U.S. TravelWining/Dining

THE FRENCH LAUNDRY — PARTY OF 4; OTHER STORIES FROM THANKSGIVING IN NAPA

How does one judge whether something is considered wildly extravagant or simply a great luxury to be savored? That was the question debated when we (the hubby and I) took our two adult children — both mid 20’s — to the French Laundry for one of the restaurant’s remarkable gastronomic experiences.   Obviously this was their first time, but happily it was not ours … 

20th Anniversary Logo on the gorgeous china with the signature clothespin

Not surprisingly they are both foodies (must be in the genes) with no push back from trying new and wondrous dishes. It typically takes years to experience multiple restaurants at this level, but they have been fortunate to have dined previously at Michelin-starred eateries Daniel and Providence, so we knew this was an experience all could enjoy equally.  It goes without saying that the cost is dear; opinions vary widely on whether one can even put a price-tag on the return for this particular investment.  But that is most definitely a first-world dilemma…

Managed to keep it to one bottle of Cab Franc

I forged ahead with camera and notebook in hand to record this meal, booked for 1pm on Saturday.   The restaurant was full, even for lunch over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.  The son had studied the winelist in depth online (he works in this arena via his company http://www.cellarmgmt.com/) so selecting what to drink was a fairly quick decision. The other choices were simple: Chef’s Tasting or Vegetarian Tasting (roughly eight or nine small courses), and whether to have one of the supplements (truffles were a no, but we had to try the Waygu beef).

What sets this restaurant apart — and what has impressed me over the years — is the perfection from start to finish.  There is not a detail overlooked. Every dish has it’s own special plate, even if that means for one tiny course.  Every one of the staff is attentive and accommodating, but what I would call “user-friendly.”  In other words, they don’t make one feel intimidated even if being served an unfamiliar dish or ingredient for the first time.  There is a genuine appreciation for the customer — as though the place were just getting started. As for what we ate, here you go:  

Oysters & Pearls — a classic item made with tapioca
Salted butter or sweet butter?
From top:  Hearts of Palm Salad; Japanese Medai fish;
Poached Lobster (my favorite); Squab; Lamb
Cheese course with pear “pudding”
The desserts:  Mini Apple Tarte; Ice Cream with Pistachio Base; Chocolate floating something;
all-time amazing “Coffee & Donuts” — acutally a frozen cappucino in the cup with fresh beignet
To finish, chocolates & macaroons plus
small tins of shortbread cookies to take home
Son Sam engages the sommelier in the wine cellar 

Of course it certainly helps to have the French Laundry Culinary Garden (comprising three acres) directly across the street, bringing new meaning to the term “farm to table.”  We were also given a booklet showcasing some of the Chef Thomas Keller’s many partners (purveyors).  His philosophy of being intimately involved in the food production way before it is ever served plays a huge role in the quality of the end product.  Was it worth it?  Just ask the kiddies who want to know when they can go back …  



As for the rest of the trip, we had a wonderful Thanksgiving meal in Marin with many cousins and extended family and were grateful for the shared time with all.  We had a terrific meal at Bottega Napa — Chef Michael Chiarello’s flagship in Napa across from his Napa Style store.  Bar Terra and Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen were two others serving up delicious food.  And then there was the wine acquired to bring home, so much that we had to ship two cases. Even with the long and somewhat crowded trip home, at the end of the holiday weekend in the rain, we felt enormously thankful for the time spent with each other and for being able to do what we do.

This required a black belt in packing!