Making a Reservation
The French Laundry takes phone reservations two months in advance. The first day I dialed for a solid hour, with no luck. The next day I got right in, making a dinner reservation for me and my husband, Larry. The reservation agent assured me that my gluten-free needs would be met. I was so excited!
Located in Yountville, CA (in the wine country of Napa Valley), the restaurant is in a small building that looks like more a house than a restaurant. We entered into a very small lobby and then were quickly seated; our table was on the 2nd level so we climbed stairs that were more like narrow stairs in a house. Your napkin is cleverly arranged with a wooden clothespin, engraved with the French Laundry. To further the “laundry” theme, your bill comes written in long hand on a laundry ticket. Cute!
Choosing Between Meat and Vegetarian Menus
After the first surprise of how small the restaurant actually is (we calculated about 15 tables total, serving about 75 people), the next surprise was that I could choose a meat-based or vegetarian menu. I chose the meat-version and then had many choices again―yes, there are 9 courses but I had to choose between two choices in 5 of those courses. So, I was immediately on “decision over-load,” knowing that my choices in the next 5 minutes would guide what I ate for the next 2 to 3 hours. Also, the waiter reassured me that there would be a gluten-free version of everything, so I needn’t worry. Wow!
The Food and the Service
Even though there are 9 courses, you actually eat more than 9 courses. We lost count! Luckily, each course is small, perhaps just a few bites. The first “gift” from the chef was a mini-gluten-free cone filled with a garlicky cream cheese mixture topped with a dollop of red caviar. It looked like a cute little ice cream cone. My taste buds were enchanted while my brain was thinking…”how clever.”
We then proceeded on a 2 ½ hour food orgy that included a huge variety of vegetables, meats, and seafood. Each course was absolutely delicious and delivered quickly after we finished the last one, but we never felt rushed. Somehow, the timing was excellent. Every dish was a work of art, as this photo of a Hearts of Palm salad shows.
I can only imagine the coordination in the kitchen to make this meal happen. The staff is delightful and everyone seems genuinely intent on making sure your experience is memorable.
One of the highlights of the evening was the bread. It was served as small dinner rolls (I ate 4) and the waiter told us that it used Thomas Keller’s new gluten-free flour formulation, “cup4cup.” I think the seeds on top are Nigella seeds. The texture of the rolls was excellent; served slightly warm they were a delicious treat.
I always look forward to dessert and I wasn’t disappointed. I chose a white chocolate dessert that also included Black Mission fig sorbet (the purplish oval toward the front of the photo). The restaurant serves its own coffee blend, which was very good.
By now, we were very full, but there was more food! The waiter brought a plate of chocolates which I devoured. Then he brought my husband some shortbread cookies that were not gluten-free. But then he said to me, “I don’t want you to leave empty-handed, so here are some chocolates for you.” He had me at the word “chocolate.” I was so impressed!
The French Laundry Gardens
The next day we drove back to the restaurant so I could get a better look at their gardens which are directly across the street from the restaurant. No wonder the vegetables tasted so fresh; they were grown just yards away.
The food and the staff were outstanding; the whole experience was about delicious food, remarkable customer service, and a lovely ambience that made for a memorable evening. Throughout the meal, we marveled at how perfect everything was… each dish was beautiful to look at and delicious to eat. I had originally been skeptical about just how perfect it might be, but my skepticism was unfounded. The French Laundry really is special.