The French Laundry, part 1: “The Surprise”

I admit it- I was completely surprised, overwhelmed, and can hardly believe it happened to me on my 50th birthday! We were driving up Napa Valley toward Meadowood Restaurant (what I thought was our intended reservation) for dinner when the cab made an unexpected turn into the town of Yountville. What? I didn’t have enough time to think about what we were doing when the cab stopped in front of The French Laundry (“TFL” to those in the “know”). “Happy Birthday, honey!” Jamie exclaimed. I was in shock as the restaurant door opened and we were escorted into one of the most prestigious and harder-than-heck-to-get-into restaurants in the country (you have to call 60 days to the day of your reservation). This is one of the top-rated restaurants in the world and we were going to be celebrating my birthday within its small and simply elegant walls.   As we were seated in the main dining room near the fireplace, our view was excellent for admiring all these others who were enjoying what a privileged few get to experience- a four-hour gastronomic extravaganza. I wanted to laugh, then I wanted to cry, and then laugh all over again. I must have said it at least 50 times: how did you get me here without me knowing?”I just kept gaping at everyone and everything, not believing that I had actually made it to TFL for dinner. What a great 50th birthday surprise! Next to meeting my husband, one of the greatest surprises of my life. Then I found out that it wasn’t a surprise for many of you, and for many of our guests, whom, I was told that night, were told about his surprise gift to me over the course of the past two months. How everyone kept it quiet still stuns me. Oh, there were a few close calls such as the day they called to confirm the reservation. He happened to answer the phone that time. Over the years I have heard stories of people dining there, the difficulty of getting the reservation (sometimes calling 13 days in a row until they finally made it), those lucky few who put their name on a waitlist and were called the same day to come in, and that very rare story of someone who found an opening on  Yes, and sometimes even the complaint of guests who didn’t like spending so much money ($240 per person, without wine) on “little bits of food”, no matter how many courses there are.   The number one question we have been asked since going: “Was it worth it?”  Well, that was the biggest surprise of all…


Voted Top Bed and Breakfast in the West! (Press Release follows)



Napa, California — The Inn On First of Napa, California was selected as a “Best of the West” winner in the annual Best of Awards, 2008-2009. The Best of Awards are based upon a qualitative and quantitative review of the nearly 50,000 independent reviews submitted to, the leading online B&B directory and reservation network worldwide.

“We know how important independent reviews are. We’re delighted that inngoers concurred that The Inn On First is a favorite among those seeking the B&B experience,” explained’s Sandy Soule, one of the most highly recognized authors and a spokeswoman for the B&B industry. “It’s clear that The Inn On First earned high marks from inngoers for their fine accommodations, breakfasts, amenities, and wonderful hospitality and service,” commented Soule.


“We are pleased that we were chosen for a Best of Award and are proud that our guests posted reviews that resulted in this award, stated The Inn On First, Jim Gunther, B&B innkeeper. “It is gratifying that our attention to the details that make a difference to guests were recognized by inngoers who took the time to write reviews of The Inn On First” commented Jim Gunther. Here’s an excerpt from one of our reviews:

The Inn on First was amazing. Our room was beautiful, impeccably clean and wonderfully quiet. It was our first time staying at a Bed and Breakfast and we were truly spoiled. Jim and Jamie were incredible. They helped plan tours and trips and made great restaurant suggestions, as well as making all of our reservations! The breakfasts were a culinary experience to remember. We will definitely recommend “The Inn on First” to our family and friends!

Angele: invited for a hospitality event.

I was already in love with the food on our last visit.  Then Bettina Rouas, co-owner of Angele with her father (he helped to create Auberge du Soleil) invited some of us in the hospitality industry to come for a special dinner so the chef could showcase his food.  We started with crostini with a white bean puree, then were served two salads- an heirloom tomato salad with large chunks of pan-fried bread, and a second salad with layers of thinly sliced multi-colored melons and a light lemon vinaigrette.  The main course was cassoulet with large pieces of duck and sausage, and another course of paella with mussels, chorizo sausage, and shrimp.  Just when we thought we couldn’t eat anymore, out came the chocolate pot de creme, a plum tart, and their famous warm banana custard with a crumble topping.  At the end of the meal, it was just more proof that Angele is doing it right: from the outdoor patio seating on warm nights, to the great food, and the stellar service.   It was really great. Everything was paired with Hill Family wines that night.  Although I am not a fan of their chardonnay, I came to enjoy their cabernet sauvignon with the main courses immensely.  Ryan Hill, is the marketing director for his father’s winery, and he often pours at the winery in Yountville.  He was there to introduce their wines while we ate.  He has an engaging and amiable style of presenting the wines, and I would recommend spending time with him at the winery if you get a chance.

Zuzu’s: great flavors, small dishes, superb delight.

Zuzu’s has been one of those restaurants that we have had on our list due to guest comments over the past year.  We’ve even had guests who were Tapas-style chefs go and come back raving about the food and we knew we had to go.  Well, we finally made it to the restaurant last week and we were ready for a feast.  I’ll tell you now that we only have one regret with the meal: we didn’t have enough room for more.  The problem was the paella.  We ordered enough for 3; we should have ordered enough for one, shared, and moved onto other dishes.  At first I though the tomato sauce on the paella was too tart, but then I kept eating it and wondered what the attraction was that kept me coming back for more.  It was served with a light and sweet cream sauce that was the perfect balance to the tomato.  We were half-way through that when the next course showed up: the flat iron steak with the chimichurri sauce which was Jamie’s favorite.  Then came the next, which I loved, the asparagus with Serrano ham, and we both loved the next course, scallops with the olives and meyer lemon.  The last course we ordered was the Bacalao with truffle oil which we pretty much fought over to finish, and then we were stuffed.  Argh!  Not enough room for more.  There were still many more flavors and options to try and we were so disappointed that there had been so much paella that we didn’t…couldn’t possibly….have room for more…..than dessert!  We settled on the apple empanada because a number of guests had talked about the tart apple with the hint of pepper on your throat to be finished with caramel sauce.  Whoa!  Really yummy!  Now I understand why our guests love this place so much.  Everything in small portions, shared family style, and paced out over the course of your meal.  One dish shows up, you begin to eat, and then another, and you add that to your plate, and then a third.  Dirty plate and don’t want to mix flavors?  No problem!  There are extra clean plates at the table and they are prompt to clear the dirty ones away.  Not sure how hungry you are?  Fine, then start with a few and order more as you go.  No reservations taken here, but worth the wait if you have to.  Definitely a great meal for those who are looking for something casual, different, flavorful, and fun.  The restaurant is only a two minute drive from the inn, or a fifteen minute walk.