on april 29th, i fulfilled one of my many food fantasies: three friends, nine-course tasting menu, the french laundry. unless you're part of the elite few, nabbing a reservation at this intimate 62 seater or footing the bill for the $240 tasting menu can be a painful, painful experience. so the big question is, "is it worth the pain?" my answer, without a doubt, is yes. but let me clear up a few things about the hype surrounding thomas keller's three star establishment. the french laundry is not some elusive food mecca. it is not culinary innovation the way WD50 or el bulli are known to be. it's simply some of the best food you'll ever eat. on the evening we went, chicken was on the menu or to be exact four story hills farm "poularde" was on the menu. chicken is something most of us eat several times a week, but biting into that poularde was like tasting chicken for the very first time, prepared with flavor and tenderness i had never experienced before. one of my friends even commented, "it doesn't even taste like chicken." yes, it certainly did not taste like any chicken i've ever known.
with more staff on hand than diners, the attentive service also helps to ease the pain. the four of us arrived for our 5:30 dinner reservations hungry after a day of fasting for our big feast. stomachs growling, we craved some bread from the bakery of bouchon just down the road. minutes later, three loaves of bread arrived from bouchon for us to take home and sample. and our server was more than happy to accommodate the challenge of our unending appetites. yes, we did drop some comments about having to stop by an in-'n-out on our way home to really fill up but they rose to the challenge, bringing out more and more food. i had paced myself for a nine-course meal but this marathon meal turned out to be closer to a seventeen course meal. we ate. we ate. about five different dessert courses later, it was 10:30 pm and we could eat no more. but knowing we definitely got our money's worth in volume as well as quality also helped ease the pain of seeing our bill.
so, how does one get reservations to one of the most renowned restaurants in the world? i picked up these three tips from carolyn jung of the san jose mercury:
1) open table. open table has two four-tops per evening. one for 5:30 and one for 9:30. the trick is in the timing of the click.
2) get on the waiting list (once you manage to get through a five hour long busy signal). people do cancel.
3) if you're willing to splurge some more, stay at one of the local beds and breakfasts and they might be able to help you snag a reservation if given enough advanced notice.
good luck. and remember: for food like this, it's worth the pain.