A Table for Two at The French Laundry

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The alarm goes off – it’s 4:56am in Melbourne, two calendar months to the date that we arrive in Napa. Sleepily, we reach for our phones – three of them in total – and do a quick check that all our speed dials are getting through to The French Laundry’s answering machine.

We had done a fair bit of research into getting a booking at The French Laundry – heralded by most people as the best restaurant in the United States, and currently ranked number 32 in the world. The size of their dining room (16 tables / 60 seats), coupled with their reputation, means that getting a reservation is inherently tricky. Various blogs echoed frustrated stories of people trying for months and months to secure a 3 to 4 hour experience at Thomas Keller’s eponymous restaurant, so we were always a bit worried that our 4 day window might not be enough.

Booking online via OpenTable would have been our first choice – their books open two months in advance, and their “day” kicks over at midnight, which would have been 7pm Melbourne time – nice and easy. Unfortunately we found out that:

Two tables are available online via OpenTable.com for dinner service, one @ 5:30pm (party of 4) and one @ 9:15pm (party of 4).
Two tables are also available online for lunch service, one at @ 11:00 am (party of 4) and one at 11:15 am (party of 2) on Friday, Saturday and Sunday only. The French Laundry does not offer lunch Monday – Thursday.

That pretty much counted us out, unless we wanted to try nab the Sunday lunch table. At the same $240 a head for lunch though, dinner felt like a better value option.

The French Laundry’s phone lines open at 10am PST – or 5am in Melbourne time – again, two calendar months to the day. This means that if you want a table on the 4th of June, you need to call up on the 4th of April. Bearing in mind that the West Coast of USA is almost a full day behind Melbourne, you’d actually need to call on the 5th of April.

Anyway, back to our story. Eagerly watching our clock, 5am arrives. Ritsy and I start dialling in, to be immediately greeted by busy tones. After about a minute, I get the magic international dialling success tone – I get excited and tell Ritsy “I’m through!! Stop Dialling!!” – but I soon realise I have gotten the same “Our reservation office is currently closed” message. Damn.

So we continued – dial, wait, busy tone, hang up, dial, wait, busy tone, hang up – over and over again for another 10 minutes, before I got the magic dialling successful tone – this time I got disconnected! Double Damn! Another 10 minutes went by, and we got through again – another disconnection!!

It was about this point I realised just how difficult getting in to this place was. I was starting to wonder if we would end up with a table at all, and it was making me sad. The thought of having to do this for the next 3 days was not a nice one.

Before long it was 5:30am. I was very close to giving up, but wanted to at least be put onto a wait list. And then, at 5:32am, it happened. I finally got through to their reservation queue! A few minutes later, I was speaking to someone.

I was so drained at this point, I stupidly asked if they had availability of a table of two for tonight, to be greeted by “urrrrrrrrrr” – and Ritsy hurriedly correcting me! I then – correctly – asked for a table for two in two months time – and couldn’t believe it when he said “Yes, we have availability for a party of two at 5:30pm”. Woohoo!!

After a short speech about the dress code, and exchanging our email address (and giving the man the wrong internationally adjusted mobile phone number) for the booking confirmation, it was done. I hung up the phone, and instantly knew that we wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep as we were way too excited.

It’s possibly the most exciting foodie moment of our lives – we’re going to The French Laundry!!!!

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