Even in the least pandemic of times, Thomas Keller’s critically cherished Yountville restaurant, the French Laundry, was a luxury affair, at around $350 per person to start. An expense that, in flush times, could be worth it for a rare-in-a-lifetime dining event. But in times that are far from flush, are people ready to spend more just for the pleasure of taking their tasting menu indoors? That’s what Keller appears to be banking on, as the restaurant announced Wednesday that for only $850 per person, parties of up to eight people can book a solitary table inside one of the French Laundry’s three dining rooms.
The menu? A bottle of 2006 Dom Perignon, followed by truffles, Regiis Ova caviar, foie gras, wagyu beef, and “extended canapés and dessert service.” In other words: Bond villain foods, all items that are shorthand for a certain kind of desperately obnoxious wealth (see: sports cars, luxury watches).
And then there’s the setting. According to the French Laundry, “our three historic dining rooms will accommodate one table with parties of two to eight people in a fully immersive and privatized experience.” So, basically (emphasis on the “basic”), you’ll be alone but for your party, in a vast dining room inside an early 20th century saloon turned steam laundry turned extremely expensive restaurant that is — one hopes — unlikely to be haunted by the ghosts of all the low-paid workers who toiled for pennies on the premises for years. Only three tables are available at any given time for the experience, the restaurant notes. Payment must be made in advance.
It’s an interesting proposition, the culinary equivalent of Eyes Wide Shut meets one of those horror movies where the kids play with a Ouija board inside an abandoned mansion. Eyes Wide Shut for the performatively opulent (yet, at its heart, screamingly vanilla) decadence of the menu, horror movie for everything else.
And yet, one feels fleetingly sympathetic for Keller — like every other restaurant, the French Laundry’s business interruption insurance claim was denied, at least one of his restaurants is out of business, and it’s growing ever more clear that his much-maligned decision to sit side-by-side with President Trump in an effort to save the restaurant industry from disaster wasn’t as “meaningful” an action as he’d hoped.
At publication time, the French Laundry’s post announcing the “experience” has over 8,000 likes, and hundreds of comments from followers publicly announcing their desire to make a reservation. One’s heart breaks for all that could be done with a couple of $850 orders at the Bay Area’s many small, family-owned businesses that are struggling to stay afloat on less than that, per day, but that’s not Keller’s fault, not really. And if he can get $850 each from Dom, truffle, caviar, wagyu, and foie (all at once!) fans, why not take those people’s money and run?