French Laundry (Yountville, CA) – Consistently Regal

Many consider The French Laundry to be America’s best restaurant. It will appear on some lists as the best restaurant in the world and Thomas Keller is always mentioned as one of the world’s best. After my first meal many years ago, my cynical side decried that anyone wanting to open a successful business should hire TFL’s PR agency. My Per Se meal (a sister NY restaurant) merely confirmed that. Suffice to say, the meals did not live up to their mythical status.

My European adventure showed me that some American restaurants are up to the task of competing w/ their European brethren. Jean Georges, the late Bastide, Manresa, and Bouley could absolutely hold their own in Europe. But what about TFL? My Per Se meal last year was mired in inconsistency and disappointment; could the mothership deliver a true 3*** experience?

I’ve since had 2 meals at TFL – one lunch and one dinner. I didn’t take notes for the first meal but the menus were similar enough. The overriding theme? Consistency. TFL takes less chances than my favorites, and while it’s harder to hit highs, their philosophy assures they do not miss. It’s a safe meal by today’s standards, but its consistency make it one of the better meals.

1. Oysters and Pearls

2. Moulard Duck “Foie Gras En Terrine”
Served w/ santa rosa plum “confiture”, shaved celery branch, toasted “brioche”, and 100 year old aged balsamic, served w/ 3 different sea salts: jurassic (montana), hana pepper (hawaiian), & brittany. The foie is some of the best i’ve ever had – airy light & deliciously rich. the brioche is switched out after 2 minutes and one feels obligated to eat it. The hana pepper salt complemented the foie best. The balsamic was applied tableside as 3 drops – for the $30 supplement, you’d think they would spare a touch more. Very Good.

3. “Carpaccio” of Atlantic Summer Flounder
Served w/ piquillo peppers, toasted pine nuts, cilantro shoots, & haas avovado puree. The fish was of good quality, but it was cut too thick to deserve the “carpaccio” designation. This cut did not show off the delicate nature of the fish. The puree gave it a smoothness but the pine nuts overpowered the aftertaste. Dishes like this show just how deft Kinch @ Manresa has become w/ his fish dishes; this dish in his hands would have been better. Good.

4. “Saffron Vanilla”
Maine lobster tail sous vide w/ spinach, tempura spinch & saffron-vanilla emulsion. A skill-full dish, lobster cooked nicely, plump & juicy, the sweetness of the saffron/vanilla kicks in at the height of the lobster’s own sweetness and slowly decays. The tempura spinach was quite delicate and hardly greasy. Very Good.

5. “Jambonnette” of Devil’s Gulch Ranch Rabbit
New crop potato “confit”, soft-poached quail egg, “frisee” lettuce and “sauce gribiche.” Perfectly breaded, fried, and juicy rabbit w/ great taste. The egg was too small – give us one more. Very Good.

6. Herb-Roasted Sirloin of Australian “Wagyu”
Served w/ horseradish “pain perdu”, red beets, belgian endive & pickeled green peppercorn “jus.” Charred nicely on the outside, but possibly too thick? I think i prefer wagyu sliced thin w/ an equal char to rare meat ratio. Not worth the $100 supplement – with such a high supplement, they should give you 3 meat options instead of just 2. Good.

7. Olive Oil ice cream
Served as part of a larger dessert dish for the vegetarian menu. I had this at my lunch a month ago so I requested it – an absolute *must* try. The ice cream is super smooth (thanks to their PacoJet) but it’s the texture of the olive oil coating your mouth that makes this dish so rewarding. Excellent.

8. Valrhona “Araguani” Chocolate Tart
Served w/ caramel ice cream and cappuccino foam. Not my thing.

Overall, a very good meal. It is special, and it’s not cheap, but it’s definitely French 3* quality. This meal definitely operated at a level above both my original FL meal and my Per Se meal last year.

When Michelin comes through in a few months, TFL is guaranteed 3 stars. The real question will be which, if any, other Bay Area restaurants will garner the same award? The only other deserving candidate is Manresa which is still the better Bay Area meal. We’ll have to wait and see.

- chuck