The French Laundry by (3 Stories)

Prompted By Birthdays

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As a family we try to do big things for big birthdays (as least for our two children—my husband and I tend to let ours just slide by). When our older son turned 21, he and his father spent the weekend in Las Vegas to celebrate his being able to gamble legally. The same trip was offered to our younger son Nathaniel, but that was not his cup of tea.

The problem is The French Laundry is tiny and only takes reservations two months in advance.

Nathaniel is a foodie and an excellent chef. He interned at a local restaurant as a senior in high school and supported himself as a chef for the first couple of years out of college. Nathaniel said that what he most wanted was a meal at The French Laundry (chef Tom Keller’s restaurant of wide fame, at least among the foodie world, that Suzy has written about in The End of The World). The restaurant is in the Napa Valley of California; we live in Rhode Island. But we decided to make a family trip out of it and visit the wine country, as well as see my California based brother while we were there.

The problem is The French Laundry is tiny and only takes reservations two months in advance. We dutifully called the reservation line at 10 a.m. Pacific Time two months before the date we hoped we could make it, only to be met with busy signals and to ultimately be put on a waiting list. We tried again the next day (three different people from three phones) with the same result. These were the only two days we could all go to the dinner. But we decided to take the trip anyway in hopes that something would open up, and if need be we would eat elsewhere.

I wasn’t hopeful, but a friend suggested I write a letter. It seemed like such an obvious move that I wondered why I hadn’t thought of it myself. We made our case, explaining Nathaniel’s special birthday, his love of food, our thwarted attempts at securing a reservation, and our long trip. About two days before we were set to fly to California, we got the call: “Chef Keller” would be delighted if we would dine at The French Laundry. I will never know if our letter made a difference, but I like to think it did. (We sent two bottles of much-too-expensive Napa Valley wine to the friend who had suggested the letter.)

The meal was wonderful, Nathaniel got his wish, and we had a special family vacation in Wine Country that we still talk about.

Profile photo of Kit Kit

Characterizations: been there, well written


  1. Patricia says:

    Of course the letter made a difference, it must have been a good one! Restaurants like TFL want patrons that really appreciate what they’re doing, just like any artistic endeavor. I’m so glad it lived up to your expectations, and that you have such good memories of the trip.

  2. Suzy says:

    Kit, I love this story! Glad my French Laundry reference inspired it. That amazing restaurant was a perfect birthday present for Nathaniel at 21, as it was for me at 50. I would never have thought of writing a letter, so I’m not surprised it didn’t occur to you. Kudos to the friend who suggested it! And by the way, welcome to Retrospect, it’s great to have you here!

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    I LOVE the personal appeal. I’m a big fan of that sort of thing myself. So glad you got to go. I’ve been to Napa once (with Patti and John; we live in the Boston area, but come to the Bay area fairly often. We have a child in the area now and another one who went to Stanford, so reasons to visit). We didn’t go to The French Laundry, but to Boucheron, another, less formal Thomas Keller restaurant in the area, and had a wonderful meal and great time with great friends.

    Let me welcome you to Retrospect. So glad to have you here and I look forward to more of your stories. I also have a cousin who is a foodie. He lives in London. He went from being a consultant with Deloite to working for Gordon Ramsey and now works for his mother’s catering company and on a Swiss cooking show. His father was my first cousin, but has been gone 36 years. I stayed in touch with his widow, as best I could, as I always loved her very much. I wrote about them in “The Last Time I Saw Him”, if you care to read that account. I was honored to be a part of Gregory’s wedding last year and now he and his wife are expecting their first baby…very exciting.

    • Kit says:

      Thanks for your welcome. The whole trip was wonderful, not just because of the dinner, but also because of the time spent with Nathaniel, our other son and his girlfriend, and my brother and his wife. And of course we went wine-tasting! I look forward to checking out your other story.

      • Betsy Pfau says:

        Kit, I just re-read my story. It is called “Cousin Alan”, written on May 30, 2016 for the prompt “Who (or What) We Miss” and really focusses on the father rather than the son (I had written the story years earlier for a different writing workshop when it was called “The last time I saw him”). But Gregory, the son mentioned at the end of the story now works with his mother, who runs a very successful catering company in London. Sorry to have misled you. Gregory is now 38 and, as I mentioned, worked for Gordon Ramsey in London, NYC, then came back to London to work along side Sissi. He even catered his own wedding last year, which he admitted, was challenging (obviously, his staff did the work, but he did a lot running around too).

  4. John Zussman says:

    There aren’t many meals where getting the reservation makes as good a story as the meal itself, but this is clearly the exception! I’m glad the experience lived up to your expectations. TFL really is a very special place. How wise of your son to request a trip there.

  5. John Shutkin says:

    Just a terrific story, Kit, and I love the very happy ending. A long way from “Cheap Eats,” though finding yummy food is still the end game, right?

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