The French Laundry
June 01, 2006

Three years ago, I started reading a book called The Soul of a Chef. One third of this book was about Thomas Keller and it was fascinating. Up until this point, I knew of the French Laundry, but didn't feel like my life would be incomplete if I never went there. However, after finishing the book, the incompleteness crept in. Now I HAD to go, and my Mum was the best person to come with me. At this time, they took reservations 3 months in advance. So exactly 3 months before my birthday, she called. No matter what time or day, we couldn't get a reservation. We ended up going to Masa's instead. At the time, their chef was somewhat known (he had been on Iron Chef, and won), so we figured we were in for a pretty decent meal. It was definitely more than decent. In fact, it was pretty darn spectacular. This made it easier to talk ourselves out of NEEDING to go to the French Laundry. Over time, I gave up the idea that we would ever go, and the incompleteness crept away.

Three months ago, Chris was planning some details for his trip to the west coast. We knew we were going to meet up and hang out at least one day while he was here. Then the fabulous Katie brought up the idea of going to the French Laundry. My immediate response was, "MAKE RESERVATIONS NOW!" A day or two later, I get an e-mail from Chris with good news. We were in. Our party of four (me, my Mum, Chris, and Katie) was beyond excited.

The thing about the French Laundry is that you're not just having dinner, you're having a dining EXPERIENCE. It's not just the food, it's the decor and accents that tie everything together. The lamp shades on the wall sconces have little laundry symbols embossed in them. Every napkin at the table has an old fashioned clothespin attached to it. Your bill is brought to you written on a laundry tag. The waiter brings you another piece of brioche toast before you've even finished the first, so you continually have warm toast. The waiters time their approach to the table so they never walk up to ask you something while your wine glass is still attached to your face. You NEVER have to wonder if you should keep your fork because they bring you new silverware for every course.

And then there's the food.

There are two menus, one with meat, and one completely vegetarian. Both menus are multiple courses. Some dishes are chosen for you, and some you have to make a choice. I've read many things about the signature Oysters and Pearls dish, and despite an allergy to bivalves, I decided to give it a try. I had eaten oysters before, and the oysters in this dish were like nothing I had ever had before. Not chewy or rubbery, but tender and delicious. The flavors and textures make this a very unique dish, and I can't blame the chef for wanting everyone to try it. As much as I want to list off everything we ate, I think I'd run out of synonyms for delicious and amazing. What I will tell you is that everything looked as good as it was to eat. I wish I had taken more photos.

Chris often asks good questions, and when he asked if we could see the kitchen on our way out, I thought that was one of the best questions ever. We had to keep to the side and stay out of the way, but we were able to stand and watch while they put together the lobster dish. That kitchen hummed like a well oiled machine. It was also one of the cleanest kitchens I've ever seen. As we left, they gave us a copy of the night's menu, and a small box of pastries and chocolates made by the restaurant. I also grabbed one of the paper towels from the bathroom because they had a small blue clothespin printed on them. If that isn't detail oriented, I don't know what is.

If you like food and ever have the chance to go to the French Laundry, I highly recommend it. I never would have gone if it hadn't been for Chris and Katie, and I can't thank them enough. Just to meet them both while they were here was exciting enough, but to share the French Laundry experience with them was icing on the cake. I can now safely say that the incomplete feeling has packed its bags and is gone for good.



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© Whitney Brandt-Hiatt: All writing, images, and photogrpahy are the property of Whitney Brandt-Hiatt unless otherwise noted.