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The French Laundry

6640 Washington St. (Creek St.), Yountville, 94599-1301, United States

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The French Laundry is in the Napa Valley, just over a one hour drive from San Francisco in the small town of Yountville. Thomas Keller’s restaurant is generally reckoned the best restaurant in America, and based on my three visits here I would concur (note - Thomas has since opened Per Se in New York). The rustic establishment has a little garden where you can have a drink before entering the main room. The dining room is simple with bare walls and no distracting music, with a corresponding room upstairs, each with about eight tables. An amuse-bouche of cornet of salmon mousse with crème fraiche was superb, as was a vegetarian version the following night (19/20). A further nibble of pike mousse in a little tart had lovely texture (18/20).

Tuna tartare was of a high standard, on a bed of radish and cucumber drizzled with aged Tamari soy sauce (17/20). Next up for me was a Maine scallop, topped with a mousse of foie gras, with a ring of superb mash, all sitting within a classic demi-glace reduction (19/20). My wife's warm asparagus and tomato salad, drizzled with 100 year old Balsamic vinegar, was of a very high standard (18/20). For main course I tried excellent squab with a sliver of warm foie gras and a red wine reduction (17/20) while my wife had tortellini stuffed with white beans, with a creamy herb sauce, fresh tomatoes and sprigs of chervil with shavings of Parmesan (19/20).

Cheese was not quite to the same standard, with my Langres and Brie both around 15/20, but it is very difficult to get good cheese in the USA due to the ludicrous insistence on pasteurisation for most cheeses (perhaps the US government would like to check the relative life expectancy of their population with that of France before jumping to conclusions about cheese import restrictions). A passion fruit ciboulet with matching ice cream with a biscuit was good (16/20) but again not in the league of the initial courses. Coffee was superb (19/20).

Service was impeccable, with a visit the following evening notable for them having prepared a separate menu so that no dishes would overlap with what we had, and with a waiter quoting what dishes we had ordered the previous night; impressive enough until you realise that it was not the same waiter!  The wine list is very fine, and mark-ups are less fierce than in London. The tasting menu which we had the following evening had many components and was even better than the meal described above. A lovely restaurant that stands above just about anywhere else in the USA at the time of writing.

My most recent visit brought an extensive sixteen course tasting menu, which goes some way to showing the range of the kitchen, as follows. It is worth noting that the male and female diners had different dishes for every course, 32 courses in all, as if to emphasise just how broad the kitchen’s capabilities really are. This consisted of:

Puree of fennel bulb soup, pickled medjol dates and Jacobsen’s farm green almonds

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Granite of green apple with Russian sevruga caviar

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Connecticut river shad roe with Persian lime salt and shaved, aged bonito

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Monterey Bay Dungeness crab, green asparagus and sauce bearnaise

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Poached Araucana hen eggs, truffled English muffins, truffled Hollandaise and grated Perigord truffles

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Salad of French Laundry garden spring onions, picked pearl onions, broccolini and red onion “gastrique”

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Carnaroli risotto “biologico” with shaved Perigord truffles and truffle emulsion

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Herb roasted Dutch turbotine, spring fava beans, morel mushrooms and whole grain mustard sauce

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Maine lobster tail with slow-cooked heirloom beets, black trumpet mushrooms and Mizona coulis

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Heirloom beets with garden broccolini and Perigord truffle crème fraiche

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Creamed ramp top “pierogis” with French Laundry garden shallots, cipollini onion, glazed ramp bulbs with sauce soubise and chive-infused olive oil

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Fricassee of roasted marble potatoes, California grey morel mushrooms, split English peas and pea puree

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Ricotta gnocchi made with shaved Roquefort, 50- year old sherry vinegar and virgin walnut oil

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Texas ruby grapefruit sorbet with black liquorice “genoise”, yoghurt panna cotta and grapefruit “supremes”

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Cinnamon sugared doughnuts with cappuccino semifreddo

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Kalrhona bitter chocolate soufflé, plumped Michigan cherry relish and brown sugar ice cream

Every course had a small glass of matching wine, which proved a lot to get through. The meal started at 19:00 and finished at 1:30 i.e. over six hours. Throughout the ingredients were excellent and the culinary technique very good; there were no technical slips. It was perhaps a little overwhelming in the end but clearly demonstrated why Thomas Keller (who was present in the kitchen) is regarded as the top American chef.

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  • Jan van Os

    I could not agree more. We were lucky to get a table for lunch and that went on until early evening. The staff and service were superb, friendly and elegantly loose. The food prepared to perfection and many courses my spouse got different dishes as me. The fresh ground white truffle risotto still lingers on my palate and it gives me an urge to return to Thomas Keller. On the outside you hardly imagine that the best *** restaurant in USA is located there, the fact that it actually was a laundry and the quiet lush garden makes it all perfect. For the culinary treat the price is worth every dollar, and to be honest we found it relatively cheap. If you can get a table, GO !!

  • ratso

    Magnificent review. I could taste everything. I would have written the same if I were sober enough. Cheers.

  • Alex Chambers

    Having been stuck in traffic heading out of San Fran for 45 mins, then pulled over by a nazi traffic cop all of 50 metres from the restaurant, we were in rather less a serene mood than is perhaps the norm when we finally took our seats. This was all soon forgotten however, once the well oiled machine that is Keller's headquarters kicked into gear. A half bottle of Gosset Rose was sipped on the balcony as the salmon cornets and gruyere puffs we'd heard so much about rolled up alongside the menus. After ordering a bottle of Louis Michel 2002 Grand Cru, A decent Haven Valley red and a half bottle of Tokay we kicked off the meal proper. Although we both ended up going for the standard tasting menu, I can comfortably say it was the first time a vegetable tasting menu actually sorely tempted me. Given what followed, were I to return, I'd most likely give it a go too. First up, oysters and pearls for the wife, a cauliflower and caviar concoction for me. Both light, summery and fairly wonderful. This was followed by a foie gras and roasted peach salad which was pure 3* stuff, and the first dish that genuinely blew me away. A simple vegetable salad of green asparagus, pickled heirloom beets and black truffle with a truffle emulsion was possibly the best vegetable dish I've eaten. Quite how we fail so miserably to produce veg of this quality in the UK is a mystery wrapped inside an enigma. Next up, sea bass with aubergine and pequillo peppers was top notch, though a lime cured Spanish mackerel fillet with hearts of palm was let down by being rather too thick. Although the flavour was excellent, trying to cut through a lump of raw fish with a fish knife was as tricky as it sounds- not particularly logical. Lobster tail in sweet butter with a coffee and valhrona emulsion was an interesting idea. I thought the emulsion superb, though found my lobster rather chewy, whereas my other half had superb lobster yet thought the emulsion misjudged. We both followed this with Ranch Rabbit loin and applewood smoked bacon with tomato confit. Exceptionally tender rabbit had great flavour and the confit offset the dish splendidly, again real 3* cooking. The final entree was a chateaubriand of veal served with obscenely large morels and a wonderful golden corn pudding. This was flawless. The cheese course was the first and only time we strayed into Adria territory, with a sheep cheese mousse, plum jam and brioche concoction that was almost identical to a dish I ate at El Bulli last summer- this is not a good thing in my book though the wife enjoyed it. Desserts were up and down (albeit by rather exulted standards), with a glace of fruits merely pleasant, a trio of chocolate very strong and a summer pudding with lemon verbena ice cream and summer berry compote sublime. Various petit fours were taken in the garden with generous double espressos- the most notable being chocolate coated macadamias that were simply delicious. All in all this was a superb meal that was certainly head and shoulders above anything we'd eaten in the states at that point. Whether it deserves QUITE the level of hype and hero worship is open to question but it's certainly worth a special visit. Service and takeaway goodie bags were excellent. Ironically, it was totally upstaged by Per Se, Keller's sister restaurant, the following evening.

  • Chris

    The French Laundry is located in a lovely setting, just north of Napa. Much like Gordon Ramsey's it requires calling 1 month in advance and praying you get in. They say to start calling at 8:00 am, but if you want it, start at 7:30 and be prepaid to hit redial every few seconds. It took about 5-6 tries before I was able to get a date that would work for me AND dinner was already fully booked, so my only option was lunch. The food was quiet good but I found the prices to be very high. Lunch for 6 amounted to around $1200. Having come from Charlie Trotters several weeks before I felt it just wasn't up to the same standard. In lieu of this fine establishment, try going down the road to the Greystone Culinary Institute, located in St. Helena. True, they are just chef's in training. Still, the food is excellent, the wines superb, and the prices very reasonable.

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