The French Laundry in Napa Valley

The French Laundry – Fabulous Food and Photos in Napa Valley

In Destination Dining, Restaurants, West by Daryl & Mindi Hirsch5 Comments

We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to eat dinner at the French Laundry in Napa. Check out our photos to see why this Napa Valley restaurant is so famous.

Check out our photos to see why the French Laundry in Napa Valley is so famous.
2foodtrippers at The French Laundry in Napa Valley

2foodtrippers at The French Laundry

We have eaten everywhere from food trucks to destination dining at Michelin rated restaurants and so many places in between.  We pride ourselves on our sophisticated yet down-to-earth palettes, and it makes us happy when friends ask for our opinions and recommendations.

When planning our recent California adventure, we managed to score a reservation to The French Laundry in Napa Valley, and of course we had to go.  How could we not jump at the opportunity to dine at one of the most famous restaurants in the country, if not the world?  It’s been a month since the dinner, and people keep asking how it was.  Well, the first thing we must say is…

Wow! Look at the pictures!

Often when we dine out, photography poses a challenge. Dim, candle-lit rooms don’t usually lend themselves to great photos.  A dark room may be great for setting a romantic mood, but it doesn’t do much for lighting a fabulously composed plate of guinea hen with heirloom vegetables.

We use filters to fix many of our restaurant photos, trying our best to remove the too-common orangish hue that results from a dark dining room. Shadows also pose an obstacle to our food photography, forcing us to twist our cameras in order to get that perfect appetizing shot. We don’t complain, though we often feel self-conscious during some meals. We understand that a restaurant is not a photographic studio, and we would never want it to be like one.

Photos from our Dinner at The French Laundry in Napa Valley

This brings us back to the French Laundry. Wow! Look at the pictures! Look at the way the light bathes the culinary subjects in glorious luminescence. To us, the photos and their effortless beauty say everything about The French Laundry.  We documented the march of multiple courses with our handy camera. Without further ado, here comes the parade!

Salmon Tartare Cornet - A French Laundry Classic French Laundry in Napa Valley

Salmon Tartare Cornet – A French Laundry Classic

Gougères - Even Better with Schramsberg Champagne at French Laundry in Napa Valley

Gougères – Even Better with Schramsberg Champagne

Oysters and Pearls - "Sabayon" of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar - We've Heard about this Dish. We've Read about this Dish. Now We've Eaten this Dish. at French Laundry in Napa Valley

Oysters and Pearls – “Sabayon” of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar – We’ve Heard about this Dish. We’ve Read about this Dish. Now We’ve Eaten this Dish.

2011 Massican Annia - The blend of ribolla gialla, tocai friulano and chardonnay grapes was a unique and fresh melding of Italian and Californian wine traditions. at French Laundry in Napa Valley

2011 Massican Annia – The blend of ribolla gialla, tocai friulano and chardonnay grapes was a unique and fresh melding of Italian and Californian wine traditions.

Hen Egg Custard with a Ragout of Perigord Truffles at French Laundry in Napa Valley

Hen Egg Custard with a Ragout of Perigord Truffles

Salad of French Laundry Garden Potatoes with Heritage Buckeye Hen, Egg, Radishes and Cornichon Relish at French Laundry in Napa Valley

Salad of French Laundry Garden Potatoes with Heritage Buckeye Hen, Egg, Radishes and Cornichon Relish

Pretzel Roll - From the Bread Service Selection at French Laundry in Napa Valley

Pretzel Roll – From the Bread Service Selection

Butter Two Ways at French Laundry in Napa Valley

Butter Two Ways

Columbia River Sturgeon with Ruby Beets, Dill "Gnocchi à la Parisienne", Mizuna and Horseradish at French Laundry in Napa Valley

Columbia River Sturgeon with Ruby Beets, Dill “Gnocchi à la Parisienne”, Mizuna and Horseradish

Sweet Butter-Poached Maine Lobster with Globe Artichoke, Mokum Carrots, Red Pearl Onions, Italian Parsley and "Mousseline Barigoule" at French Laundry in Napa Valley

Sweet Butter-Poached Maine Lobster with Globe Artichoke, Mokum Carrots, Red Pearl Onions, Italian Parsley and “Mousseline Barigoule”

Four Story Hill Farm Poularde with K&J Orchards Yellow Peaches, Tokyo Turnips, Komatsuna and Mustard Seed Vinaigrette at French Laundry in Napa Valley

Four Story Hill Farm Poularde with K&J Orchards Yellow Peaches, Tokyo Turnips, Komatsuna and Mustard Seed Vinaigrette

Herb-Roasted Elysian Fields Farm Lamb Rib-Eye with "Croquette de Petit Salé", Garbanzo Bean Purée, Jingle Bell Peppers, Arugula and Lamb Jus at French Laundry in Napa Valley

Herb-Roasted Elysian Fields Farm Lamb Rib-Eye with “Croquette de Petit Salé”, Garbanzo Bean Purée, Jingle Bell Peppers, Arugula and Lamb Jus

Andante Dairy "Legato" with Caper-Sultana Condiment, Dark Raisin Purée, Celery Branch and California Red Walnuts at French Laundry in Napa Valley

Andante Dairy “Legato” with Caper-Sultana Condiment, Dark Raisin Purée, Celery Branch and California Red Walnuts

Toasted Oat "Glacé" with Santa Rosa Plums and Japanese Plum Jam - A Fine Segue from Savory to Sweet at French Laundry in Napa Valley

Toasted Oat “Glacé” with Santa Rosa Plums and Japanese Plum Jam – A Fine Segue from Savory to Sweet

Mindi's Dessert - Delta Blueberry Cheesecake with Compressed Blueberry Muffin, Lemon Ice Cream and Puff Pastry "Arlette" at French Laundry in Napa Valley

Mindi’s Dessert – Delta Blueberry Cheesecake with Compressed Blueberry Muffin, Lemon Ice Cream and Puff Pastry “Arlette”

Daryl's Dessert - "Dark Treacle" with Devil's Food, Valrhona Chocolate "Marquise", Lyle's Golden Syrup and Marshall Farms Burnt Honey Ice Cream at French Laundry in Napa Valley

Daryl’s Dessert – “Dark Treacle” with Devil’s Food, Valrhona Chocolate “Marquise”, Lyle’s Golden Syrup and Marshall Farms Burnt Honey Ice Cream

Selecting Hand Crafted Chocolates at French Laundry in Napa Valley

Selecting Hand Crafted Chocolates

The Chosen Hand Crafted Chocolates at French Laundry in Napa Valley

The Chosen Hand Crafted Chocolates

Macademia Nuts at French Laundry in Napa Valley

Macadamia Nuts

Doughnuts for 'Coffee and Doughnuts' at French Laundry in Napa Valley

Doughnuts for ‘Coffee and Doughnuts’

'Coffee and Doughnuts' part II. In this scene, the doughnut is dunked in an ice cream-like cappuccino semifreddo at French Laundry in Napa Valley

‘Coffee and Doughnuts’ part II. In this scene, the doughnut is dunked in an ice cream-like cappuccino semifreddo.

2foodtrippers in Front of the Kitchen at French Laundry in Napa Valley

2foodtrippers in Front of the Kitchen

Inside the Kitchen at French Laundry in Napa Valley

Inside the Kitchen

Boxed Chocolates a/k/a French Laundry Swag French Laundry in Napa Valley

Boxed Chocolates a/k/a French Laundry Swag

Thoughts about our Dinner at The French Laundry in Napa Valley

The restaurant’s attentive focus toward every last detail of the dining experience separates it from all other American restaurants. It’s not even a close competition. Compared to other high-end dining establishments, The French Laundry’s service is like Secretariat at the Belmont or Michael Jordan on the basketball court.

Seriously, the service is impeccable to the extreme. In fact, we quietly commented on not liking one server as much as the others, and we never saw her up close again. It’s as if our table was under surveillance. We’re still wondering about that.

Great food deserves great wine.  Not surprisingly, the wine list was extensive, sophisticated and accessible. The sommelier gave us the perfect recommendations, especially the Retro Cellars 2009 Petite Sirah from Napa Valley. We liked the red wine so much that we hunted it down the next day and bought some bottles to bring home to enjoy later.

The food, you ask? Of course it’s excellent. Though it’s a shame that California passed the arcane foie gras ban. Every other great luxury meal that we’ve eaten has featured the rich, buttery delicacy, and its the one thing that would have propelled the food experience into the highest stratosphere. (The restaurant does offer a $100 upcharge for truffles, but that was a little too steep for our wallets.)  Even still, the food was memorable, albeit in a somewhat predictable way.

You see, for Daryl especially, the eating experience felt like a movie where we already knew the major plot points. Daryl idolized Thomas Keller long before he met Mindi. Like many people, we own the cookbooks, we’ve enjoyed Chef Keller’s appearances on TV and in person, and we have perused more than our share of critically fawning articles. Daryl knew that Oysters and Pearls would be on the menu along with Salmon Cornets, Butter Poached Lobster, and, of course, the restaurant’s play on ‘Coffee and Doughnuts’. These are all great, classic dishes. However, the lack of surprise muted some of the electricity that we experienced last year at Maison Lameloise in Burgundy, France.

In addition to asking how the meal was, people keep asking if we’ll go back. Though one should never say never, it’s fairly unlikely. There are so many great restaurants to try in Napa and Sonoma, and most don’t cost as much as The French Laundry.

But we shouldn’t complain about the meal too much. It’s not every day you have the opportunity to eat filet of luxurious, flaky sturgeon served with a classic sauce reduced to the nth degree or a wonderful chicken roulade that is silky smooth in texture with flavors that evoke the comforting essence of a grandmother’s kitchen. It’s also not every day that a favorite cookbook is brought to life in a way that pleases all five senses.  At the end of the day, it really comes down to the food. And the pictures of the food.

The French Laundry is located at 6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599, USA.


Comments

  1. Wow nice! I’m envious! I have yet to get a reservation @FL. I do also agree there are so many fine restaurants in Napa Valley to try also!

  2. I am hoping that I will try the restaurant one day, it reminds me a little bit of Melisse in LA, which I did not find as good as expected.

  3. I worked at The French Laundry in the late 90’s, during its real heyday. Glad to see this post about how things are going there now. No surprise about the “classic” dishes that you refer to (Oysters and Pearls, Coffee and Doughnuts, Sturgeon, etc). That’s a bit disappointing. However, it sounds like you had a good experience. When you spoke about your wondering about the server that you didn’t like, they probably didn’t hear you. The service style there (providing it hasn’t changed since Laura Cunningham left) is a team service. Meaning, you never see the same person twice at your table. Hope that clarifies some things. Cheers!

  4. You had a very different menu from the one we had at lunch. Some good-looking dishes! I loved the experience but because I’d also been to Per Se earlier in our trip there wasn’t too much of a surprise factor. Still it’s a very special treat.
    Michelle Dunner recently posted…A few days in Martha’s VineyardMy Profile

  5. Sounds like such an amazing experience. It was great to see all the photos and hear your thoughts. I only live an hour away but haven’t had the chance to try it. I do agree though that there are so many amazing culinary experiences at lower prices in the area that it can be hard for us average folks to want to splurge. Thanks for sharing.
    Megan | Traveling Nine to Fiver recently posted…My Favorite Thing In Puerto Rico – The CoquiMy Profile

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