The reason for this reputation starts and finishes with Thomas Keller’s indisputably amazing French Laundry (6640 Washington St., 707/944-2380, www.frenchlaundry.com, daily 5:30–9 p.m., Fri.–Sun. 11 a.m.–1 p.m., reservation only, $240). Once you’ve gotten that all-important reservation, the fun begins! From the moment you walk in the door of the rambling Victorian, you’re treated like royalty. You’ll be led to your seat in one of the small dining rooms by one of the many, many pristine black-and-white clad staff. Even if you’re new to this level of dining (and most of us are), you’ll be made to feel more than welcome here.
The menu, which changes often, offers two main selections: the regular nine-course tasting menu and the vegetarian nine-course tasting menu. You’ll have a few either/or choices as you run down each list—usually you’ll see two options for the fish course and two options for the entrée. The wait staff can help you identify anything you don’t recognize, or if you’re having a crisis of decision-making. The sommelier is at your beck and call to assist you with a wine list that weighs several pounds.
Then the meal begins. From the first, waiters and footmen ply you with extras—an amuse-bouche here, an extra middle course there…and if you mention that someone else has something on their plate that you’d like to try, it appears in front of you as if by magic. Finally, the desserts come. And come. And come. After the fourth separate dessert course, you may want to ask for a white flag with which to signal your surrender.
All together, a meal at the French Laundry can run up to 13 courses and take four hours to eat. Afterward, you might not eat normally for a couple of days, and you’ll have spent a good chunk of rent money on a single meal, but it will seem worth it.
Another high-end restaurant in Yountville, Étoile (1 California Dr., 707/204-7529, www.chandon.com, Mon.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m., 6–9:30 p.m., $32–41) sits inside the tasting facility at the prestigious Domaine Chandon champagnery. Lovely white tablecloths sparkle in the sunlight and overlook Chandon’s lush green gardens. The menu at Étoile is inventive even for Napa, and each dish is prepared to utter perfection. Order the chef’s tasting menu with wine pairings to sample Chandon’s wine list at its best and enjoy the delectable cuisine as it was intended to be eaten.
If you can’t quite manage the French Laundry, try Thomas Keller’s other Yountville option: Bouchon (6534 Washington St., 707/944-8037, www.bouchonbistro.com, daily 11:30 a.m.–12:30 a.m., $24–34). Reservations are still strongly recommended, but you can get one a week in advance. Bouchon’s atmosphere and food scream Parisian bistro. Order traditional favorites such as the croque monsieur or steak frites, or opt for a California-influenced specialty salad or entrée made with local, sustainable ingredients.
If you’re just looking for a breakfast pastry or a sandwich, walk from Bouchon to the Bouchon Bakery (6528 Washington St., 707/944-2253, www.bouchonbakery.com, daily 7 a.m.–7 p.m.) next door. This ultra-high-end bakery supplies both Bouchon and the French Laundry with pastries and breads, as well as operating a retail storefront. Locals and visitors flock to the bakery at breakfast and lunchtime, so expect a line.
© Liz Hamill Scott from Moon California, 2nd Edition