Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry is more than just a Michelin starred restaurant. It’s an elusive destination, a legend among eateries and an experience beyond dining.
After eating at The French Laundry for the first time, I had doubts about whether I should add it as a recommendation here at atLarrys.com. It wasn’t a question of the quality of the food or service; it was a matter of the near impossibility of scoring a reservation. Why recommend a restaurant at which no reader can reasonably expect to eat?
I had given up on the notion that I ever would eat at The French Laundry. Then my daughter-in-law Edie suggested in December that we aim for a July birthday dinner for her husband, our son Lloyd. I didn’t scoff because I didn’t want to be rude. But secretly I knew it wasn’t going to happen.
Over the years I tried many times for a reservation at The French Laundry. Each time I would start dialing the telephone at the precise moment they were to begin taking reservations for the date I desired. Each time I was answered by incessant busy signals. Each time, when I would eventually get through, I was there were no more reservations available for the day I desired.
A long time ago I started to joke: I was going to send a note to The French Laundry. It would read, “I would like to dine at your restaurant. When you have a table available, please call me and I’ll see if I can make it.”
I’ve dined at Tetsuya in Sidney, Le Bernardin in New York, The Kitchen in Sacramento, Cibreo in Florence – all difficult reservations. But in each case I was able to secure a reservation by phone or via the internet for the day I wanted. Not so at The French Laundry.
At the precise prescribed moment two months before our desired reservation, Edie started dialing the number for The French Laundry. She dialed 70 times without getting through. When finally she did get through she was told no reservations were available for our desired dinner. A lunch reservation was open, however, so she grabbed it and put her name on the waiting list in case of a dinner cancellation.
Apparently no one cancelled and on a bright, sunny July morning we were two blocks from the restaurant when Lloyd guessed our destination.
The French Laundry is a $270 prix fixe menu, tip included. Actually, it’s two menus – a Chef’s Tasting Menu and a Tasting of Vegetables. Each is nine courses, if you don’t count the amuse bouche and other off-the-menu goodies that arrive before, during and after the meal.
Figure $270 as the starting point. The bill will run up a quickly when you start adding cocktails and wine. Our bill topped $1,600 for four people for lunch. I won’t even begin to describe the many courses because the menu changes daily.
Worth it? Of course it is. After all, it’s The French Laundry.
Clearly, I decided the question of whether to post a recommendation at this site in favor of doing so.
The reason: it’s The French Laundry. It’s not just the food; it’s the experience. Besides, I can’t say a single negative word about that experience. The setting is magic, the service impeccable, the food excellent. Now, if it just weren’t for that infernal busy signal.