Lon was pretty angry, but I was just sad. I thought about whether my expectations were just set so high they couldn’t be met. It’s possible, but there were definite misses here. This is the top restaurant in the US with three Michelin stars. Shouldn’t it be flawless? Lon and I enjoyed the meal at Daniel so much more and Pete enjoyed a meal at Le Bernardin a lot more. Bobby didn’t feel like the meal met expectations. At The French Laundry, everything is cooked perfectly, looks beautiful, and they use the best ingredients. BUT, nothing is really exciting. The flavors don’t leap and I won’t remember any of this meal in just a week or so. Unfortunately, I will remember that I didn’t feel wanted there, and that I didn’t get the experience I dreamed of for $671 (just me and Lon, no alcohol).

butter cookies

posted by jessica at 01:09 PM Filed under American and New American, Restaurants, Travel. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.