The French Laundry, Yountville: Still great, but not like it used to be…

We were going to be in the states for my husband’s birthday, and he was fondly remembering his last birthday in the states where we went to The French Laundry and probably had the best meal of our lives. Even six years later, we compare all other fine dining meals to that meal. So he decided we needed to go to California for his birthday, enjoy some wine, and have an amazing meal. Since the newlyweds from the #MascaWedding were also going to be in the Napa valley at the time, we invited them along as they clearly needed an amazing meal as part of their “mini-moon” after the wedding. And luckily, the concierge from our hotel managed to get us a booking on my husband’s actual birthday so we could celebrate in style and luxury.

The day of the meal came, and we were getting very excited. The two of us had already had a great day of wine tasting as well as doing our very own class for blending wine. We arrived at the restaurant and waited for our guests (as Becky didn’t know where she was going nor that she was meeting us). Once everyone arrived we were shown our seats. I do have to say that something seemed a bit off from the beginning. The servers seemed on edge and there was a bit of chaos, and it just didn’t seem to be the well-oiled machine that I was used to in the past. (Perhaps it had to do with lots of tables insisting on being reseated as there was a very underdressed table near us with three kids.)

We ordered our food, but it seemed impossible to order any wine, and it was a bit frustrating as usually they would ask if we wanted to order any Champagne by now. Finally we managed to get some right as our pre-dinner snacks arrived. Because my husband and I had ordered the supplemental dish for the first course, we were given a different tartare cone than the usual salmon that you get at the beginning (but it was just as tasty). We were also given the usual gruyere puffs as well.

The supplemental first course was caviar with trout. The standard first course is the usual oysters and pearls which we had had the first time we went and when we went to their sister restaurant in New York City: Per Se. I was actually a bit surprised to see it on the menu as the last time we were there in the summer, they served a much lighter first course to go with it as it seemed more appropriate for summer. I have to admit I did love the caviar dish. It was light and summery and the small courgettes and sides really balanced well with the salty eggs. The second course was either mushrooms or a supplemental foie gras course (thankfully, foie gras is now back on the menu in California). Three of us ordered the foie gras and one of us the mushroom, but again, it took a very long time to get someone over to let us order wine to go with our course. And they brought out two foie gras and two mushroom, so they had to go back and plate up a third foie dish. (They did leave the mushroom dish for us to have though, so we ended up splitting it.) They also served the foie with a delicious brioche like bun.

They also serve the foie gras with a multitude of salts from around the world to try. Unfortunately, we had mostly forgotten about them with the wrong dish kerfuffle so we didn’t actually try that many. They also bring a second roll out halfway through, much to Becky’s surprise as she was worried about running out of bread. The mushroom dish was light and refreshing, but compared to the foie gras, there wasn’t really much of a competition, the foie gras always will win. Next came two fish courses: A cod course and a butter poached king crab course. I think at this point the service started getting better as we managed to order a white to go with them. Becky said she’s usually a fan of the sweeter whites, and was unsure about the one my husband ordered because it was a bit dry, but I once she tried it with the food, I think she may have become a convert.

The cod course was really tasty. Unfortunately, Becky’s fish was very undercooked and was practically impossible to cut through, so she sent it back. They did come out with another one that was much better. (My husband said his was slightly underdone as well). The flavor was really fantastic, with a very rich sauce to go with the fish. The king crab was also quite rich and tasty, but quite heavy with the grains underneath it. The next two courses my husband and I both got the supplement: A mac and cheese with Australian winter truffle and wagyu beef.

The macaroni and cheese and truffle was probably my husband’s favorite dish. I enjoyed it, but again, it really felt more like a winter dish. I mean there is a certain luxury to truffle, so I’m glad they put a lot of it on, but for me, it just seemed a bit strange. It didn’t stop me from eating it all though. The wagyu beef was also really delicious and quite rich, so my husband couldn’t actually finish his. He also found his a tad salty. After the beef, we had a cheese course which turned out to be a goat’s cheese (so my husband wasn’t too amused) layered between some sort of cake. We were also offered some wine to try with it (and I think it was to make up for how things were going earlier in the night, because by now the service had improved immensely).

I didn’t mind the goat’s cheese, but I found it a bit lacking in flavor in all honesty, and my husband didn’t finish his. Finally, the desserts came. In the past, there was ice cream followed by a main dessert followed by a decadent selection of candy. This time, we kind of got a bunch of desserts shoved at us all at once. There was a birthday cake (as we were celebrating a birthday) from which my husband got to blow out a candle.

All the desserts kind of came out at once. The best for me was the peach leaf ice cream. However, all of them were a bit sickly sweet. The cheesecake was very sweet as well as the birthday cake. There was also the signature dish of coffee and doughnuts, but the previous time it was presented much better as this time all the doughnuts were just kind of shoved together in a bowl and we had to pass them around. Finally the candies arrived.

I adore the macadamia nuts, but everyone found them a bit sickly, so I definitely ate more than my fair share. The macarons were fine, I’ve had better. Then they bring out the box of truffles. There was an interesting selection, but the only one that really jumped out at me was the chili truffle (as I love chocolate and chili). We were told we could have as many as we wanted, but we were recommended just to choose two, and he would pack up the rest. We had been told this in the past, and we always got other candies than the truffles, but we were assured that this time we’d get the truffles to take home (and we did). I really loved the chili truffle and the coconut one I chose was also pretty spot on. (When we finally did eat the rest of the truffles, it was hard to determine was the actual flavors were besides very sweet).

At the end of the meal, we were also invited to go see the kitchen and meet the chef because he was actually in house for the night. I mean, you can’t really pass up an opportunity to meet Chef Keller, can you? So we headed to the kitchen and got our photo taken (and unfortunately I practically blocked Andrew out of the photo…sorry Andrew). He didn’t seem that interested in chatting though, as I did mention that my parents loved the gluten-free flour that he sells, and he just nodded and went back to work. I suppose it was quite busy. We were then shown the new kitchen that is almost completed.

We got back to the table and we had a bag with a box of truffles and a container of biscuits to take home. My husband also had some special birthday chocolate bars as well. Honestly, the meal was quite good, but it seemed very rich and not at all like a summer meal which was very disappointing as the last time we were presented with light, refreshing dishes that you would expect at that time of year. Maybe more people just want the signature dishes and there were some complaints, but I would prefer the menu to change with the seasons a bit more. And given there were some glaring errors in service and the beginning, it just didn’t hold up to the experience six years ago, and my husband and I did think that maybe we wouldn’t need to return again for awhile. Not to say that I don’t recommend that you go. If you haven’t been, you should definitely go and experience it for yourself, but for us, I think we want to experience some other things before coming back.

Food: ★★★★☆
Service: ★★★★☆
Atmosphere: ★★★☆☆
Value: ★★★☆☆
Overall: ★★★★☆

The French Laundry
6640 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599, United States
http://www.thomaskeller.com/tfl

The French Laundry Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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