Passionate Excess

The French Laundry's new $850 tasting menu

Unless you’re playing blackjack, doubling down can be a dubious strategy. While the potential rewards may be significant, you also run the risk of eroding your position in a hurry.

Even in “normal” times (those vaguely remembered moments prior to the pandemic), dining at The French Laundry in Yountville was not a cheap night out. Dinner began at $350 per person, and the four or five-hour meal provided plenty of time to consume wine from a comprehensive and expensive list. Still, it was one of the most coveted tables in America: the restaurant had consistently earned three Michelin stars and was operated by Thomas Keller, arguably the country’s most celebrated chef.

Now, the restaurant has added a new twist. For $850 per person, you can enjoy an indulgent tasting menu that includes truffles, Regiis Ova caviar, foie gras, wagyu beef, a bottle of 2006 Dom Pérignon, and “extended canapés and dessert service” (good to hear they’re not skimping on the canapés). Your party may include anywhere from two to eight people, and you’ll have one of the restaurant’s dining rooms to yourselves; the menu is designed to commemorate the return to indoor dining, and is not available in the outside dining room or courtyard. As with any reservations at The French Laundry, payment must be tendered in advance and all sales are final.

There’s little doubt that Keller has had a rough time recently. He was forced to close his new restaurant in Manhattan’s Hudson Yards, and he sued his insurance company to recover losses incurred during the pandemic which he believed were covered by his business interruption policy. He was criticized for joining President Trump’s Economic Council for Restaurants, an initiative that yielded little relief for the industry.

Even so, the new menu is remarkable in an era when the typical restaurant is struggling to survive through a combination of delivery, contactless takeout and exceptional value. It calls to mind the French Medieval concept of démesure, or passionate excess—roughly translated, if you’re going to go all the way, do it with style and panache. And if the components of Keller’s $850 menu can actually assuage those feelings of dread and depression brought on by the pandemic, so much the better. As in blackjack, sometimes you need to take drastic action to improve your situation.

 

Mark Spivak specializes in wine, spirits, food, restaurants and culinary travel. He is the author of several books on distilled spirits and the cocktail culture. His first two novels, Friend of the Devil and The American Crusade, are available on Amazon; his third novel, Impeachment, will be released on October 15.

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