photo credit: Jakob Layman

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The French Laundry



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The French Laundry. Ever heard of it? The Yountville fine dining institution is as synonymous with Wine Country as the actual wine. Anyone who remotely cared about restaurants in the ‘90s read at least one profile of the restaurant that glorified Thomas Keller like he was bigger than Kurt Cobain. People flocked to Yountville for a taste of his then-revolutionary California-French tasting menu.

Since then, Keller’s restaurants have continued to rake in Michelin stars, and there’s a black market for reservations at The French Laundry. Even the garden across the street from the restaurant has dozens of reviews on Google.  

But these days, The French Laundry’s haute cuisine is about as cutting edge as the phrase haute cuisine—and it doesn’t really taste that good, either. In an age where excellent food is no longer categorical, the French-ish stuff coming out of this quaint Napa Valley cottage is underwhelming.

The French Laundry image

photo credit: Jakob Layman

We’re not saying the food is bad. But it’s The French f*cking Laundry. And for $390 per person for nine-ish courses, it’s fair to expect to be blown away. We weren't. To be fair, from a technical perspective, everything is impressively executed. The Oysters and Pearls (the first, best, and most photographed dish on the menu) is luxury on a spoon. Later, the cocoa laminated brioche has a perfect, hypnotic swirl, and a truffle-y gougère breaks open with a delicate sigh. 

Still, most dishes are ultimately overpowered by their general heaviness. Everything is creamy. Hollandaise sauce drowns an otherwise nice lobster galette. Purées abound. You might not want to finish everything on your plate, even if doing so feels a bit sacrilegious at The French Laundry. And aside from a compressed spinach ball, the fresh vegetables from the garden across the street are practically nowhere to be found. Look on the bright side: the wine pairing is excellent. 

The French Laundry image

photo credit: Jakob Layman

But you’ll have to ask for it first. On a recent visit, the pairing wasn’t offered at all until we requested it. A server then questioned if we were “OK with the cost,” which was never disclosed in the first place. It set the tone for a night peppered with womp-womp moments. Some plates were cleared in a flourish before we finished. And stay too long and you’ll be not-so-subtly coaxed into “a tour of the kitchen” as a ploy to get you to vacate the premises.

The question of whether this meal is worth the price is the big one. Generally, no—the value just isn’t there. If you’re so wealthy you unironically think a banana costs $10, need a place to commemorate a Big Business Deal, or want to throw on a floor-length mink coat and celebrate a triumphant divorce, have at it. And for the prestige- and restaurant-obsessed who’ll stop at nothing to get wrapped up in the glamor of the Keller brand, come for the experience, not the meal. Otherwise, there are other fine dining restaurants—with food that actually lives up to the price—we’d send you to first.

Food Rundown

The menu at The French Laundry changes often, but here’s a general idea of what you can expect.
The French Laundry image

photo credit: Julia Chen

“Oysters and Pearls”

The most memorable dish of the night, and it’s always on the menu. The bowl of caviar, oysters, and tapioca pearls is flat-out decadent. Unfortunately, this level of delicious doesn't carry through to the rest of the meal.
The French Laundry image

photo credit: Julia Chen

Nova Scotia Lobster Galette

This little mound of lobster could have been a hit, but is instead a bummer due to the smothering of mandarin orange hollandaise. It’s rich with a capital R—so much so that you might not even want to keep eating it. On the side is one plump orange suprême that could have been airbrushed. There’s also a small compressed ball of spinach that looks like something an influencer might be incentivized to throw into their morning green smoothie.
The French Laundry image

photo credit: Julia Chen

Pâté de Canard en Croûte

Technically nice, but boring. Served with a single walnut.
The French Laundry image

photo credit: Julia Chen

“Coffee and Doughnuts”

The night ends with an onslaught of desserts, from bite-sized macarons and cookie dough ice cream to caramels and your choice of chocolate bonbon. This is the standout. The simple, not-too-sweet cappuccino semifreddo comes with sugar-dusted doughnuts for dipping.

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