It was my dear brother, Johnny Fox’s birthday. He would be dining at Chez Panisse in Berkeley. I was just back in town and too tired to accept the invite from his wife Jackie. So regretfully, I had to pass. He and I chatted about his upcoming experience and during our conversation, he mentioned the French Laundry, owned by renowned chef, Thomas Keller, was high on his list. It can take up to 6 months to get a reservation but since I had a few “insider tips”, I thought to give it a try. My 2nd call of the day, I had favor and had secured a coveted reservation in just 4 days. I called brother and asked if he would like to dine at the French Laundry. He said, “Yes, when next year”? I said, “No, Monday evening 7pm”. Johnny: “You’ve got connections there too?” The plan was in place, there would be 4 of us… my dear friend June Hill would be joining us, however, if anyone would drop out, my dear friend, Lucille Johnson would step in.
My sister friend, and fellow foodie, Robbie Bell and I when spending a month traveling Europe in the 90’s dined at the famed restaurant of Chef Paul Bocuse in Lyon, France and the experience was out of this world. His image is etched on everything from dinnerware to stemware. I thought that was the cat’s meow but The French Laundry takes dining to another level. JayZ and Bey were turned away last year without reservations. Of course Jigga could have bought the entire town but rules are rules and sometimes money just doesn’t fix everything. The management makes it clear: Do not arrive without a reservation, sorry. In the words of Confucius, “No tickee, No Laundry” (no pun intended – LOL) The 11 course tasting menu is a standard $300 per person with a couple of “optional supplements”, i.e. the Royal Osetra Caviar ($75), the Carnaroli Risotto with shaved White Truffles from Alba ($175 – Truffles are going for $3900 a pound so understood). The other supplement if you did not want the Herb Roasted Elysian Fields Farm Lamb was Charcoal Grilled Japanese Wagyu ($100).
The town of Yountville is about an hour’s drive from where we live and that’s without traffic. It took us an hour 45 mins to get there but we were all up for it with J Fox at the wheel.
Upon arrival, I spoke a little French to the French maitre’d, Alex and mentioned I had dined at Bocuse’s place in Lyon. Was he impressed, he asked, if Paul sent me. Boy that got chuckle out of me. When Johnny walked in, Alex welcomed he and his wife and wished him a happy birthday. The restaurant only seats 60 with 17 tables. We were shown to our table upstairs which I feel is more intimate than downstairs. Our server, Kevin who has been employed there for 20 years was personable, had a bit of humor and was quite knowledgeable. June had done her homework and ordered the Chateau Mouton-Rothchild ($2,950). Kevin didn’t flinch — he said, “I’ll get that for you right away”. We all got a laugh when she immediately stopped him. They also have a Krug Champagne for $6,000.
After the Amuse Bouche (something to make the mouth feel happy) of salmon cornets with sweet red onion crème fraiche we were off to a 4 hour delightful culinary experience. We started with their signature “Oysters and Pearls – Sabayon of Pearl Tapioca with poached Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar. 4 of my favorites were: Slow Poached Fillet of Gulf Coast Cobia ( from the Florida waters and the sweetest fish I’ve ever tasted). Secondly, the Santa Barbara Spiny Lobster, the Wolfe Ranch White Quail and of course the Lamb dish. There were breads from their bakery, Bouchon, with 2 kinds of butter, one is salted. Salads from their gardens and then to cap it all off course after course of Homemade Chocolates, Cappuccino Semifreddo, donut balls, chocolate covered Macadamia Nuts.
We all would have been happy to rest our bodies at the quaint Yountville Inn, but next time I will make plans to stay overnight and experience their other restaurants: Ad Hoc & Addendum (specializing in fried chicken and barbecue) which I understand are more difficult to get into. We said our good byes and were given a bag of goodies including homemade shortbread cookies in a silver tin. In a word “Awesome”! Those on the east coast should check out their sister restaurant in New York, Per Se. My apologies for not posting pics but check out their website http://www.frenchlaundry.com
Now, back to travel for 2015: If you are going to Paris, Egypt, Italy or South Africa please get your deposits in. You are way past due. Until next time….Peace & Blessings