16 February 2007

French Laundry

Okay, it's a terrible photo, but that's my French Laundry clothespin, the oh-so-charming clothespin that's clipped to the napkins when you arrive at your table. Mine's now resident on my cellar clothesline.

We'd spent the day touring Sonoma and Napa, with Alisha, a friend of my brother & sister-in-law, in tow. She'd been invited along for an outing, with no idea that the end of the day would be spent eating for hours at the French Laundry. The dinner was to be a surprise for her - a thank you for her having made the wedding cake. After awhile, we ran out of things to do, and it started getting dark, and so they told her what we were going to be doing. She shrieked. My brother decreed that "we need a dive bar" - since we had time to kill, and had to change for dinner. Not expecting to find any such thing, we drove around and found Pancho's - a smoke-filled dive bar in Yountville, complete with two pool tables. We went in and got drinks, then one by one changed in the spacious spotless loo. After we were all changed, a guy who'd been playing pool came over and said "so, you're having dinner at the Laundry?" We said "yup" and he said he'd been twice.

We proceeded to the French Laundry. Our waiter, Milton, came over and somehow it came up that we'd been at Pancho's - his face lit up and he said "that's where we go after service!"

The meal was spectacular and fun, not stuffy or pretentious. Just superb food and gracious service. Milton was a great waiter - full of knowledge about the food, the wine, the kitchen - and completely amenable to a couple of small changes to the menu. We all ordered the "meat" tasting menu (as opposed to the vegetable one) - but I asked for the lobster to be replaced with anything, and Alisha really wanted the mushroom dish on the vegetable menu, so Milton engineered some swaps. The table next to us had their champagne decanted...something I have never before seen. We asked Milton about it - he said they'd asked for it and that occasionally a very aggressively bubbly champagne warranted it. Go figure. Milton offered us a tour of the kitchen which we jumped on - they were pretty much done with the dinner service, with only cheese and dessert courses left for a few tables, but it was great to see anyway, and looked just like I'd imagined from reading about it in Ruhlman's book. Sometime in the middle of dinner, Milton told us about a table of four from New Jersey who arrived and said they didn't want anything on the menu - apparantly they didn't know what they were getting into - but the restaurant solved the problem by bringing food in from their sister bistro Bouchon - how to explain the desire of the restaurant to please its customers in any way and dis New Jersey at the same time, huh?

I would do it again sometime, but first, I'm having dinner at Per Se - next month. Why? Because when I told W. that I was flying across the country for dinner at the French Laundry and leaving him home with Miss M., he told me that the condition was that I take him to Per Se. So, with the help of his other sister, we wangled a reservation there. What the hell. You only live once!

Coincidently, Fesser had a post yesterday about Italian Laundry - a thing of great beauty.


Aurelia said...

See, I have to go to more fabulous restaurants...this sounds lovely. Of course, anything involving someone else cooking sounds lovely to me...

pinknest said...

wonderful!!! sounds so delicious. can't wait for your per se post!