The French Laundry, 6640 Washington Street, Yountville, California - Reviews - Food + Drink - The Independent

The French Laundry, 6640 Washington Street, Yountville, California

The French Laundry, Thomas Keller's acclaimed restaurant in Napa Valley's Yountville, has been described by the New York Times as "the most exciting place to eat in the United States". It's impossible to get a booking at short notice unless you're an A-list celebrity, so when a friend tells me he has an "in", I gratefully join him and his American companion.

Compared to the buzzy, informal Bouchon, its sister bistro up the road, TFL is as starched as its white tablecloths. On the night of our meal, the small dining room is oppressively airless. Smartly dressed groups talk sotto voce, young men with wispy goatees gaze expectantly at their high-maintenance dates, one of whom has lager poured for her on a silver platter.

The prix fixe ($240, £145) nine-course tasting menu is preceded by a signature canapé: a crunchy black sesame tuile mini-cornet with salmon tartare and crème fraîche, followed by a creamy artichoke purée with toasted hazelnut and a miniature orange segment. A list of wines by the glass offers a choice of six sparkling, six white, two rosé and seven red, plus sake, fortified, off-dry and sweet wine. Since there are no wines-by-the-glass suggestions with the tasting menu, we choose a ginger-spicy, grapefruit-zesty 2006 Grüner Veltliner Alte Reben from Bründlmayer ($150, £90) from the voluminous bottle list.

First up, "oysters and pearls" is another signature dish, a rich, buttery sabayon of pearl tapioca with an iodiney seafresh burst of tangy Island Creek oyster and white sturgeon caviar. The Austrian dry white is delicious with this and the next amuse-bouche, an open-topped egg shell containing a glossy mouthful of egg custard, white truffle oil and black truffle jus topped with veal stock.

The wine holds its own, too, with the moulard duck foie gras en terrine ($30 supplement). This is a triangle of foie gras with a pine nut glaze and poached blueberries, a Belgian endive relish and nasturtium and lemon "Génoise". It's delicate, but the foie gras is too creamily processed to comply with Keller's dictum that it should be "served with minimum interference to preserve its texture".

In preference to the option of tartare of Japanese bluefin tuna, I go for sautéed fillet of Columbia River sturgeon. The small square of lightly chargrilled white fish is rich and firm and so perfectly cooked and seasoned that my two companions, declaring their tartare "brilliant", eye it up jealously. It's followed by sweet butter-poached Maine lobster "mitts", a three-bite piece of slow-cooked, succulently fleshy pink lobster with black rice, pili nuts and grapes, suffused with subtle curry flavours and a liquoricey explosion of fresh basil.

For the all-day braised joue de porc, the perfumed, elegantly fruit-filled 2006 Anthill Farms Abbey-Harris Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($160, £97) is suggested by the attentive sommelier, Anani Lawson, and it does a perfect job. Given that The French Laundry is in the middle of Napa Valley, there is little encouragement to drink Napa Valley, not even a Napa wine by the glass. A mixed blessing because the subtle juxtapositions of flavours and textures of Keller's food could so easily be overwhelmed. The pig's cheek is impeccably presented with baby corn and little gem lettuce, the delicate bite-size squares of grainily textured white meat suggesting lightly salted chicken, with the added creaminess of avocado and a fresh bite of cherry tomatoes and coriander. No complaints about the entrée. Snake River farms' "calotte de boeuf grillée" is meltingly tender, fine-flavoured rare beef enhanced by earthy bluefoot mushroom, Yukon Gold potato mille-feuille and sweet garlic pudding with sauce bordelaise.

Manchester, a goat's milk cheese with mejdool dates, celery branch and black truffle, is dry and nutty but about as goaty as soy milk. I sheepishly ask if it really is goat, only to be informed about the roaming habits of said goat in the Vermont hills. A refreshing honeydew melon sorbet is followed by the final amuse-bouche before the pudding, an all-American cinnamon mini-doughnut ring-cum-coffee semi-freddo. Bouche duly amused, I go for the lemon verbena vacherin, essence of lemon sherbet and strawberry consommé with meringue, washed down with a $38 (£23) glass of a rich dried apricoty tokaji, 2002 Királyudvar Cuvée Ilona.

There is much to please the palate and the eye at The French Laundry, the soul I'm less sure of. The artful visual presentation, almost Japanese in the precision-engineering of its colour and texture co-ordination, is one of the high points. Highly crafted with the experience of many years, the thought-provoking combinations of flavours are brilliantly executed, even if occasionally verging on the itsy. I wish I could say that I'm hungry for more, but I'm satisfied that for once in my life at least, and once will do me, I have genuflected at the altar of American haute cuisine.

The French Laundry, 6640 Washington Street, Yountville, California, USA (001 707 944 2380)

Food 5 stars
Ambience 4 stars
Service 5 stars

Tasting menu about £145, including service, for nine courses

Side Orders: American idols

Blue Hill

The Obamas are fans of this superb restaurant showcasing local artisan produce; mains include sweetcorn, zucchini and braised lamb belly ($32).

75 Washington Place, New York (001 212 539 1776)


The unashamedly experimental tasting menu here includes items such as: "BUBBLE GUM long pepper hibiscus crème fraiche".

1723 N Halsted St, Chicago (001 312 867 0110)

Chez Panisse

Sonoma Liberty duck breast with roasted onions, shell beans, and pancetta is a typical dish at Alice Waters' eatery.

1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, California (001 510 548 5525)

John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week