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Barbara Moss

The French Laundry 2006 -

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What an enjoyable read; thank you! After that much fabulous wine though, I don't think I would have remembered anything at all other than getting there and having a great time :smile:

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Nick:

I had suggested that this be put into this thread, instead of where I originally saw it, and our alert moderators have done so. This is one of the finest first person narratives I have read on eGullet. Congratulations!


Edited by samgiovese (log)

"A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti."

- Dr. Hannibal Lecter

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Nick:

Totally enjoyable. My son Philip was set to work at the FL after helping to open Per Se in NYC. However, after the fire he as let go and it was not to be. He would have enjoyed reading your piece and for that I thank you.

Jmahl


The Philip Mahl Community teaching kitchen is now open. Check it out. "Philip Mahl Memorial Kitchen" on Facebook. Website coming soon.

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1. There was no music, speech was in a hushed tone, and we had no connection to the kitchen.  I leaned over to Sarah and said, "This feels like a funeral home".  I was half-expecting to be ushered into the next room to view the recently deceased.

2. Sarah and I opted for a 175.00 (each) pairing option that included tableside service by the sommelier. 

1. Actually, I like the quiet tone. I've been there when the guests had a rather noisy demeaner and it really distracted from the experience.

2. Does anyone know if charging $175 for a wine pairing is something new? The times I've been there I've asked to just match the wines to the food and haven't had that much of a charge for wine by the glass.


Drink!

I refuse to spend my life worrying about what I eat. There is no pleasure worth forgoing just for an extra three years in the geriatric ward. --John Mortimera

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Nick, thanks so much for that report. I've read some of it, and the rest I'll save until I get back. I don't want to know TOO much in advance after all...

Getting an idea of the price of wine pairings has been very useful.

Oh, you've also made me realise how lucky we were to get a reservation on our first day of trying. Since we're only there for 3 days, a reservation after 5 days of attempts would not have been much use to us!

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I thought I was going to die when another waiter returned and placed ice-cold metal squares in front of us on porcelain chargers.

That near-death feeling at the end is my favorite part. Sweet, sweet excess. :biggrin:

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Awesome read. :)

And yes, that feeling of food coma at the end... ahhhh.... BUT I ATE EVERY LAST BIT...

...except the chocolates. I saved those for later. And the cookies. T_T so tasty. I miss them.

p.s. on reservations, try opentable.com at around 10am PST as well, two months exactly to the day. And keep trying. They release those tables manually everyday, so it's a bit of a toss up. I snagged mine online at 10:15 PST or so, and it was a 4-top. I literally ran back from a meeting that went a bit long in a bit of a panic. Euphoria is the best descriptor of how I felt when I got the confirmation. xD


Edited by jenc (log)

foodpr0n.com 11/01/17: A map of macarons in Toronto // For free or for a fee - bring your bottle! corkagetoronto.com

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1. There was no music, speech was in a hushed tone, and we had no connection to the kitchen.  I leaned over to Sarah and said, "This feels like a funeral home".  I was half-expecting to be ushered into the next room to view the recently deceased.

2. Sarah and I opted for a 175.00 (each) pairing option that included tableside service by the sommelier. 

1. Actually, I like the quiet tone. I've been there when the guests had a rather noisy demeaner and it really distracted from the experience.

2. Does anyone know if charging $175 for a wine pairing is something new? The times I've been there I've asked to just match the wines to the food and haven't had that much of a charge for wine by the glass.

I also enjoy the quiet tone at French Laundry. I dined at the first sitting as well, and it seemed to get a little louder as the night went on. I mean if you're paying that kind of money for the meal and it's really supposed to be about the food, you don't want to be distracted by people yelling and carrying on like they're at TGI Fridays.

When I went back in February this year the Sommelier didn't mention a specific "pairing", but gave the option to "work with you" depending on what you like and to a lesser extent, how much you want to spend. I've heard of people paying a little less than the cost of the tasting menu to have wines paired by the glass with most of the courses - similar to what Nick reported, but this isn't something they "advertise". I think they generally try to steer you towards a few bottles/half bottles.

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Thanks for the comments guys!

The quiet I noticed at first was an overpowering quietness. A funeral home is what I associated my surroundings with (it's the closest relation I could make from my sensations). The inside of the French Laundry is similar to someone's home, everyone is dressed nicely, voices were simple whispers, and everyone sat away from one another waiting for a quiet-speaking director to greet them. Once the food began to arrive and the wine flowed it livened up a bit. To me, food is something that evokes emotion that should be celebrated and shared with others. To sit in a beautiful place, smelling beautiful things - eating wonderful food, drinking great wine - art for the ear was the only thing that remained absent. I wouldn't have minded some quiet background music - perhaps some local jazz, chamber music, or classic French melodies - but thats just my opinion. It's the type of environment that Thomas Keller desired his patrons to be immersed in, and I respect that. But it still reminded me of a funeral home... :laugh:


"Egg whites are good for a lot of things; lemon meringue pie, angel food cake, and clogging up radiators."

- MacGyver

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We're back from honeymoon, and from our trip to TFL. Overall we had a fantastic experience, and despite my initial misgivings at starting lunch at the ridiculously early time of 11:45, when we staggered out at 5pm we were relieved we hadn't started any later!

First off, I had no problem whatsoever with the atmosphere in the room, if anything it was a little livelier than I was expecting. Compared to some other 3 (Michelin) star restaurants in Europe, I found it slightly less cathedral-ish, and maybe a little more relaxed, although our most excellent captain (Milton) contributed greatly to this.

He figured out early on that we were very enthusiastic, and he spent a lot of time talking to us and bringing us little extras here and there. When Hazel expressed an interest in salt, he brought over an array of many and varied salts for us to try. When the discussion turned to olive oil, he brought out a certain oil they use there. Later when we were discussing some other aspect of food, he disappeared into the garden and returned with a particular kind of lemon. Coupling this friendly service with the occasional extra dish here and there (the fabled coffee and doughnuts, for example) and the excellent wine suggestions, I left feeling that I had been treated as well as I had ever been at a restaurant. This, as much as the food, contributed to a tremendous sense of well-being that's extremely hard to reproduce. Bravo!

So what about the food? In many ways it was exactly what I was expecting: precise, focused, product-driven, clean flavours, nothing OTT, nothing extraneous. I've seen it written that some consider the food soulless, but neither of us felt that way. Of course, it's hard to imagine that anything every makes it to a table there that isn't exactly right, and isn't exactly as intended, and this kind of "perfection" can rob meals of a certain excitement. Again, I didn't feel that, but maybe my expectations had been dampened in advance. We enjoyed pretty much everything we ate, and thought everything was first-rate.

Aside from that, the lack of "chefiness" and the focus on produce left us with a bit of a quandary. On the one hand, the food was top-drawer, beautifully prepared and presented. On the other hand, genuine "wow" moments were few. There is a definite sense that the kitchen does its utmost to get out of the way of the food, and let the ingredients speak for themselves. Those ingredients were, of course, top-class, but I didn't always feel that they were better than I've had elsewhere, or in any way revelatory. This sounds like criticism, but shouldn't be construed as such. It's merely an imbalance between the kind of high-end dining I especially enjoy, and the kind of dining that TFL offers. For some reason, the first time I heard of TFL it was under the guise of "modern" (read: molecular) cooking, but nothing could be further from the truth. El Bulli it ain't!!

Of course, a dinner is not made of wow moments in any case, and I thought that in every other way the French Laundry experience was second to none. The progression and pacing of the dishes was superb, and the sense of "whole" that came with the menu meant that I left feeling complete and satisfied, without being stuffed. This is not always the case when dealing with multi-course menus.

All-told then, we had a marvellous time, one that I would genuinely hope to repeat, and one that I would recommend to anyone. I certainly felt that the more you "give" (in terms of interest and interaction) the more you get back, and we were treated royally (to the apparent annoyance of some other guests, even). French Laundry is a restaurant I've wanted to visit for many years, and I'm delighted that I've left with such happy memories.

PS Having now read Nick's missive (excellent work, man!) I have one more thing to add: the bread wasn't great. Not great at all. It was the only thing that I genuinely thought could have, and should have, been better.


Edited by Simon_S (log)

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I certainly felt that the more you "give" (in terms of interest and interaction) the more you get back, and we were treated royally (to the apparent annoyance of some other guests, even).

absolutely

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I certainly felt that the more you "give" (in terms of interest and interaction) the more you get back, and we were treated royally (to the apparent annoyance of some other guests, even).

absolutely

Of course restaurants are human enterprises, and diners are human, and "fate and chance happeneth to them all." But the above has been my experience too, in many places.

(Except the apparent annoyance part. Maybe those other tables were not as focused on their dining, if they had time to dwell on yours.)

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Maybe those other tables were not as focused on their dining, if they had time to dwell on yours.

They weren't. They were far more focused on looking good, pouting and regaling the captain with a Laundry-List of foods they didn't eat.

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Maybe those other tables were not as focused on their dining, if they had time to dwell on yours.

They weren't. They were far more focused on looking good, pouting and regaling the captain with a Laundry-List of foods they didn't eat.

How did you get your reservation? I seem to recall a strategic discussion a few weeks ago.


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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the bread wasn't great. Not great at all. It was the only thing that I genuinely thought could have, and should have, been better.

It is generally well known at late that the nearby bakery's quality has slid considerably. There is often news that it goes through bakers at an alarming rate (every three months or so) and has been wildly inconsistent for several years. It is not surprising that you didn't get very good bread.

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Simon - Glad to hear you enjoyed yourself!

Carolyn - It's a shame that they know the bread is sub-par, but still choose to serve it. The "Pretzel Roll" we had towards the beginning was wonderful, as were the nut breads towards the end - but the rolls served in the middle of the meal were terrible.

We were talking about going back when I graduate in a few years (for my graduation gift), but now I'm thinking about hitting Per Se instead to try that out (given we're on the East Coast). With the savings on flights, we might try to get another tough reservation as well.


"Egg whites are good for a lot of things; lemon meringue pie, angel food cake, and clogging up radiators."

- MacGyver

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How did you get your reservation?  I seem to recall a strategic discussion a few weeks ago.

I tried emailing directly: "we're on honeymoon and enthusiastic about food, and Irish, and hey everyone loves Irish people, and we won't be in town for long, so...", which didn't work at all. So we got 3 phones going at 10am local time and after redialling for about 10 minutes, scored a table for 2 on the first day possible. It was all rather painless in the end, so we were very fortunate.

Incidentally, I spoke to a few other guests outside before lunch, and they mentioned that they'd been on the waitlist and had long since given up hope, but they got the call. It was suggested that the current financial woes might have had at least one positive effect...!

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I've noticed lots more available reservations on opentable lately. For example, as of right now, you could grab a 6:45 reservation on December 8.

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I started reading this thread, and plan on finishing it, but had a couple of etiquette questions for dining at the French Laundry. Luckily, I had no problem getting a reservation on the day I wanted, April 17th, my 40th birthday, this coming Friday! I can't wait. I was able to secure a 9pm seating while on line from Michigan on a slow internet connection. So my questions are, I obviously saw from the great review a few posts up, they offer a wine pairing menu, which I a wondering was it worth it? It would be a no-brainer, then going through a 100 page wine list, which is usually overwhelming. Second question, what is the policy of taking photos of the courses? Obviously, I would not use a flash, but I would like to document this meal since it will most likely be the only time I can justify a great meal like this. Would that just be too "touristy" or cheesy? Any feedback would be appreciated, I don't want to look like a moron. Thanks!

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... they offer a wine pairing menu, which I a wondering was it worth it?  It would be a no-brainer, then going through a 100 page wine list, which is usually overwhelming.  Second question, what is the policy of taking photos of the courses?  Obviously, I would not use a flash...

First, please enjoy this special dinner and have a great birthday!

Comment on wine: I think I mentioned this earlier but FYI, the Laundry has been distinguished by what I call a "full-service" sommelier dept. (by analogy to the once-common "full service" US gas stations where employees filled your tank, cleaned windows, checked tire pressure, etc. etc. and you didn't even have to know how to do any of those tasks). So that someone who liked wine but knew little about it could describe tastes and budget, and the sommeliers would come up with something very satisfying. (The sort of service the Master Sommeliers program aims for.) I haven't been to the Laundry lately, but that was a tradition.

In many high-end restaurants I've seen food photography, even made into a spectacle by self-absorbed people. One online food poster and former eG participant stubbornly insists that unless other tables raise an issue to his face, he presumes their approval for any photography he wants to do. It's a wonder he doesn't bring in floodlights. (His unusual views ignore diners I've witnessed, muttering their annoyance or offence but unwilling to exacerbate the situation by risking a scene.) Other people, more discreet, can still turn a meal into a studio session, everything subordinated to their photo shots. But still other diners manage to snapshot their plates without making it the point of the whole dinner and without other tables noticing. Who could object? Answer: the restaurant. It pays to phone or ask, because a few high-end places class photography with cell phone calls and prohibit both.

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... they offer a wine pairing menu, which I a wondering was it worth it?  It would be a no-brainer, then going through a 100 page wine list, which is usually overwhelming.  Second question, what is the policy of taking photos of the courses?  Obviously, I would not use a flash...

First, please enjoy this special dinner and have a great birthday!

Comment on wine: I think I mentioned this earlier but FYI, the Laundry has been distinguished by what I call a "full-service" sommelier dept. (by analogy to the once-common "full service" US gas stations where employees filled your tank, cleaned windows, checked tire pressure, etc. etc. and you didn't even have to know how to do any of those tasks). So that someone who liked wine but knew little about it could describe tastes and budget, and the sommeliers would come up with something very satisfying. (The sort of service the Master Sommeliers program aims for.) I haven't been to the Laundry lately, but that was a tradition.

In many high-end restaurants I've seen food photography, even made into a spectacle by self-absorbed people. One online food poster and former eG participant stubbornly insists that unless other tables raise an issue to his face, he presumes their approval for any photography he wants to do. It's a wonder he doesn't bring in floodlights. (His unusual views ignore diners I've witnessed, muttering their annoyance or offence but unwilling to exacerbate the situation by risking a scene.) Other people, more discreet, can still turn a meal into a studio session, everything subordinated to their photo shots. But still other diners manage to snapshot their plates without making it the point of the whole dinner and without other tables noticing. Who could object? Answer: the restaurant. It pays to phone or ask, because a few high-end places class photography with cell phone calls and prohibit both.

Thank you for your feedback. I am very much looking forward to a great meal. I figured that I would inquire before snapping away. I was at a place here in my local town that is the equivalent of TFL in Sacramento, called The Kitchen (not quite as exclusive, but for the local area, a place to go) the other night. Many people started taking pictures, left and right using flash, etc. I asked the chef if it is annoying to do something like that and he said absolutely not, they don't mind at all. I was able to take a few pics using my iphone, as their lighting was pretty good.

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I figured that I would inquire before snapping away. ...

Just to stress a detail probably already clear: for picture-taking or other protocol, it's important to get the current word directly from the restaurant. Fora like this one may give diner perspectives, but we diners aren't the people setting current restaurant policy.

The Laundry's lounge area up front, where people often congregate before being seated, has hosts who'd be glad to discuss it with you I'm sure, if you were not able to get word by phone.

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I second what MaxH said. Ask the restaurant directly. That would be appropriate restaurant protocol & courtesy.

And some news I just read from the LA Times food blog:

Thomas Keller's French Laundry announced this week that Timothy Hollingsworth will succeed Corey Lee as chef de cuisine when Lee departs this summer to open his own restaurant in San Francisco.

Russell J. Wong aka "rjwong"

Food and I, we go way back ...

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One more perspective...

I ate there last July and brought a small digital camera along.

I hadn't practiced with it in low-light conditions, and it was not the best quality camera, especially without a flash.

I asked before the meal if it was ok to take photos (without the flash of-course) and my waiter assured me that it was.

I took a photo of each course (discreetly); I'm sure no other diners even noticed.

In the end, I ended up with mostly blurry pictures (its very dark in there), and in the end, I think the camera was more of a hassle than anything. Good for pictures outside in the garden, but I now wish that I had put it away after that and just enjoyed my meal.

BTW,

It was one of the best meals that I've ever had... Enjoy!

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We arrived early last summer so we could meander through the gardens and take photos.

During the meal I took one photo - but it was after we had finished eating.

On the way out I got to see the kitchen and snapped a photo there.

So long as your flash and camera audio is off I say snap away... but just remember to focus on living the experience rather than recording it. :wink:


"Egg whites are good for a lot of things; lemon meringue pie, angel food cake, and clogging up radiators."

- MacGyver

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