After trying for a reservation for over six years, I finally scored a table at The French Laundry, the famed dining mecca in Yountville. As all foodies know, when you are lucky enough to get a table here, you book a plane ticket and you go. So that’s exactly what I did. Look, I’m glad I finally ate here and I think it was (mostly) worth it, but would I do it again? No.
The restaurant, a crown jewel of chef Thomas Keller, is absolutely charming from the moment you walk up to the front door. There’s a semi-friendly “guard” that comes out to greet you — it was obvious to me that he was acting a bit like the restaurant’s bouncer because he was totally checking out every diner’s wardrobe from top to bottom as they arrived. Pro tip: make sure you adhere to the restaurant’s dress code or risk being turned away.
After we passed inspection, we were shown to our lovely table for two next to the front window. It was a great table and I was super happy! The place is very small and has an upstairs and downstairs. After going upstairs to check the place out, I’d think most people would prefer to be seated downstairs (so it won’t hurt to ask). I know I was glad to be seated on the lower level. The restaurant is quite dark, making food photography very difficult. Don’t be “that guy” who whips out a bright flash! I don’t have many pictures of my food because there simply wasn’t enough ambient light in the dining room.
There have been plenty reviews from countless others about the food and the atmosphere, so I’ll try to keep this short and sweet with a few major observations. First, the service was good but I didn’t find it truly exceptional. It started off strong (we had the earliest reservation at 5:30) but as the night went on, it got a bit sloppy, less polished, rushed and hurried. By the time our dessert course arrived, all of the mini desserts were just plopped in front of us instead of the fine presentation one by one that we had enjoyed with our previous courses. We had to ask several times for more water and an extra spoon — but only later in our meal. I was actually shocked that my water glass went empty several times!
As you may expect, you do get a bit of a “snoot” if you choose not to order any of the RIDICULOUSLY OVERPRICED wine from the wine list. I asked to see the list out of curiosity, but those prices are laughably in orbit. I don’t know how this place can charge prices like this with a straight face. Another pro tip: you can select several nonalcoholic sparkling sodas from the last page of the wine list — and there’s no additional charge for them. The sodas are served in swanky crystal champagne flutes so you won’t feel left out when all of the other deep pocketed diners are splurging on $600 bottles of sparkling wine (more money than sense if you ask me).
The food was good but not life-changing. In fact, I think the whole style of food here is very dated! The gimmick was fun for the first hour, then it got a little boring. One thing that really surprised me is how big the portions were. I’ve heard all my life that you get small bites of food, but these were literally full sized plates and portions. I am a huge eater too, but I was served way more than a few bites of food. The only portions that I felt were too tiny were the desserts, and all of the desserts were truly awesome.
One of the biggest fails of the night was that our menu had a misprint. I know this makes me sound cheap but trust me, I am not. I knew this dinner would cost a fortune and I had no qualms paying for it, but our menu did NOT list the additional $100 per person charge for one of the “special” entrees. Would I have ordered it anyway? Yes, probably. But it was a shock when our check came and it was $100 more than expected. I didn’t say anything at the restaurant because I didn’t want to make a scene, but it still is upsetting me and it rubbed me the wrong way. Should we have assumed that there would be an additional charge for Wagyu beef? Well, yeah. But the restaurant should’ve also corrected their menu mistake. See my photo of the menu below:
I did love how we were sent home with a parting gift that consisted of a small box of homemade truffles and two tins of shortbread cookies. I ate those cookies at breakfast at the hotel for the next two days and they were crispy, buttery and delicious. It’s the item I will remember most from my meal.
I felt like this entire experience was sorely overpriced and terribly overrated, and I feel no need to ever do it again. I still feel like it was just a check off my foodie bucket list instead of something that was truly enjoyable.
Have you dined at The French Laundry? I’d love to hear your comments!