The French Laundry is a bucket list experience for so many, and I am so lucky to have experienced it. In this post, I’ll tell you all about the dinner and details to help you book!
It’s fitting that this post is the first about my trip to Napa. A group of seven of us traveled from Austin and New York City to celebrate our friend Dan’s 40th birthday. The big reason we were in Napa: The French Laundry was Dan’s bucket list restaurant. To illustrate his excitement, days before our trip, Dan told us he was giggling to himself as he watched YouTube videos about dining at The French Laundry and he might have teared up at dinner. This dinner was very much anticipated and the perfect way to celebrate a monumental birthday.
Why Visit The French Laundry?
Is there another U.S. restaurant the majority of foodies can name? The French Laundry has earned three Michelin stars since 2006 and has won James Beard Foundation and Top 50 awards, among others.
Classic French cuisine is how many chefs begin their training, though you may not be familiar with what the cuisine consists of because of the prevalent “New American” category. The French Laundry achieves classic French cuisine flawlessly and you can’t help but appreciate the time and precision of each dish. The traditions and techniques of French cooking give a strong foundation, and hands-on experience in noteworthy kitchens around the world adds to a resume. Just look at the many alumni of The French Laundry who have gone on to lead award-winning restaurants of their own, René Redzepi and Grant Achatz are two.
The French Laundry has been open since 1978 and Thomas Keller bought the restaurant in 1994. Chef Keller is widely celebrated by foodies and critics around the world because of his successful restaurants and focus on flying in the best of the best ingredients. While he doesn’t prioritize geographically local purveyors, he supports purveyors who have the highest quality product and production values he believes in. An award-winning restaurant with the best ingredients in the U.S.? Sounds like the start of a great experience.
The French Laundry Currently
The restaurant follows California mandates, and has had several stay-at-home orders. The restaurant shifted the majority of its tables to its private courtyard outdoors in July 2020. The outdoor space was re-modeled for additional stone surfaces for tables. You can have up to 10 people per party. There are heaters all around the courtyard and pashminas are available for comfort. Windows line the kitchen so you can watch the team in action. With the lovely trees and lights, it was an elegant ambiance and we all agreed that it was almost preferred to dine outside while the weather was mild, despite the necessity.
There are a few tables inside the indoor dining area but those will cost additional per person. You can have up to 12 people inside.
Their gardens across the street are still open for guests to walk through, so if you’re interested, arrive early to give it a look.
How to Make Reservations for The French Laundry
Reservations are made online through the Tock website and must be paid in full. Reservations open a month out and there are at least five seatings from 2 pm to 6 pm, depending on daylight savings and sunset time. Since we dined before daylight savings, our reservation was at 6:45 pm, the last of the night.
Be sure to put the reservation open date in your calendar and jump on it! Reservations have been more readily available because people are not traveling as much, but they still book up.
The French Laundry Chef’s Tasting
It was four hours of culinary magic! Envision engaged and knowledgeable wait staff, impeccably plated dishes, and the best ingredients.
Here was our menu and dishes:
“Oysters and Pearls”
“Sabayon” of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and Regiis Ova Caviar
Celery Root “Veloute”
Cutting Celery and Preserved Perigord Black Winter Truffles
“Bread and Butter”
Bitter Cocoa Laminated Brioche and Diane St. Clair’s Animal Farm Butter
Japanese Bluenose Medai “Tartare”
Fragrant Basil, Toasted Brioche and Golden Pineapple “Vierge”
Hand Harvested Maine Sea Scallop “Poele”
Applewood Smoked Lobster Mushroom “Risotto” and Arrowleaf Spinach “Panade”
Wolfe Ranch White Quail
Hadley Orchards Medjool Dates, Parsnip Puree, Watercress Leaves and Schmitt Family Farm Apple Cider Jus
Herb Roasted Elysian Fields Farm Lamb
Garden Sunchokes “a la Creme,” Watsonville Artichokes, Compressed Persian Cucumbers and Spanish Caper-Brown Butter Jus
Andante Dairy “Etude” and Preserved Perigord Black Winter Truffle “Fondue”
Assortment of Desserts
Fruit, Ice Cream, Chocolate and Candies
And some commentary about the dinner!
- The French Laundry is known for their Oysters and Pearls dish and it was definitely one of my favorites!
- After reading the menu, you’re probably thinking it was a decadent dinner with things like caviar and truffle. You’re right! The ingredients were rich and the dishes were filling.
- Of course, I loved the abundant dessert course! (It reminded me of Room 4 Dessert.) All the little plates of things were delicious except I was a little disappointed by the macarons. One of my favorite desserts was the affogato.
- One of the desserts was picking chocolates of any flavor from a box!
- The service was excellent! We enjoyed chatting with our servers. I imagined service would be flawless but perhaps with the outdoor casualty, we didn’t get synchronicity of the plates being served and there were crumbs left on the table. These weren’t deal-breakers but unexpected lapses to me for a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
After dinner, we took a trip to the kitchen! Since we were the last service of the night, the kitchen was spotless and the team was gathered to talk about the next day. Usually, you’d be walking right into the action.
You won’t leave without goodies! Since we were celebrating a birthday, we took home a bottle of The French Laundry’s Modicum bubbly, chocolate, and cookies.
Let’s Talk About the Plates
We were expecting an incredible meal and experience, but we were delighted to discover the plates. I’m not sure if other restaurants do this – I wouldn’t be surprised if they did – but it was the first I’d heard of it.
I’m not sure how the conversation started with our head server Regina, but we learned that each plate design has a name. The dishware is chosen for the type of dish and look of the dish, and the names are usually descriptors. The names make it easier to identify what is needed in a busy kitchen, for example, “can someone get me a Moulin Rouge plate?” So, we started trying to guess the names as the dishes arrived. Interstellar, Grandma, and Palm were some of the names. Can you see which plates these names refer to? They have a beautiful selection of plates!
And a special treat – Regina showed us the plate cabinets! After the plates are washed, inventory is taken and the dishware is carefully stored here. They have three of these big cabinets!
How Much Does it Cost to Go to The French Laundry?
When I posted about going to The French Laundry on Instagram, I immediately got questions about how much it costs. People seemed to know that it costs much more than a typical meal and were curious to know how much.
Full payment must be made with the reservation and the pricing per person includes gratuity. With tax, this amount came out to about $377 per person. At the restaurant, we split a bottle of wine and added additional gratuity, so the final cost per person was $427. This pricing is in line with other three Michelin-starred restaurants in the U.S.
Is The French Laundry Worth It?
It is quite the expense and easily the most expensive meal I’ve had. People have asked me if it was worth it, and this question can be tricky. Everyone has their own expectations of value and quality, and you know yours. Eating great food, legendary if you consider everything I wrote above, with great foodie friends is priceless. This was a memorable experience because of who we were with and what we were celebrating, and I would go back in time and do it again. However, if I were to return in the future, I’d like to find someone else to pay my way. 😀 I have many more restaurants to save up for instead!
Details for Your Visit
- Ambiance: Impressive, dramatic, grandiose
- Attire: Dressy, suits without a tie recommended for outdoor dining
- Noise Level: Average
- Reservation: Necessary, book in advance
- Groups: Up to 12 people
- Meal: Prix fixe menu, about eight courses
- Pricing: $350-450++ per person
- Parking: Free street parking
- Location: Yountville, the restaurant is about 20 minutes from downtown Napa, 35 minutes from downtown Sonoma, and one hour from San Francisco
The French Laundry
6640 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599
Have you ever dined at a Michelin-starred restaurant? What’s your bucket list experience, already experienced or that you’re working towards?
P.P.S. Want some foodie bucket list inspiration? See this post.