The French Laundry is arguably the most iconic restaurant in the country. It’s so famous amongst the food circles that it’s ridiculously difficult to get a reservation there even though they serve both lunch and dinner. So when I miraculously saw an opening a few weeks prior to my SF trip last year, I jumped at the 8:30PM opportunity despite having already planned a dinner at Quince the following night. You only live once right?
Naturally, expectation was sky high because of the restaurant’s accolades and since I never had to work so diligently, with the exception of N/Naka post Chef’s Table premiere, to secure a reservation. So how was the meal?
Their signature clothespin
Complimentary house Champagne upon walk in. Nice gesture!
Since I’m not much of a drinker, I opted for their non-alcoholic pairing. It’s one of the few things they don’t charge you extra for.
Amuse Bouche #1: Corbia tartare “Cornet” with red onion creme fraiche and black sesame tuile
First bite! How was it? It was whimsical-ish and tasted good but not very inspiring. Variations of this “cornet” has been imitated to death at lesser restaurants at this point of its life cycle.
Amuse Bouche #2: Potato Croquette
It tasted like any other potato croquette. I’m worried at this point since Providence in LA typically knock my socks off with a variety of their amuse bouche.
Course #1: “Oysters and Pearls” | Sabayon of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar
HOLY CRAP. Best caviar course I have ever had. Now we’re talking! I was first hit with the variety of texture of this dish. You got the popping of the caviar, the slightly chewy tapioca, the creaminess of the oysters, and the sauce had perfect consistency coating each ingredients. The flavors of all the ingredients combined to accentuate the briny ocean goodness of the oysters and caviar.
Course 2A: Garden Sunchoke Salad | Hadley Orchards Medjool Dates, Meyer Lemon Mostarda and Wild Arugula
The salad tasted fresh and fine but I was quite disappointed. I get that TFL wanted to showcase the fresh produce of its farm but is it wrong for me to expect more than a simple salad at the price I’m paying? Maybe something like Manresa’s enjoyable and unique garden salad?
Course 2B: Elevages Perigord Moulard Duck Foie Gras “Torchon” | Compressed Sour Apples, Garden Turnip Puree, petite Lettuces and Whole Grain Mustard - $30 supplement
To sample more courses, we opted for this supplement. It tasted fine like any other good foie. The compressed sour apple was sous vided to give it a more translucent appearance and a slightly different texture. It acted as a good counter balance to the rich foie. Not a very exciting course.
Sesame Epi bread - Exemplary
Sourdough Brioche - Another perfect piece from TFL. Way better than anything from B Patisserie or Tartine. At this point, I asked the waiter how is it possible that their bread is so good. He explained that Bouchon down the street makes 2 deliveries to TFL nightly. They bike down from Bouchon slightly before the first service and again at around 8 so guests can get the freshest possible stuff. All bread and pastries are slightly undercooked so TFL can finish cooking them to the proper temp RIGHT before serving them.
Course #3: Slow Cooked fillet of Wild Scottish Sea Trout | Persian Cucumbers, “Salade Bearnaise,” Brokaw Avocado Mousse and Garden Sorrel
This was a hit! Salmon was sous vided which meant perfection. It was barely cooked and I would describe it as a cross between sashimi and medium rare. The fattiness of the salmon was countered with a cucumber marmalade of some sort. The creamy avocado mousse added another dimension to the dish when paired with either just the salmon or with both the marmalade and salmon.
Nectarine Juice with ginger ale
Course #4: Sweet Butter Poached Stonington Maine Lobster | Wild Oregon Morel Mushrooms, La Ratte Potato Puree, Creamy Lobster Broth
Another great dish. Juicy and snappy. Lobster was cooked perfectly. The shrooms added earthiness to the pool of broth filled with oceany goodness. Potato puree was very very rich with butter.
Course #5: “Bread & Butter” | Bitter Cocoa Laminated Cornucopia Brioche and diane St. Clair’s Animal Farm Butter
This was probably THE most amazing bread I’ve ever tasted and the only time where I was glad that bread is an actual course. Rich buttery flavor. Impossibly fluffy. Tremendous. Amazing. Bigly. Big League. Pick your adjective. Here’s a little test that I did. I squeezed the bread with my fingers and the dent bounced right back to the original state.
Course #6: Wolfe Ranch White Quail “A La Broche” | Rhubarb “Pate de Fruit,” Toasted Sicilian Pistachios, Miner’s Lettuce and Aged Balsamic Vinegar
Terrific. Tender with rich flavor with the complex tasting aged balsamic and slightly sweet fruit gelee offering balance.
In case you didn’t notice, the glasses just get bigger and bigger
Unfermented Merlot with a touch of club soda
Get that saucing game on!
Course 7A: “Degustation” of Quebecoise Porcelet | Creamed Arrowleaf Spinach, Pickled Pearl Onions, Crispy Shallots and Hobbs’ Bacon Jus
Another great course! The pork was from a milk-fed pig with different cuts plated alongside sausage made from the very same pork. The taste and texture were very unique. Imagine the most intense porky flavor possible as well as being the most succulent and tender pork ever.
Course 7B: Almond Wood Grilled Miyazaki A5 Wagyu | Romaine “Paquet,” Garden Radishes, Crispy Parmesan, and Crushed Caper Mayonnaise - $100 supplement
Final savory course didn’t disappoint in flavor. The A5 wagyu was grilled over almond wood which imparted a intense amount of smokey goodness. However, the course was way too rich. It was too much of a good thing on a plate since even the caper mayonnaise was super rich in nature even though it was meant as a a sort of balancing acidic element of the dish.
Fitz’s Root Beer to go with desserts
Course #8: Garden celery salad with sour apple
We opted out of the cheese course since our noob palates don’t care for them in general. However, we weren’t any happier with this salad. It tasted fresh and light acting as a palate cleanser but I can probably whip this up at home without much trouble…
Course #9: Assortment of Desserts
9a: Vanilla ice cream with cherry blossom syrup
9b: Forgot what it was…
9c: Forgot what this was too…I remember a layer of red velvet cake on the bottom and the rest tasted like chocolate fondant
9d: TFL’s “Coffee & Doughnuts” - Cappuccino Semifreddo with Cinnamon-Sugar Doughnuts
AWESOME. The hot and cold contrast of the cappuccino semifreddo was very nice. Doughnuts were fluffy and on point.
9e: Macarons…forgot the flavor
9f: Chocolate covered macadamia nuts
Can’t go wrong with these things!
7 choices of chocolate truffles…can’t recall all the flavors, but they were really good and of course we asked for 2 of each! .
Our goodies bag with signed menu, our chocolate truffles and a goodbye gift of some amazing shortbread cookies in a French Laundry branded metal tin.
This meal definitely had its ups and downs with the highs were really high and the lows were just a-okay. Thankfully, only 2 of the 9 courses were a-okay ones, the rest were great and 2 was mind-blown materials. However, shouldn’t such an iconic restaurant achieve perfection? That’s for you to decide.
I came away with a good impression of the restaurant but I have no desire to return. First of all, reservation is difficult to come by. Secondly, I hate it when a tasting menu has supplement and I hate it with a passion when almost every course has supplement. If I got all the supplements, it would’ve cost me another $315 per person on top of the $310 per person that I already paid while other restaurants while other restaurants happily include many of those supplements (foie, truffle, A5 wagyu, Kaluga caviar) in their regular menu in one form or another. Third, despite my proud appetite where devouring 30+ pieces of sushi is EZPZ, I struggled to finish this meal mightily even though the portion of each course was smaller than average. The food here is loaded with butter and ridiculously rich Finally, though at one point, some of their signature courses were cutting edge cooking, they can now be found on many restaurants such as their cornet and butter poached lobster.
Even though this review might seem critical of TFL at times, I would still recommend this restaurant. The highs were mindblowingly good! Given that the menu changes nightly with the exception of the oysters and pearl and cornet, this meal can potentially scale to a much greater height on a different visit. It doesn’t hurt to try it once!