Wednesday, June 15, 2005

French Laundry: 4th Time, Less Charm

It wasn't bad enough that the French voted down their own constitution, and that they are the butt of surrender jokes (I'm opening a French Army Store where the pocket knives only have cork screws, no blades and the maniquens all have their arms in the air), but now namesake, French Laundry has to endure the Foodster wrath.

I have had 3 of the 10 best meals of my life at The French Laundry in Yountville, California. In fact, those experiences have defined the 5/5 rating in my mind. Amazing, creative food, formal yet not off-putting service and decor, and wonderful knowledgeble folks from the busgirl to the Solmmelier. Just the BEST.

My fourth visit to this culinary mecca in 4 years engendered some surprises, but the biggest one is that there weren't any culinary surprises, like those we have experienced in the past. Keller's Salmon Tartare cones and the Oysters and Pearls (sabayon of pearl tapioaca with beau soleil oysters) were as delectable as always. And the Sturgeon (with smoked steelhead trout roe) was unexpected and spectacular. The lobster "cuites sous vide", tartare of Australian "Wagyu", and Elysian "cote d'agneau" were what you would expect from any very high-end accomplished chef and a great kitchen. But the French Laundry is not any great kitchen, and Thomas Keller is not "any" accomplished chef.

So the food was wonderful 4/5 but not as edgy as we had come to expect. The service, on the otherhand, was neglectful and uninformed 3/5. Especially uninformed. I asked several questions about various menu items and beverages, which were incompletely or incorrectly resolved, and the staff did not exhibit the energy, passion, pride and humor we had exerienced in earlier visits.

And the cost!!!! Two of us spent an embarrassing $800, more than 4 Club Seat Rolling Stones Tickets at SBC Park, and more than what a party of four cost us at TFL 2 years ago. $175 per person, tax, a mandatory 19% service charge (when the service was declining in quality). Drinks? A great Sake, a half bottle of something very nice but not notable and I think my wife had a cocktail. No First Growths. No Screaming Eagles.

Pheeew! Got that out of my system. Since I will not likely get another TFL reservation in my lifetime, I will have to resort to Freedom Fries and the occassional trip to LA (can't believe I am admitting that) to get a Bastide fix--at least until I can make it to el Bulli in 2006.


Blogger DougK said...

Not as negative but similar experience on Feb 14, 2005: out of this world amuse bouche, foie gras, scallop with onion, bacon, truffle and desserts. Lamb was as good as you might get elsewhere, but not distinctive. Also, $800 for two, but we had a LOT to drink. Service was excellent, attentive and informed. It was our first experience at TFL; would go back but with very high expectations at these prices.

3:23 PM  

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