Saturday, 23 January 2016

The One and Only French Laundry

    6640 Washington St, 
    Yountville, CA 94599
    United States

Tastiness Factor: 10/10

Atmosphere: 4.5/5

Service: 5/5

Locavore Approved? YES- Thomas Keller is very passionate about using the freshest of ingredients, and is a pioneer of the locavore movement.  The farm across the street from his restaurant, where he sources many of his ingredients from, is a testament to this.  Another sign of Keller's dedication to local produce is that he offers a nightly vegetarian tasting menu alongside the Chef's tasting menu, where he really gets to show off these farm delicacies.   

Reservations required? ABSOLUTELY!!!- It is an absolute must that you call at opening time (10 am PST) to try your luck at getting a spot.  We first tried online at exactly midnight on the 2 month ahead mark, but were unsuccessful at snagging a spot (I think there are only a handful of reservations released for each time slot).  When we called at 10am the next morning (right on the dot), I got the busy signal again and again, while Hubby managed to get through and fortunately, managed to get our preferred time slot at 8:45pm.  My recommendation- don't be picky, take any time you can get if you are lucky enough to get through!  I imagine it is even more difficult to get through in peak season.

There are few days in my life that I was as excited as the day that we managed to secure our reservation at the French Laundry.  We had booked a trip to Napa for New Years and had been counting down to the 2 month mark before our arrival to try our chances at getting one of the toughest tables in the world.  The plans for our whole Napa experience were hinging on getting in, and when Hubby finally managed to get through on that fateful day, we were both over the moon.  As foodies, we just had to knock French Laundry off the bucket list!

On our drive from the San Francisco airport to Napa, our first stop was to go into Yountville on the way to our resort to cast our eyes on the French Laundry during daylight.  We were actually surprised by its humble exterior, reminiscent of a house in the French countryside, with its brick walls covered in vines.  We also took a walk by its sprawling farm across the street, complete with a few greenhouses to which were key to keeping things growing at this cooler time of year.

That same night, we returned for our much anticipated dinner.  Upon entering, we were greeted by a tastefully decorated Xmas tree in keeping with the season.  We were welcomed and quickly ushered upstairs to our table.  This upper floor was divided in two separate rooms, with a large group seated in one room, and smaller tables in the other room where we were seated. We had a table right at the top of the stairs which was not ideal, but the staff moving past us up and down the stairs were very slick so it was not much of a problem.

Unlike many of the newer Michelin restaurants, the decor is anything but modern.  It is very classic, verging on dated, and seems quite appropriate considering what an institution the French Laundry is.  And I do not expect this to change anytime soon.  Keller is currently going into a massive kitchen renovation that began last winter and is still ongoing as evidenced by the temporary kitchen that we passed on the way to our table.  There is no word on any changes being made to the dining room and I would assume that after this current huge undertaking, the dining rooms will be staying as is for the time being.

In keeping with this very traditional decor, it should be noted that there is a dressed that on their website, it clearly states that "jackets are required for both lunch and dinner service".  Interestingly, we did notice at least one guest who was wearing jeans and a winter vest, so it is not clear how strictly this is enforced.  For the most part though, guests were dressed in semi-formal attire (suits for men, dresses for women).

In terms of service, I was pleasantly surprised to find that pretension was nowhere to be found.  All in all, everything went flawlessly from start to finish, thanks to a very attentive and friendly main server who was very kind in answering all of our questions, and many other assistant servers who delivered our dishes in with precision and timeliness.

We also benefitted from an excellent sommelier, who was again very professional but not arrogant or intimidating.  They have modernized their wine list by putting all of the 150+ pages on an iPad that guests can flick through at their leisure.  Since we had finally made it to the French Laundry, we wanted to really take advantage of the full experience and therefore inquired about wine pairings.  As in many other restaurants of this caliber, we had expected the option of set wine pairings by the glass but this is not something that is regularly offered here.  Instead, the sommelier put us together some lovely pairings with a few half bottles, including a champagne to start and a port to go with dessert.  We particularly appreciated how he was able to choose such wonderful pairings that went both with Hubby's regular tasting menu and my vegetarian menu.

The French Laundry experience comes in two different forms- the Chef's Tasting Menu and a vegetarian tasting menu.  For a few courses, there are 2 choices, one of which required a supplementary charge ($50-200).  I was informed that they would tweak the Chef's menu to suit my pescatarian request, but I am glad to have gone out on a limb and tried the vegetarian menu.  Keller is one of the forefathers of the locavore movement, so knows all about how to treat produce and I was amazed at what he delivered, even at this time of year when fruit and veg is less plentiful.  Hubby also loved the regular menu from start to finish.  At the end of the meal, we remarked on the precision and perfection of each and every dish.  In this respect, the French Laundry is a frontrunner among all of the other Michelin restaurants we have dined in.  Others may get higher marks for the "wow" factor and creativity, but the French Laundry's execution of perfect plates cannot be beat.
Absolutely flawless.

Here is a look at our unforgettable evening.  Fortunately, on our way out, we were handed a folder with a lovely printed copy of each menu to reflect back upon, as well as a booklet detailing where all of the evening's produce originated from.

Amouse Bouche (both menus)

Chef's Tasting Menu:
"Oysters and Pearls"

Garden Fennel Salad

Gulf Coast "Pastrami"

Sweet Butter Poached Maine Lobster

Wolfe Ranch White Quail (missed photo op)

Herb Roasted Elysian Fields Farm Lamb

Cheese course

Andante Dairy "Contralto"

Tasting of Vegetables
"French Onion Soup"

Winter Citrus Supremes

"Salad D'Artichauts"

"Peas and Carrots"

Black Trumpet Mushroom "Agnolotti" (missed photo op)

Caramelized Garden Cauliflower and Barley "Porridge"

Cheese Course

"Terrine de Bleu D'Auvergne"

Assortment of Desserts (both menus- they sure like to bid a sweet farewell!)

Overall Verdict?
Dining at the French Laundry was one of our most anticipated dining adventures to date, and was everything we hoped it would be.  The execution and precision of each and every dish was mind-blowing, and made it clear to us why Thomas Keller is regarded as one of the world's most revered chefs. We feel so fortunate to have had this opportunity and to have knocked this long-awaited meal off our bucket list!

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

Friday, 25 December 2015


    Address: 1227 de la montagne, MontrĂ©al, QC H3G 1Z2

Tastiness Factor: 8/10

Atmosphere: 3.5/5

Service: 2.5/5

Locavore Approved?  Kinda- While many of their tasting menu dishes do seem to repeat themselves all year round, I was impressed with the seasonality of my vegetarian tasting menu and their very local-friendly cheese course offerings (pretty much all from Quebec).  

Reservations required?  Although we booked pretty close to the date for our Wednesday night reservation with no trouble, you will want to book with some time to spare for a weekend reservation.

Europea, known for its showy, out of the box dishes, had been recommended to me by several people before I made my way there a short while ago with co-workers while visiting Montreal for a conference.  It has the prestigious Relais and Chateau designation and as per their website, they also own quite a number of other restaurants in town.

Although its style of food preparation and presentation is modern, the setting at Europea is pretty old-school.  It is located in an old historic row house off Rue St. Catherine, Montreal's renowned shopping street.   Its two floors are divided into a number of rooms.  We were seated in a back room to one side of the kitchen that had only 4 tables in it, making us feel as though we had our own semi-private alcove.  Having said that, I did miss the energy that you usually feel in a busy restaurant when surrounded by others, and felt a little secluded.  The decor is quite dated, with some elements starting to look a little worn.  There are a few over-the-top elements, like the large modern statue near us which looked a little out of place in this historic building.

Service was up and down.  Some servers were lovely and warm.  The nicest by far was the server we met near the end of the meal, when we went to choose the cheeses for our tasting menu in the "cheese cave".  I confessed that I am not a real cheese lover and he very kindly worked with me to choose some to my liking.   The sommelier was quite good at describing our wine pairings, and was obviously passionate and knowledgeable about his craft.  Unfortunately, there were a few others throughout the evening who appeared quite exasperated and were quite flippant, particularly towards us English speakers at the table.  The worst part however was the speed of service.  I have no idea why but we ended up being the last ones in the whole restaurant despite having a 7pm reservation.  It was a 5 hour meal!  I have had plenty of tasting menus in my day and am more than happy to enjoy a 3-3.5 hour meal, but 5 hours is excessive!  We sometimes waited 20-30 minutes between courses which, for a 15+ course tasting menu, is just too long.  Other tables around us seemed to be finished much quicker so I am a bit puzzled as to why ours dragged on for what seemed like forever.  To top it all off, they rudely started setting tables for the next day around us when we were still working on our entree courses.  Talk about making customers feel unappreciated!  Overall, the attention to detail and overall customer service fell below what I would expect from a Relais and Chateau restaurant of this caliber.

Switching gears now to the menu, we were first offered 3 wine pairing options to choose from- elegant, prestige, deluxe.  Elegant was reasonably priced at $79, while the Delux was several hundred dollars.  For true wine lovers, the Deluxe pairing may be well worth it, as there were some pretty special wines and champagnes offered throughout the meal that the sommelier was obviously giddy about.

In terms of food,  chef Jerome Ferrer prepares French food that is anything but classic French.  Europea is famous for its whimsical and playful preparations (lots of molecular gastronomy) that certainly kept us entertained.  Diners can choose the 15+ courses signature menu, the vegetarian tasting menu (not on the printed menu, but is on their website) or a la carte option (which also comes with some "extras" along the way).  I ordered the vegetarian menu and, while I did really appreciate the use of seasonal produce (squash, root veg, artichoke for fall), I felt that I received quite a bit less than the signature menu in terms of both food quality and quantity which would have been acceptable had it been at a lower price point.  There were certainly a few stand-out dishes (I adored the spaghetti squash dish), while some other dishes were simply a few bland vegetables on the plate.  My dinner mates had the signature tasting menu and were served a nice mix of seafood, poultry and pork (heavier on the seafood end).   Overall, they enjoyed the dishes quite a bit, but overall enjoyed the earlier small dishes better than the later "main" dishes.

Here is a look at our tasting menus (dishes from both the vegetarian and standard tasting menus included).  In reading previous reviews, it appears as though many dishes stay the same for months at a time and some are permanently left on the menu, so you may recognize many of these if you dine there.

Overall Verdict?
In many ways, Europea is an experience that delights the senses and provides a an over-the-top experience full of smoke and mirrors.  While myself and my dining companions enjoyed the surprises along the way, the service was a bit of a let down for the price.  I also felt as though the flashiness sometimes got in the way of food quality.  
If you have money to spare, go check it out, otherwise you may be better served elsewhere.

Europea Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato