Worth a trip to the Napa Valley for a flawless meal at this world-class contemporary American cuisine with a classical French influence.
About the Chef
Chef Thomas Keller, named “America’s Best Chef” in 2001 by Times Magazine, is the chef and owner of The French Laundry. His cuisine is rooted in classical French cuisine. Yet with an incredible blend of innovative contemporary cuisine, it has surpassed the standards of its traditional French influences.
Chef Keller started his career as a dishwasher at the Palm Beach Yacht Club. He then quickly moved up to cook and it was here that he discovered his passion for cooking. Throughout his career, he worked in New York and apprenticed at various Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe.
In The French Laundry, Chef Keller believes in “the law of diminishing returns” – no matter how delicious a dish is, your appreciation level decreases with each bite. That’s why he presents you with multiple small dishes of tip-top ingredients from all over the world. Not only does Chef Keller possess exceptionally high personal standards, he also values genuine collaboration. Every member of the team is committed to a common goal of creating the perfect dining experience.
About the Restaurant
Chef Keller took on various consultant jobs and chef roles in the early 90’s. It was during this low point of Keller’s career when he discovered an old French steam laundry in Yountville. He spent more than a year to gather capitals from various investors to purchase this place.
Nested in the heart of California’s wine region, this stone residence is the home of one of the world’s greatest culinary spots.
About Our Meal
We ordered the 9-course Chef’s Tasting Menu. It was the best meal we ever had, definitely an experience of a lifetime!
Our amuse-bouche was Chef Keller’s signature Salmon Tartare Cornette, filled with fresh cream and topped with salmon and chive. These tasty little cones were just the beginning of a wonderful journey..
Our first course was another Keller’s signature Oysters and Pearls – two oysters resting in a shallow pool of sabayon with floating tapioca, crowned with an extremely generous scoop of precious Russian Sevruga Caviar. I normally prefer raw oysters by itself, but this couple of trimmed oysters soaked in a creamy sabayon sauce was a surprise! They are from Beau Soleil located in the east coast of Canada, which produces cleaner and fatter oysters due to unique cultivation method. We consumed this memorable royal treat slowly to enjoy every moment of the sparkling pearls as there probably won’t be many chances in our life to have our mouth full of caviar!
We had two choices for our second course. One of them was foie gras terrine which we initially found ridiculous for a $30 supplemental charge as the menu was already expensive. However, after we had a first bite of this dish, we stopped complaining immediately and purely focused on this heavenly silky smooth terrine. While we were still enjoying its long aftertaste, we agreed that the supplement charge was totally worthwhile.
The other choice for the second course was just a salad. This dish was as simple as you could ever get in a three Michelin Star restaurant. Yet, all the ingredients were absolutely fresh!
Our third course was Sautéed Fillet of Pacific Kahala surrounded by marinated Japanese beech mushrooms, garnished with cilantro shoots and finished off with a light vinaigrette sauce made with Pedro Ximenez aged for 12 years creating a unique bitter-sweetness. The fish was perfectly fried; the beech mushrooms had a nice texture; finally the vinaigrette did a lovely job of bringing them together to form another brilliant dish. The only imperfection we could think of was that the portion was too small. Well, it was a testimony of Chef Keller’s “law of diminishing returns”, I guess…
Our fourth course was Maine Lobster Tail cooked Sous Vide where fresh ingredients are vacuum-packed before poaching. The purpose of this cooking technique is to maximise flavour, which was fully evidenced by the intense delicate flavours and the tenderness of the meaty lobster. Again, another superb dish for the evening!
The other choice for the fourth course was soft shell crab sitting below a fried tomato garnished by a few baby arugula leaves. It was blue crab from Chesapeake Bay, one of the greatest seafood production areas in the US. The crispy shell with the dipping was simply delicious.
Our fifth course was pork belly and it might be the best pork belly I will ever taste! The fully braised melting fat fabulously married with its tangy-savoury sauce. Our meal was accompanied by a bottle of pinot noir, “Skewis Floodgate Vineyard 2003”. This wine has a clean aroma of cherry with a hint of earthy mushroom and long smooth finish. It went pretty well with the pork and the next course.
Our sixth course was a rectangular cut of lamb from Elysian Fields Farm with artichokes hidden underneath. I found it a bit odd because the lamb didn’t have the usual lamb taste but more like veal. Our server then explained to us the specialty about the lamb from this farm. Chef Keller tried lambs from various farms. He found the highest quality and the most tender lamb is from this particular farm. We absolutely loved it!
Our seventh course was cheese. Instead of rolling out a cheese trolley, it was a creative cheese dish. The poached Bing cherries and roasted Savoy cabbage amazingly accompanied the Saint Nectaire cheese. What an interesting, yet tasty combination!
Our eighth course was apricot sorbet topped by a few crunchy almonds. The sorbet was very smooth and creamy with a concentrated apricot flavour. In addition, the almonds offered a nice textural contrast.
Our nineth course was Malt Teaser, Valrhona Jivara chocolate-malt Bavarois cream with malt ice cream. Needless to say, Valrhona chocolate is the best chocolate in the world.
More desserts were served, a berry panna cotta and a vanilla crème brulée. We were also given a mini-bag of cookies from Keller’s Bouchon Bakery at the end of our meal.
This completely flawless tasting menu was, without a doubt, one of the best dinners in my life. In the menu, the source of ingredients was clearly labelled indicating that each item in this restaurant was carefully selected and well thought out by the chef. All the dishes were amazingly cooked; all the ingredients were fresh and good quality; all the flavours went wonderfully together… I have no idea what more anyone could ask for!
About the Service
The service was, unfortunately, below our expectation at a world class restaurant. We waited for about 5-min before getting our table and we were completely ignored until I requested a menu after another 15min. The servers did not explain the food in detail unless I asked for an explanation of the dish. They were very arrogant in my opinion.
I finally mentioned to the manager that I know we are lucky to get a reservation at the French Laundry but I did manage to get a booking for Fat Duck and El Bulli before and the service at both places were absolute perfect. From that point on, their attitude changed completely. They suddenly became so friendly, explained every detail they could possibly think of, gave us full attention… In addition, without our request, he offered us a tour of their kitchen, telling us how the kitchen is run, showing us interesting cooking equipment, allowing us to take as many pictures of the kitchen as we want…
If they could treat each customer with this kind of hospitality, the French Laundry would become the best restaurant on earth!
Keller now has another Michelin 3-star restaurant in NYC, Per se. Believe it or not, there is a large flat screen in the kitchen, where they do daily video conference to ensure the consistency and quality of both kitchens.
The French Laundry
6640 Washington Street
Yountville , CA 94599 U.S.A.
About 80km north of San Francisco
Tel: +707 944 2380
Serves dinner seven nights a week; Lunch is served only on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
9-course Chef’s Tasting Menu: $270/person
- Note that “Service Included” is printed beside the menu price.
- The restaurant is not easy to find especially during the dark. Please add an extra time to your journey.
- In order to make a reservation, remember to start calling just before 10am two months to the calendar date.