in Dining, Ndining
We had known about French Laundry for years, but hadn't gone so far for a combination of reasons, but mainly that it was far and ridiculous to get reservations at (well, and also because we do have plenty of excellent restaurants closer by). But, I figured that we should still go one day, so I had our excellent concierge make a reservation for us for our anniversary.
We got an 11:00 reservation on a friday and we got there after a slightly less than 2h drive (yes, if you do the math, it was more time driving than eating at the end, but I knew that). The French Laundry had been closed for 6 months or so to destroy their kitchen and rebuild a new one. When we arrived they were working out of a temporary kitchen as the new one hasn't been built yet, but that didn't seem to have impacted the quality of the food we got.
The welcoming and setting were good. They had a menu printed in our name, and it only had 2 options: vegetarian or non vegetarian tasting menu, both at the same price ($300 per person). The menu had 3 dishes where you could substitute a more expensive dish. As plenty others have remarked, they strangely did not have a wine pairing option, which in our opinion is a big faux pas and something that no other such restaurant we've been to, was missing.
The food was very good, the dishes were well presented and the servers all did a very good job (service is included in the price by the way, which is the French way). In the end, my opinion was that it was very good and well executed, but not worth the 100% premium you pay over other very good restaurants with excellent tasting menus too. Part of my reasoning is also based on the fact that due to their popularity, they of course raised their prices quite a bit over time, but unfortunately also removed some dishes. We didn't come out hungry in any way, but they used to have more courses than they do now.
Then, my last point of comparison is that they serve very good traditional French food, but it's not as fancy/different as what you'd get in a place like Baume which offers molecular gastronomy, something interesting to try, or Alinea in Chicago where the entire fancy meal is a spectacle around how it's presented and served.
This may be why their online reviews seem to be a mix of 1's and 5's: people who've enjoyed the still great meal, and others who've eaten at other very good such restaurants in the world and don't find TFL so much better as to justify the price their charge and difficulty of getting reservations.
Either way, we were still happy to have tried it out and cross if off our list :)
Actually I should mention that what sets them apart is that they give you a very nice booklet that shows all the ingredients used for the meal, and how they were chosen and sourced. That was a nice touch that other restaurants we've seen, don't do.
The dinner did finish with a bunch of desserts and sugar, maybe a bit too much for Jennifer, and borderline what I could handle :)