So I mentioned before this trip to Napa is our first real vacation in 3 yrs, due mostly to the birth of our son and the ‘living on one income’ thing. It was also about that time when we stopped going to fine dining restaurants. We still manage to go out to plenty of restaurants, but the Michelin starred ones are way out of our budget. So when the opportunity and the funds became available for this trip, you can only imagine how thrilled we were to finally be having dinner at the French Laundry.
Just like our recent visit to Chez Panisse, this was not at all what I expected, in a good way of course. I was taken by surprise by the actual dining room. It really is an old house turned into a restaurant. The service was exceptional as well as the food. Course after course, nine to be exact, the food was perfect.
When we eat out we usually measure how good a restaurant is with one question: can we make it at home? Trust me when I tell you I couldn’t have made this at home. There was only one problem, the bill, all $1,200.00 of it. Was it worth it? Yes. Was it the best meal of my life? It was one of the best, but maybe it’s because I’m out of practice eating in the fine dining world, but it felt a bit stuffy, almost too formal. I usually enjoy the dance of a multi-course meal, the way the service flows, the wine being poured, etc. But somehow this time it felt too ceremonious, like I was in the church of Thomas Keller and I should consider myself lucky to be there. Let me be clear, this is not a criticism of the food or the service, just my impression of the ambiance.
[My husband just brought up a good point, we’ve never dined at a 3 star Michelin restaurant before, so maybe I would have to eat at another restaurant of that caliber to be able to make a proper comparison of the service.]
There’s a dreaded rumor out there that fine dining is on its last legs, that its death is imminent. The never ending recession has changed the face of elegant dining in America. Fine dining restaurants aren’t as popular as they used to be. Tapas bars, gastro-pubs, bistros, pop-ups and food trucks have taken over the dining scene by serving high quality food at a decent price. Also, with the emergence of “foodies”, a select number of people are preparing really good meals in their own homes. Meals that not too long ago they would’ve eaten at restaurants. Furthermore, ingredients that were once available only to restaurants are now available to home cooks, which only makes the preparation of high end meals at home easier and easier. Even so, fine dining shouldn’t die. It is part of the cooking craft, of its history, and future. Maybe fine dining just has to change, and adapt to the current situation and growing knowledge of those once considered amateur diners.
All in all, it was a wonderful and much needed date night with my husband, but I can’t help thinking that maybe we should have used the money to buy a new computer before this one finally dies. I think I would’ve been just as happy.