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Barbara Moss

The French Laundry 2006 -

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[Host's note: To minimise the load on our servers, this topic has been split.  The discussion continues from here.]

 

 

 

 


How did you get your reservation?  I've been trying to get one through OpenTable, but it's been gone every time I try, even when I hit the page at 3 seconds past midnight (according to the timestamp)!


My situation proves one of Fa
A side note about the open table reservation. I didn't realize TFL was close the first 2 weeks of January, so that's why I was unable to make a reservation. Since that time I've been able to make a reservation once or twice a week. So now I have several reservations available for the forth week in January if anyone wants them :-)


Do you still hold them? We are going to be in Napa on January 27 and 29...Let me know . Thanks.

Edited by lesliec Added host's note (log)

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I've only eaten at TFL twice, but I have to say that I think it's overpriced and uninspired.

Out of 9 courses or so each time about 1/3 were great, 1/3 were okay and 1/3 were just not so hot.

Also, their menu was very innovative when they started (my first visit was in 1997) but at my more recent dinner (in 2005) they seemed tired and uninspired.

It's a lovely space, and the staff is great, and the ingredients are usually top-notch, but it just isn't worth the trip up from SF or the price, in my opinion.

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We ate at the French Laundry on the 22nd. This was only our 2nd time there and my opinions have changed a bit about the place. I'm a little more in line with Syre after this visit. Oddly enough, I think the food was actually better this time around, but the service wasn't as good as our first visit. Even if it had been, I still think I would find it overpriced and uninspired. Some new energy needs to be injected into their food.

I'll have a full write up and pictures in about a week or two. While we were in the area we also hit Gary Danko, Manresa and Citron. It was a real interesting experience comparing these places and should hopefully provide for some equally interesting commentary.

In short my thoughts about The French Laundry is that if you've never been, you should go at least once in your life while they are still reletively near the top of their game, otherwise, explore what else is out there. You might like what you find.


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We ate at the French Laundry on the 22nd.  This was only our 2nd time there and my opinions have changed a bit about the place.  I'm a little more in line with Syre after this visit.  Oddly enough, I think the food was actually better this time around, but the service wasn't as good as our first visit.  Even if it had been, I still think I would find it overpriced and uninspired.  Some new energy needs to be injected into their food.

How deflating... I'm planning to rendez vous with a couple of good friends in May to visit TFL for the first time... I've been looking forward to it for years, and have finally found (a very special occasion) reason to make the trip.

I'll have a full write up and pictures in about a week or two.  While we were in the area we also hit Gary Danko, Manresa and Citron.  It was a real interesting experience comparing these places and should hopefully provide for some equally interesting commentary.

I look forward to it!

U.E.


“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

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I've only eaten at TFL twice, but I have to say that I think it's overpriced and uninspired.

Out of 9 courses or so each time about 1/3 were great, 1/3 were okay and 1/3 were just not so hot.

Also, their menu was very innovative when they started (my first visit was in 1997) but at my more recent dinner (in 2005) they seemed tired and uninspired.

It's a lovely space, and the staff is great, and the ingredients are usually top-notch,

but it just isn't worth the trip up from SF
or the price, in my opinion.

What makes Egullet so unique is there are many different opinions.

I happened to travel from NY just to dine at the French Laundry and feel as though it was worth every mile and then some.


Robert R

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We ate at the French Laundry on the 22nd.  This was only our 2nd time there and my opinions have changed a bit about the place.  I'm a little more in line with Syre after this visit.  Oddly enough, I think the food was actually better this time around, but the service wasn't as good as our first visit.  Even if it had been, I still think I would find it overpriced and uninspired.  Some new energy needs to be injected into their food. 

I'll have a full write up and pictures in about a week or two.  While we were in the area we also hit Gary Danko, Manresa and Citron.  It was a real interesting experience comparing these places and should hopefully provide for some equally interesting commentary.

In short my thoughts about The French Laundry is that if you've never been, you should go at least once in your life while they are still reletively near the top of their game, otherwise, explore what else is out there.  You might like what you find.

I sort of agree. Also went twice and it's hard to criticize anything specific - yet the overall experience still seems lacking. The food is almost perfect, the service is mostly correct. Yet there's a 'Stepford' feel to the place. It lacks excitement. Almost like being in a building where you're supposed to be awed yet a little dreamlike.

Both times I felt that somehow I was missing the awesome experience I'd hoped for. And, indeed, both times the adjacent table was certainly served dishes that didn't appear on my menu. I felt somehow excluded from being part of the inner sanctum.

Absolutely worth a visit, but I'm just as interested in reading your other reviews - both Danko (obviously much more downscale) and Manresa still manage to generate excitement and, for me, were a more satisfying experience.

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Just made my third trip to TFL (first was in 1998, second in 2004). It was not only the best of the three trips, it was probably the best meal I've ever eaten, including a very large swath of the 3-Michelin Star firmament. All four diners thought it was the best meal they had ever had. I'm truly amazed by the haters ... I honestly can't begin to understand how one can't continue to love this place.

Our party of four had two different "Extended Tasting Menus" of 15 courses + mignardises. Only one course -- the Milk Fed "Poularde", Braised Salsify, Wilted Spinach and a Foie Gras Red Wine Emulsion (which was a substitute for a diner who didn't want a "full foie" dish -- was "meh." Every single one of the rest was tremendous.

Is the service getting a little bit less formal? Sure. Probably for the better if you ask me.

Here's the Menu:

"Cornet" of Marinated Atlantic Salmon "Tartare"

with Red Onion CrÈme Fraiche

___________

Artichoke Soup with Meyer Lemon and "Purée de Fines Herbes"

"Purée" of Rhubarb and Red Onion Soup

___________

"Oysters and Pearls"

"Sabayon" of Pearl Tapioca with Beau Soleil Oysters

and Russian Sevruga Caviar

Cauliflower "Panna Cotta"

with Beau Soleil Oyster Glaze and Russian Sevruga Caviar

___________

Florida Hopper Prawn, Haas Avocado "Purée", Kumquat "Confit"

and Young Mizuna

Spanish Blue Fin Tuna,

Ajo Blanco, Sweet Peppers

and Cilantro Shoots

___________

White Truffle Egg-Custard

with a "Ragoût" of Black Périgord Truffles

"Eggs Périgourdine"

Poached Hen Eggs, Truffled English Muffins,

Truffled "Hollandaise" and Grated Périgord Truffles

___________

"Salade de Topinambours"

Fava Beans, Niçoise Olives and Preserved Meyer Lemon

Salad of Hawaiian Hearts of Peach Palm,

Blood Orange and Wild Mizuna

___________

Hand-cut Tagliatelle with Black Périgord Truffles

"Carnaroli Risotto Biologico"

Castelmagno Cheese and Shaved Black Truffles from Provence

___________

Dutch Turbot "Rôti sur le Dos",

Niçoise Olives, Sunchokes, Fava Beans

and Piquillo "Vinaigrette"

___________

"Peas and Carrots"

Maine Lobster Tail "Cuite Sous Vide",

with Garden Pea Shoot Salad and Sweet Carrot Emulsion

Sweet Butter Poached Maine Lobster "Mitts",

"Ragoût" of Globe Artichokes, Jabugo Ham,

Spring Onions and "Barigoule Emulsion"

___________

Moulard Duck "Foie Gras Poêlé",

Toasted Banana-Walnut Bread, Celery Branch "Bâtons",

Cutting Celery and Napa Valley Red Verjus "Gastrique"

Milk Fed "Poularde",

Braised Salsify, Wilted Spinach

and a Foie Gras Red Wine Emulsion

Moulard Duck "Foie Gras en Terrine",

Fennel Bulb "Marmelade", Bitter Orange "Coulis", Field Arugula

and Sicilian Pistachio "Biscotti"

___________

Snake River Farm "Calotte de Boeuf Grillée",

Roasted Hearts of romaine, Golden Chanterelles,

and a Dijon Mustard "Pain Perdu"

___________

"Fig Newton"

Persille de Beaujolais, Mission Fig "Compote"

and Tardivo Raddichio

"Tête de Moine"

Royal Blenheim Apricot "Purée" and Caramelized Belgian Endive

___________

"Hot Chocolate"

Jivara Milk Chocolate Sorbet, "Chocolat à la Veniçoise",

Tahitian Vanilla-Infused Marshmallow and "Crème Chantilly"

Ruby Red Grapefruit "Granité",

Tupelo Honey-Garden Basil "Coulis" and Poppy Seed "Meringue"

___________

"Coffee and Doughnuts"

Cinnamon Sugared Doughnuts with Cappuccino Semi-freddo

___________

"Mille Feuille à la Crème au Citron",

Royal Blenheim Apricot "Confit"

and Sicilian Pistachio "Crème Anglaise"

Mandarin Soaked "Baba",

Caramelized Meiwa Kumquats, Mandarin Sorbet

and Manjari Chocolate Sauce

___________

"Mignardises"

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Both times I felt that somehow I was missing the awesome experience I'd hoped for. And, indeed, both times the adjacent table was certainly served dishes that didn't appear on my menu. I felt somehow excluded from being part of the inner sanctum.

This is precisely what bothered me about our last visit. Your service can be entirely hit or miss depending on who you are, who else is there that night and whatever other reason they think that you are not fit for the same service as the table next to you.

When I made my reservation, I specifically stated that we'd like the "Extended Tasting Menu" that I always hear about, but they never offer in printed form. I was basically told that no such thing exists. And maybe I've come to expect too much from TFL and other restaurants, but when a customer asks for an extended menu because they want the opportunity to try as many different dishes as possible, wouldn't you at least provide them with the option of having dueling menus such as what was served to vinobiondo?

Vinobiondo, was it only upon your third visit that you were offered these things? Did you have to make a special request for the menus you had?

It's this inequality of treatment that bothers me and makes it unlikely that I'll return (along with the fact that getting a reservation takes far too much effort). And if you think that the inequality is something of my imagination, read this excerpt from a Washington Post article.

He then moves on to the evening's guests. Per Se knows the name of virtually everyone who is coming each night, and in some cases it has a file on hand with notes about personal preferences. These people have eaten at Per Se before -- either they are very lucky or very connected -- or they've eaten at the French Laundry. Their favorite wine, dish and the pace of service they like is noted on a file card and stored till next time.


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Re: any kind of "special treatment," well...

Although it was my third time, it was only the second reservation in my name. At the time we were seated (which was an early dinner reservation), we simply asked nicely and enthusiastically for the chef to "cook for us" to whatever degree it would be possible. There weren't any code words, secret handshakes, or pre-dinner requests. We brought a bottle of fairly exotic wine (in addition to buying some from the wine list), were friendly and excited, and the waiter checked with the kitchen and promptly returned to say that they had no problem doing this for us.

As for my other two visits, one was for 12 in the private dining room (a reservation I didn't make but did use my credit card for 1/2 of) and the other was in the main dining room. We had "dueling" extended tasting menus in the private dining room (I think this is standard) and ordered the Chef's Tasting Menu the first time in the main dining room. To whatever extent the Keller Intelligence Agency is "profiling" its guests, I doubt very seriously that I've been "pre-screened" as "worthy" of extra attention. In fact, as a 33-year-old, I'd much more likely to get the opposite treatment (which I refer to as the "young whippersnapper treatment" -- you know, seated in Siberia, ignored, condescended to ... the standard Fleur de Lys treatment for guests under age 50).

My guess is that in the final cost/effort/price analysis, it just makes better sense for them to do dueling/extended menus for parties of four or more than for parties of two.

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My guess is that in the final cost/effort/price analysis, it just makes better sense for them to do dueling/extended menus for parties of four or more than for parties of two.

"Dueling menus" - is that what they're calling them these days? :raz:

Well, my friends and I will be making our "first" pilgrimage to TFL later this spring (if we can swing a reservation). While we may not need to "duel" over out menus, it would be nice to know that the "extended" menu is available. Perhaps I'll just borrow vinobiondo's request: "have the chef cook for us." Omakase - California-style. :laugh:

U.E.

P.S. Any other helpful hints, advice, suggestions, etc. about TFL - including reservations, seating, menu, service, etc... would be much appreciated. Feel free to shoot me a p.m. if you think your message is more appropriate there.


Edited by ulterior epicure (log)

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

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Maybe I should just rack it up to them having a bad night. Or a bad night for our captain/waiter. We had a party of 6 and we just kept getting shot down from every angle. I couldn't even get a proper wine pairing. When I asked about a "wine pairing" to go with our 9 course tasting menu, our captain told us that they do not serve "wine flights". Add to this the fact that our table sat for 45 minutes before seeing a single morsel of food and...well you get the point.

So the service seems to be slipping a bit in my eyes, but the food seems to be getting better. It's unlikely that you'll be disappointed by the food. However, I was also not blown away by the food. This is actually why I wanted the extended tasting menu. I wanted items that were not standard French Laundry fall backs. Yes, the Oysters and Pearls is a classic, and for good reason it should appear on almost every tasting menu. But most of our other dishes just seemed out right boring. Boring can be sublime, as proven by their Meyer Lemon Panacotta, but unfortunately boring is usually just that.

I will eventually get around to blogging about this visit, but until then, if you'd like to see what we had, I've got the pics posted on Flickr.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/snekse/sets/72057594061076112/

(I was so excited about having the Oysters & Pearls again that I forgot to take a picture)

Like I said, it's worth going if you've never been. I just don't think it's worth the time, effort and money to go back IF you've not been to the Bay Area's six other 4-star restaurants.

U.E., I hope you truly enjoy your experience.

Also, we should collectively coin a term for Haute Omakase. Something apart from the "Chef's Tasting Menu".


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Let me point out one reason I believe they did not and likely could not offer you the extended menu. When my wife and I dined there last year we also had the extended menu in which we each was offered a different coarse. (See report up tread) Honesty though I don't believe that would be at all possible for a party of six? I just can't believe any kitchen or FOH staff could deliver any type of quality experience under that kind of pressure.

I truly can understand your frustration if you felt service was lacking due to the VIP attention other tables were receiving. But on the flip side of the coin I don't think there is any easy answer as any type of business has investors, frequent customers, and just all around friends of the house who receive special treatment.

This is anywhere from Fred's Hot Dog Stand around the corner to the French Laundry. The problem is that it is just a fact of life but not excusable at the expense of other customers.

If it is any consolation I have heard that Thomas Keller may/could/will consider ending the extended menu's. I won't even try to speculate why, but if I had to guess it would be the possible pressure it puts on the kitchen.

I believe without a doubt his goal is for everyone to have the best possible experience.


Robert R

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I totally understand the reason for not providing us with the option of having an extended menu, but tell me straight out that the kitchen would be unable to do so. Don't lie to me and tell me there is no such thing. I do not, however, see how having dueling menus (most commonly his and hers) would have put an exceeding amount of pressure on the kitchen.

I also don't have a problem with an establishment providing special treatment for it's VIPs. What I do have a problem with is when that VIP treatment interferes with the most basic treatment of it's other guests. Unfortunately "the most basic treatment" bar has been set very high at TFL, so anything that is moderately below perfection is amplified.

Just a quick example. When we first started dining, the wait staff would stop by to fill our water delicately with a cloth napkin in one hand to be used as a splash guard. This was done smoothly with deliberate movements that almost make it look like an art form. By the 7th course, things started to go downhill and a couple of members of our service team started practically flinging water like I was at The Olive Garden. I could care less if they use a napkin or not, but if you're are going to set a standard, I do expect you to maintain that standard.


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These extended menus are planned way before hand contrary to popular belief of it being done at the spur of the moment.

But yes I absolutely agree with you that you should have been told it was unavailable instead of it not existing.

If it is any help just think of the money you saved! :laugh: The thought of what that meal would have cost for six people makes me weak in the knees.


Robert R

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I totally understand the reason for not providing us with the option of having an extended menu, but tell me straight out that the kitchen would be unable to do so. 

I know this probably isn't going to help much, but I had the extended menu at Lunch on Sunday. Although nearly every dish was outstanding (the duck and the lamb, by comparison to the rest of the meal, were less impressive) it was simply way too much food. I took a break when the waiter told me I was at the half way mark - I could scarcely believe what he was telling me - and to be honest I was just about done then. I did get my second wind and I did eat virtually everything that was put in front of me but after four and a half hours of eating and drinking, it was as much as I could do to drag myself back to the hotel and flop onto the bed. I didn't reappear until around 7.00am the next morning.

I was honoured to be so well looked after and I'm not for a second complaining, but I think the menu as printed would have been more than sufficient. But on the other hand, I would have missed out on that amazing trotter stuffed with sweatbreads and the black truffle pasta and maybe I wouldn't have got the "chips and dips" and maybe....

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How many items did you have total? Did you ask for an extended menu in any way or did you order the standard 9 course menu? Did they give different dishes to different menus in your party?

I'm just really interested on how this works at this point because it could help me identify ways to improve our experiences here and elsewhere in the future.


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I was a lone diner, a journalist on assignment and they knew I was coming. They offered the menus but said that the chef had something in mind for me. I got 17 courses plus gourgeres and salmon cornets to start and the flurry of mignardises at the end.

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That at least makes sense. All lone dinners should get some extra special treatment, and of course being a journalist with the kitchen aware of your arrival and intent, I would expect nothing less than the best they have to offer.


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Had a marvelous meal at FL last week (details for another posting), but had two funny/bizarre experiences while there.

1. Walking into the dining room (the one on the left), there was a woman sitting with her male companion and she had her head down on the table and appeared to be sleeping or passed out. Very odd. He paid the check, sort of shook her awake and away they went. Quite a distraction. Wonder just how much wine she had drank!

2. While sitting in the waiting area, two couples walked in and also sat down and waited for their table to be ready. While sitting there, the following was overheard:

"I hope they have steak and potatoes. He's (refering to her mate) a steak and potatoes guy."

"I'm not a big fan of French food."

"Is this the whole menu?"

Part of me so wanted to be seated near them just to listen in as the meal transpired. The larger part of me was so thankful to be seated very far away from them (as in another room) as it would have DEFINITELY detracted from the experience. Wonder how they ended up at TFL?

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Wonder how they ended up at TFL?

[cynical]

Probably because they read somewhere that it was "the best restaurant in the US" and they thought a visit would be great for bragging rights.

[/cynical]

Si

{edited for typos}


Edited by Simon_S (log)

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Wonder how they ended up at TFL?

[cynical]

Probably because they read somewhere that it was "the best restaurant in the US" and they thought a visit would be great for bragging rights.

[/cynical]

Si

{edited for typos}

Sad, but most likely true.

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Hey, not everyone is a "sophisticated eater"

I am sure the french laundry accepts money even if Plebians and philistines come to dinner.

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"I hope they have steak and potatoes. He's (refering to her mate) a steak and potatoes guy."

I'm willing to bet that they made him a really nice steak, with some potatoes. And although it's a shame that he missed the true French Laundry experience, he's probably raving about how great his steak was (and complaining about how expensive it was...)

I posted over in the Per Se thread about how we saw a whole roasted poussin delivered to a nearby table. When we asked about it, our server said they keep a few things like that going "just in case". Apparently someone didn't feel like trying one of their tasting menus, and to the restaurant's credit, they just did what they could to make the customer happy. This overall attitude, reflected in their unhesitant willingness to make adjustments to our menu as well, was one of the most impressive things about Per Se. I'm confident that the French Laundry would have treated the situation the same way.

But yeah, it's odd, and a shame that someone might so completely miss the point, but they probably ended up with an uneventful, uninteresting, but high-quality meal. Or maybe Keller came out from the kitchen and gave the guy a vulcan nerve pinch, like he had to the comatose lady in the other room, just waking up as you walked in...


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So... as it stands, I have reservations at both Per Se and TFL. Any recent reports from TFL? It seems like there's been a pervading air of disappointment lately... hope someone can help clear it up with a positive report!

u.e.


“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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