By Guest Foodie Contributor–Misty Inouye
How do you prepare for the best meal of your life? I wrestled with this thought leading up to the reservation at The French Laundry (TFL) in Yountville. After all, this is the restaurant where Anthony Bourdain said that he experienced the best meal of his life! The French Laundry is owned by renowned Chef Thomas Keller. The 17-table restaurant is housed in an old building that used to be an actual French laundry, hence the name.
Our journey to TFL actually started two months earlier when we were tasked with trying to get a reservation. Getting reservations at TFL has been called improbable and even impossible but we are a determined group of Hilo ladies and tried anyway! Gosh, it was only a reservation not front row tickets to the Merrie Monarch, how hard could it be? It turned out to be quite the challenge! Wendy asked the concierge at Silverado to call and a bunch of us were on opentable.com the very second reservations became available for our desired date with no luck. In the end, we were able to secure a reservation after a 61-minute, old-school phone call of over 200 redials! It felt like being back in the ’80s trying to request a song with Vance K!
Our French Laundry dinner fell on a Friday night. After we took a selfie, we entered the famous blue door. There was no need to check in. After all, this is The French Laundry; they just know. We were whisked into the cozy main dining room on the first floor where a large circular table was perfectly set for seven. Initially, I was nervous, but quickly relaxed and realized the servers were actually quite unpretentious. Dare I say that by the end of the evening we felt like regulars? Haha, not exactly, but they were very attentive and our waiter, Andrew, went as far as cracking small jokes during the most unexpected moments! #thatswhatshesaid
We ordered the 9-course Chef’s Tasting Menu along with some very special supplements. The food was even more spectacular than I imagined. Yes, the veal (Haidee’s favorite) and the lobster courses were a dream, but for me the unforgettable dishes of the evening were:
Warm Gougeres: if you’ve never had them before, gougeres (pronounced “goo-zhere”) are fluffy cheese puffs made with savory pâte à choux dough. They were phenomenal and our facial expressions and all of the silent nodding showed it.
Salmon Cornets: this iconic Thomas Keller amuse bouche was my favorite bite of the entire meal. These little black goma cones filled with salmon, dill, and crème fraiche left me in a trance.
Oysters and Pearls: this dish has been on the menu since the day TFL opened 21 years ago. No surprises here, the flavors of this famous dish were elegant and rich. The brininess of the caviar suspended in the sabayon was sublime. I had to remind myself to eat this slowly and savor each warm bite of oyster.
Elevages Perigord Moulard Duck Foie Gras “Terrine” (supplement): the fancy name of this dish can easily be reduced to “broke da mouth!” Our server, Andrew, suggested using the salts (two were from Hawaii!) to enhance the flavors of this decadent dish. I loved the texture of the foie gras paired with the brioche and how it melted in my mouth. The salt was a perfect accompaniment as it focused the flavor. Thank you for sharing it with us Anne!
Carnaroli Risotto Biologico (supplement): a browned butter and Parmesan risotto with white truffles from Alba that were shaved tableside! The amount of quarter- sized truffles Andrew shaved onto the risotto was dizzying. I am still wordless about this dish. After tasting a few bites (thank you Michelle, Myra, and Wendy!) thoughts of having this as my last meal crept into my head. It was that good.
Just when I thought the meal could not get any more epic, a flurry of desserts (I lost count after seven) arrived and for the second time that night I was again without words. Each of us marveled at the artistry of each dessert.
Coffee and Doughnuts: a Thomas Keller signature. Warm, cinnamon-sugared doughnut holes served with a cappuccino semi-freddo (Jill’s favorite). They reminded me of a mini-malasada, absolute perfection.
Minardises: a selection of handmade chocolates that were presented to our table nestled in a hinged box. Some of the whimsical flavors that night included green tea and passion fruit, peanut butter and jelly, and chocolate hazelnut. At this point we were feeling pretty comfortable and began asking highly sophisticated questions like, “How many can we have?”
Macarons: mini versions of what you get at Keller-owned Bouchon Bakery that rival anything from Ladurée in Paris. Although I didn’t consult with my tablemates, my best guess at its flavor is blackberry vanilla. It had such a subtle flavor that I really should have paid more attention to the profile instead of inhaling it.
Feijoa Ice Cream with Sicilian Pistachio “Sabayon”: this was my favorite dessert of the evening with a complicated name that I still can’t remember. What I do remember is that Myra and I, coincidentally, took our first bite at the same time and our eyes grew as big as a menpachi’s! Delightful!
The evening ended with toasts galore and lively conversation. We could not help but feel blessed to have had such a wonderful experience. I don’t think The French Laundry can be fully appreciated unless you experience it for yourself. If you ever have the opportunity and are able to secure a reservation, just go!