The French-ish Laundry

I just have three words to say today…I did it! Ok, ok…let’s be real…I’ve got waaaaaaay more to say than three little ol’ words, but I just had to get that out there. I. Did. It. Yes!!!!


Ok, so…what did I do exactly? You’re about to find out…


In Friday’s post, I dropped a hint about the theme I was planning for the Ya-Ya dinner I hosted this past Saturday. A few of you smarties out there guessed it right…French Laundry!


French freaking Laundry. French so-many-steps-in-these-recipes Laundry. French I’ve-never-dirtied-so-many-dishes-making-one-meal Laundry. French Thomas-Keller-is-part-genius-part-crazy Laundry. French are-you-kidding-me-there’s-really-this-much-butter-in-this-dish Laundry. Yep, that French Laundry.




I’ve actually had the French Laundry cookbook for an embarrassingly long time, without ever having made a single recipe in it. Sure, I’ve spent a lot of time staring at all the purty pictures, but, until this weekend, I hadn’t cooked a thing. It had been a goal of mine for some time to pull off a French Laundry dinner party, but I knew it was going to take some serious planning, time, and hard work. Turns out, I was dead on about that. Dead on. It was major hard work, but the good kind…the kind where you pat yourself on the back when all is said and done. The kind where you are kind of proud of yourself. The kind where you’re super glad you did it, but you aren’t rushing to do it again any time soon.


The idea for this dinner really started brewing in 2009, when Kevin and I paid a visit to the REAL French Laundry. For those of you who know me, you’ve heard me gush a million times about the amazing meal we had there and my awesome hubby who proposed there! It was seriously one of the top three days of my entire life (right up there with my wedding day and the day I heard that Newsies was coming to Broadway).




It was pretty cool to sit down at the table and see that iconic clothespin on the napkin before me. It was even cooler when our waiter told us we could take them home with us. It was the very coolest when he gave me two extra clothespins to take home. See where I’m going with this? 2+2 = 4…and there are four Ya-Ya’s…so, yes, I asked our waiter for extra clothespins in preparation for the dinner party I would work up the courage to host a whole four years later.




And so…after 3 trips to Whole Foods (one for shopping, one because I forgot something, and one because I screwed up my first batch of ice cream), one trip to Safeway, one trip to Cost Plus, two trips to the SF Ferry Building, one trip to Fatted Calf (I bought duck livers!!), one trip to Trader Joe’s, one trip to Bed Bath & Beyond, nine loads of dishes, two days of cooking, 4 bottles of wine, and 100 million calories later…I present to you, my recreation of a night at the French Laundry…


I started by setting the table as pretty as I could…I busted out the white tablecloth ($15 from Target!), the fancy wine glasses, and an abundance of silverware…because everyone knows a meal is about to get pretty awesome with there are way too many glasses and forks on the table. I also followed this tutorial to become a french-folding napkin fool.





I created some faux menus…which are probably in violation of some kind of trademark…so, Mr. Keller, if you are reading this, do forgive me. I promise they have all been destroyed now…but didn’t they add a nice touch? Oh, and I also bought a crumb scraper! I know, how ridiculous, right? But it was kind of my favorite moment of the dinner when I whipped it out to scrape up the crumbs before dessert was served.




And now for the dishes…As a side note, all dishes came straight outta the cookbook, with the exception of the duck liver mousse course. Mr. Keller’s recipes call for foie gras, which is a no-no in California now. I really wanted to serve a liver course so I had to drum something up on my own. It turned out great, even though cooking livers is…hrmpf…it’s pretty icky (just as gross as you’d expect it to be). I’m not squeamish when it comes to handling raw meat, but I had to bust out the tongs to handle the livers. But I survived so I suppose it won’t be as scary next time…


I served six courses total…



Salmon-Tartare-Cornets--with-Sweet-Red-Onion-Creme-Fraiche Sabyon-of-Pearl--Tapioca-with-Oysters-and-Caviar






So there you have it! I wish I could say every little thing turned out exactly as I hoped, but there were a few flubs along the way. My first AND second batches of cinnamon ice cream wouldn’t set so I ended up sending Kevin to Walgreens for a pint of vanilla just before the girls arrived. And my damn sauce broke in the sea bass course, so it was runny instead of the creamy perfection shown in the cookbook. But, hey, I’m not losing any sleep over it. I knew it was going to be a crazy challenge so I was prepared to accept these little imperfections. And let’s be honest, runny butter sauce tastes just about as good as creamy butter sauce so no complaints!


Huge thanks to my beloved Ya-Ya’s, who dealt with me being a bit distracted in the kitchen for much of dinner. I tried to plan and prepare ahead as much as possible, but it was still demanding “ala minute”.  I also owe huge thanks to Carol over at the French Laundry at Home, who cooked and blogged her way through the entire cookbook. Not only was her blog hilarious and addictive to read, but she gave some really great tips and step-by-step instructions for every recipe in the book. It was a huuuuge help!  (PS…she also cooked her way through the Alinea cookbook, if you care to check it out).


So, now it’s  your turn…have you ever tried any recipes in the French Laundry cookbook? If so, I’d love to exchange horror success stories!




  1. Wow, this looks incredible. Nicely done Melissa!

    • Melissa says:

      Hi Michelle! Thank you sooo much. I’m still following your adventures in Dublin as well. Looks like you guys are still having a great time there. Hi to Brian!

  2. Well done! It all looks amazing!

  3. Wow!! I think you deserve a gold clothespin. This is an amazing dinner and presented awesomely. I have Keller’s Bouchon book so I know how much work goes into each recipe….a lo!
    Great job!!

    • Melissa says:

      Hi Gerry — thank you so much! You are too kind 🙂 Yeah, I have that Bouchon book as well. It is seriously so gorgeous. I haven’t tried anything yet, but I am dying to soon. I also have Ad Hoc, which I have used way more for “everyday” cooking…well, at least Thomas Keller’s version of everyday. Hope all is well with you. You planning to hit up any of the food conferences this year? Would be great to bump into you again…I’m not sure if FoodBuzz is happening again this year. Have you heard anything?

      • Wow, you must be a true Keller fan! I ate at his Beverley Hills place recently and it was amazing , no surprise their 🙂 I’ll be at The Big Potluck in April and then IFBC in Seattle, September. I haven’t heard anything about Foodbuzz. Hope to meet you again 🙂

        • Melissa says:

          Wow, that Big Potluck event looks A-MAZING!! So many incredible bloggers going. I just added myself to the waitlist, but not getting my hopes up too high. Will need to keep this on my radar for next year!

  4. Ellen says:

    tres bien, Melissa! The photos and food look amazing! 6 courses? You are a rock star!


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