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)

Alinea

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)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Sales Manager (Fashion and Jewellery), Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Volunteer Digital Marketing Trustee needed

    Voluntary, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Are you keen on...

    Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

    £33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

    Corporate Events Sales Manager, Marlow,Buckinghamshire

    £30K- £40K pa + Commision £10K + Benefits: Charter Selection: Rapidly expandin...

    Day In a Page

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

    Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
    Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

    The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

    Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
    Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

    Meet Japan's AKB48

    Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor