Anyone who makes a trip to the Napa Valley usually has two priorities—wine and food. It is one of the best places in the world for a gastronomic experience (and I am lucky to live only 45 minutes away!). Most foodie conversations about this region inevitably include The French Laundry, a Thomas Keller’s three-Michelin-starred restaurant. Eating here is on many people’s bucket list, myself included. Though getting French Laundry reservations can be very difficult, and eating there is quite expensive, the experience was completely worth the time and money spent.
What Exactly is The French Laundry?
A premier restaurant for fine French cuisine, The French Laundry is housed in a two-story stone cottage that used to be a French steam laundry at one point in time. Keller purchased the property in 1994, turning it into a world-class restaurant with delectable cuisine and impeccable service. It has won numerous accolades over the years and a three-star rating from the Michelin Guide, which means it has exceptional cuisine that is worth a special journey.
The multi-course tasting menu here changes on a daily basis and some of the ingredients are freshly sourced from the garden on the premises. Though, if you really want to relish in their dishes, dining here doesn’t come cheap at a minimum of $325 per head!
About Chef Thomas Keller
A culinary genius, American-born chef Thomas Keller is the heart and soul behind The French Laundry. His excellence at his craft is evident from the multiple Michelin Stars that he has earned for his different restaurants including The French Laundry. He has also received the highest decoration in France–a Chevalier of The French Legion of Honor. Keller’s food journey started at a young age in a restaurant managed by his mother. Since then he has gathered his restaurant experiences in various places including France and New York City before helming The French Laundry in Yountville in 1994. His other restaurants include Per Se in New York (his second 3-starred Michelin restaurant!), and Bouchon Bistro and Bakery.
How to Get a Reservation at The French Laundry
You can pat yourself on the back for a job well done if you manage to get The French Laundry reservations–yes, it can be that tough. Though with these few tips you will be dining in luxury sooner than you think.
- The reservation process for The French Laundry can only be done online at Tock.
- Getting a reservation for 2 people is extremely difficult, rarely is anything available unless it’s a special event (like New Year’s Eve) where the prices are considerably higher.
- Getting a reservation for a party size of 4-12 people is much easier, though still typically needs to be booked two months in advance.
- When looking for same day or next day reservations, keep checking the Tock website for cancellations (but, also join the waitlist).
- Being flexible with your dates and times will increase your chances dramatically.
- Keep in mind that the restaurant usually closes for a couple of weeks in both summer and winter. Otherwise, it is open seven nights a week for dinner as well as from Friday thru Sunday for lunch.
- If your date and time are not available, make sure to join the waitlist on the Tock website, and you will be notified if something comes up.
- Bookings get snapped up in a jiffy, so it’s best to be an early bird. Register on Tock well in advance to save yourself time on the day of booking. It is easy to navigate the website, select your room, number of people, preferred date and time, and pay online. Remember that weekends and dinners are more coveted, so you may have a better chance for a weekday reservation. You can also get lucky with French Laundry reservations during the off-season in the Napa Valley or if there are last-minute cancellations.
The best advice I can give you is to find a few friends (at least enough for a table of four) and be prepared to book two months in advance. With some patience, correct timing and a little bit of luck, you can get yourself a table.
The French Laundry Menu and Dining Experience
With a scrumptious menu and beautiful presentation, the food at The French Laundry is a work of art and a gastronomic explosion for the senses. As a part of your dining experience, you can choose between a nine-course chef’s tasting menu (including meat), and a nine-course vegetable tasting menu—in order to maximize the experience, my husband and I got one of each.
The dishes are just as beautiful as they are delicious, they are experts at blending together various flavors to create visual masterpieces on your plate. One of my favorite dishes was the almondwood grilled Japanese waygu with bone marrow marmalade. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
Here are the two French Laundry menus on the evening we went:
For wine you could order a bottle (or glass) from their extensive list or opt for a sommelier pairing for around $200. We chose for each dish to be matched with the perfect vino, and weren’t disappointed.
It’ll be hard, but leave some space for dessert-time when a large selection of lip-smacking ice-creams, macarons, cakes, chocolates and more will be placed on your table!
Tip: Don’t eat for the entire day beforehand! Or at least keep it light. Though the serving size is smaller than a normal restaurant, you will be eating multiple courses and it’s easy to fill up.
How to make the most of your visit to The French Laundry
Eating at The French Laundry is about the experience, from start to finish. So, begin it with arriving early enough to walk through the gardens that are right across the street. You are sure to see some ingredients growing there that will be on at least one of your plates! Then, head to the courtyard where you will be able to peek into the windows of the kitchen where you will see the experts preparing your pretty dishes.
In Napa Valley, it is natural for wine to be an integral part of your food experience. Choose a local wine or ask the staff to select the perfect wine to accompany your meal.
Since you would have put in a lot of effort to get French Laundry reservations, you deserve a kitchen tour. Yes, you can actually take a look at all the hard work and magic that goes on in the kitchen to create the yummy food that you just wiped off your plate. You can request the waiter if you wish to see the kitchen or meet the chef. It certainly adds to the overall experience of your visit.
The French Laundry allows you to take photos…EVERYWHERE (and you’re going to want to capture the experience)! Just be courteous of other diners and don’t use flash.
Dress code for The French Laundry
This is an upscale restaurant, so dress accordingly. Wearing shorts, T-shirts, denim and other casual wear is not the norm. Bring out your formals for lunch or dinner–these include jackets for men although ties are optional. Women can opt for semi-formal dresses, or dress pants and a classy top that you have been storing just for such occasions. Also, wear appropriate footwear, it’s best to avoid any sort of tennis shoes.
Essential Tips for Visiting the French Laundry
Location: 6640 Washington Street
The French Laundry is situated in the heart of the Napa Valley wine region in Yountville California, close to fabulous wineries and hotels. Yountville is around 60 miles from San Francisco and the best way to reach the restaurant is via a rental car (and RentalCars.com has some great deals).
Reservations Website: https://www.exploretock.com/tfl/
Where to Stay in Napa Valley: If you’re there just for The French Laundry, then it’s best to stay in Yountville, within walking distance of the restaurant. The Vintage House (luxury) is a great choice and just a block away. If you want to add a spa to this already amazing experience, then stay at the luxurious Bardessono Hotel and Spa.
For something on the less expensive side, try the Embassy Suites (moderate) located in Napa, about 8 miles away. Or search some great deals on hotels of your choice at Booking.com. If you’re looking for more of a home atmosphere (or are traveling with a group of people), head over to Airbnb that has houses, apartments and even just a room for rent in every price range.
If you are a foodie, this restaurant is a must for your bucket list. Plan in advance to get French Laundry reservations for an extraordinary culinary experience that you’ll never forget. As I discovered, the experience certainly lived up to its famous reputation. And it’s not every day that you get the pleasure of dining at a three-Michelin-starred restaurant!