"Is that on your Bucket List?" asked the woman at the art gallery a short walk down the road. I had just told her we were waiting for our reservation at The French Laundry, an ultra-fancy restaurant in California's Napa Valley. The question surprised me as I stood sweating in my coat and tie.
Several questions fought to be answered first:
Is eating at The French Laundry a common item on life to-do lists? Does eating at a restaurant really rise to that level of importance in oneís life? And what made her think we weren't the kind of people who went there all the time? Was I wearing my disdain for ties on my sleeve?
No, it wasn't on my life to-do list, but my wife and the friends we were traveling with thought it would be an interesting thing to try. So we tried it. The French Laundry website recommends you call for reservations more than a month in advance. Our friend Tom followed their advice and had to deal with busy signals and on-hold music for a long time. If youíre interested in eating here you should try the online reservation tool, OpenTable.com.
I'm a substance-over-style kind of guy, so the coat and tie dress code gave me a bad first impression. Yes, dressing casually doesn't make you enlightened, but dressing well alone doesn't entitle you to special treatment. When I try good food and wine I want to roll up my sleeves and wade right in. Sure, I'll usually put a napkin in my lap, but dribbling sauce down my front is a definite possibility.
We each ordered a nine-course prix fixe menu. I ordered the chefís tasting. The food was great and so was the service, but that's what you pay for at The French Laundry. The whole leisurely experience lasted three hours, and we weren't uncomfortably full at the end, just pleasantly well-fed. The building and the setting are beautiful.
I'm no Anthony Bourdain, and this definitely isnít a restaurant review. I liked the food because it tasted good, and that's that. You pay a LOT to eat there, but it's clear that a LOT of labor and expertise went into our afternoon meal.
When we left, I picked up a flyer for a local hot air balloon company. They take people for flights over the Napa Valley. I've never been in a balloon, and riding one is on my life to-do list. Then I looked at the price, and it bummed me out: Flying for four hours in a hot air balloon is less expensive than eating for three hours at The French Laundry. (sigh)
So for me at least, the answer is no, eating at The French Laundry isnít amazing enough to end up on a life to-do list. Nice restaurant, though.