The French Laundry – Yountville, CA
Rummaging through old files and found this review of the French Laundry that I wrote 3 years ago (in 2012) and never posted. Threw in some edits and figured I’d throw it up for old time’s sake 🙂
I still remember the days leading up to my first meal at The French Laundry in 2009, restless and brimming with excitement. Expectations were stratospheric— how could they not be? What else would you expect of an institution once deemed the world’s best restaurant helmed by America’s best chef?
Yet over five precious hours on December 23, 2009, my lofty expectations were blown away. That meal was a revelation, permanently lodged into my memory banks as one of my most memorable dining experiences.
In 2012, I moved to the Philippines to start a new career and a new life. I celebrated my final days in America by taking a pilgrimage with dear friends to Yountville. The French Laundry greeted me with her blue doors once more.
Today, I compare my 2012 meal with the one in 2009 and wonder if it was puerile infatuation with Thomas Keller that added spark and dazzle. Perhaps I was simply younger, more eager, and easier to please. This time, things were different.
How was it? I find myself grasping for the right words. I worry how it may come across. It’s obviously a privilege to eat at The French Laundry, and criticizing a meal that most people would never ever have the opportunity to eat seems pretentious.
But the meal simply had no character. Yes, it was delicious, but it was also safe, boring, and uninspired.
Consider the butter poached lobster with sunchoke chips. Tasty but soulless. Same goes for the pork belly with truffled polenta. And that medallion of beef cooked to a perfect medium rare? It all felt like something I’d eat at a really fancy corporate dinner. Where was the spark of creativity? The risk taking? That moment of awe where you wonder out loud how the kitchen came up with such unique combinations and preparations.
I spent some time trying to figure out why things were so different this time around. Was it due to different chefs? Tim Hollingsworth was behind the stoves today vs Corey Lee (I think) on my last visit. Or was it because I’ve eaten at The French Laundry before, and since then I’ve eaten at a lot of nice meals?
Then it hit me: The French Laundry hasn’t changed much since 2009. I did. I wouldn’t call myself a gastronomist by any standard; but since my first visit years ago, I’ve been exposed to ingredients, preparations, and combinations that have blown my mind. My palate and expectations of what a great restaurant should be have simply changed.