The French Laundry | Food Photography

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What an incredible experience it was to dine at one of the world’s best restaurants with a group of twelve friends. The French Laundry is Thomas Keller’s much-lauded restaurant in the heart of Napa Valley. With its three Michelin stars and countless accolades, the restaurant is always booked to the brim, and it’s usually impossible to get reservations. Of course, we found the loophole. Instead of regular reservations, we  instead booked the private dining option and with a minimum of eight people in our group secured our date almost a year in advance.

It became a full Napa retreat weekend, complete with a proposal, wine tasting, lots of great food, and tons of great company. Below is the capstone of it all– our garden tour and full dining experience at The French Laundry.

Our full group of twelve men, including some of our friends who joined in for the garden tour but then went to Thomas Keller’s other restaurant, Ad Hoc, instead of French Laundry.

The guy:girl ratio was a bit off, as we only had five girls, two of whom went to Ad Hoc.

We kicked off our evening with “prom pictures” at the garden across the street before dinner.

We arranged to have a tour of the gardens which are just across the street from the restaurant. We got to see some tiny green tomatoes…

Chickens that look like they’re wearing fuzzy slippers:

With their little round eggs

And then inside this contraption that looks like a greenhouse but has some other name that I cannot remember:

He then pulled a small carrot out of the ground for us to see. It’s incredible the novelty this has when we’re so disconnected from the food we eat.

And then came the microgreens, which they apparently harvest by hand with scissors, leaf by leaf.

And then it was time to head in for our meal! Our group of twelve French Laundry-goers said bye to the Ad Hoc group.

A sign of great things to come. The restaurant is named The French Laundry because the building was historically a French laundromat. The clothespin remains a cute motif of the restaurant today.

A glass of delicious sauvignon blanc from Araujo in Napa Valley; the signature amuse bouche to start things off– usually a salmon coronet, but we had fluke instead; and gougeres, little flaky cheese puffs with warm gruyere inside.

In the center, oysters and pearls, another French Laundry staple. I love the presentation as a whole team of servers placed down our plates and simultaneously lifted the covers as if a choreographed dance. On the right, a delicious hen egg custard with a ragout of truffles. It was like Japanese chawanmushi.

Then a sampler of breads was presented along with two flavors of butter– salted, in the shape of a honeycomb, and unsalted. On the left, sourdough. On the right, pretzel and multigrain. Not pictured is the French baguette.

Next, a salad of Hawaiian hearts of peach palm; Columbia River king salmon; and sweet butter poached Maine lobster. I love the fish shaped plate for the salmon dish. No detail was overlooked.

Happy diners around our beautiful courtyard table.

Of our entire group of twelve, only four of us actually live in Northern California. The rest traveled from Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York.

For wines, we moved on to a chardonnay from School House. Later, I had a ‘special select’ dessert wine from Topaz.

The final two dishes on the menu were this Wolfe Ranch white quail (so tender and juicy), and a veal. And then we got an extra cheese dish to segue to desserts.

We were actually seated right outside the kitchen and were welcomed to take peeks throughout the meal. At the end of it, we actually got to go inside the kitchen for a few minutes too.

And finally, the onslaught of desserts. Just when you think you can’t eat any more, you eat two more truffles just because they’re too good to pass up. On the top, a mango sorbet with coconut ice cream and compressed pineapples. Next, a chocolate with different fillings and these little wafer biscuits. then, some sugar donuts; some chocolate covered almonds; espresso; passion fruit caramels and chocolate toffees; a wide assortment of chocolate truffles, and finally, one of my favorite touches was the take-home goodies at the end. We each received a beautiful little tin of shortbread cookies. And on lid was of course the signature clothespin. In addition, they gave us beautiful debossed linen folders with the menus from that night inside, and when one of our friends asked about the unlisted amuse bouches and the wine list, they actually reprinted the menus and included both of those as well.

Whew! The dishes might look small, but after twelve courses or so, you definitely don’t leave hungry.

The food was amazing– as amazing as expected. But the charm of dining in this cozy Yountville courtyard with a group of twelve friends in the midst of a great weekend retreat was simply unbeatable.  Thank you all for an unforgettable experience!

Anna Wu is a wedding and portrait photographer based in San Francisco but often jetsetting around the world and eating, eating, eating. Follow her on facebook for more food, photography, and travel adventures.