It is absolutely crazy that I go to L'Arpège much more often than I do the French Laundry—was there again just last week in fact—in spite of the former being in Paris and the latter being practically in my own backyard. Planning long enough in advance to go to the French Laundry had been unattainable with my crazy schedule—you do believe me about my crazy schedule, don't you?—so it had been two years since the previous time I was there.
Well, I finally managed a meal there last Sunday, and not just any meal, but a marvelous Sunday lunch as a guest of my dear friends Lizzie and John (you remember Lizzie and John?). They are very old friends of the house and we were treated accordingly. Everyone, including the chef Thomas Keller, dropped by to say hello. Service at the French Laundry has always been impeccable, it was difficult to imagine how they would do any better than they normally would. But boy oh boy, was I ever wrong? Let me tell you, I simply have not seen anything like it, seriously, definitely not in this country, and not even in France.
I went with my friend Dave, a replacement date after my original date flaked out. Yes, I heard something about a brain dysfunction—why else would anyone flake on the French Laundry? Well, I ended up driving up from the city to Dave and Ally's house in Napa, and from there, our designated driver Ally took us to the restaurant. How sweet is that Ally?
It was a beautiful Sunday, even in the state of hangover-induced stupor from my birthday bash the previous night, I still found it beautiful. The building that housed the French Laundry was just as pretty as ever, hidden on a leafy and tranquil part of the main street that ran through downtown of the gourmandise paradise that is tiny Yountville. Dave and I were a few minutes late, finding Liz and John already seated and sipping champagne at table, in the cozy alcove bathed in sky light in the soothing downstairs room.
Soothing is always a great descriptor for the French Laundry. Even as we were led through the many courses, many bottles, and indeed many hours meal, nothing ever felt harried or rushed. The atmosphere was ever calm and soothing, the food stunningly simple in its glorious complexity, and the service inconspicuously attentive. Soothing is indeed a good word.
I have been a few times before, but nothing in my previous experience has prepared me for this visit as a guest of Liz and John, who are so universally loved by all at the restaurant. As we sat down, our champagne glasses were magically filled with delightful Gimmonet MV, a refreshing start for our long journey into the heart of this temple of gastronomy.