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…


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