The French Laundry was my favorite restaurant in the world. It was opened by Sally and Don Schmidt in the 1980’s when Napa Valley was just becoming a tourist destination, but more importantly, was attracting a more sophisticated wine grower and all that goes with it. There were very few really good restaurants in the area and the concept of California Cuisine was just taking hold.
The restaurant was situated in an old brick building in Yountville, the sight of a french laundry. Sally and Don, along with their children renovated and opened this wonderful, casual restaurant. They immediately became popular among the new foodies in the area. They were only open 4 nights a week, served one main course, a choice of 3 or 4 appetizers and 3 or 4 desserts. There were a few surprises along the way. They were very attentive to their guests, starting with describing the ingredients in the dinner when they confirmed your reservation, just in case you might be allergic.
Imagine going to the most fun dinner party that you could imagine. That is what dinner at The French Laundry was like. The evening would start with Don seating you and taking your wine order from a very well considered but totally unpretentious cellar. Once you were comfortable – wine in hand – you were free to wander the outside patio and balcony or meander into the kitchen to see how Sally was coming. Since the restaurant only had one seating and only one main course Sally was busy, but not ever to the point that she didn’t have time to discuss what just came out of the ground or the plans for the organic apple orchard in the Anderson Valley. They eventually moved to that farm and built Sally a wonderful kitchen where she held weekend cooking classes. I am sad to say that Don and Sally have now retired. Many great home and professional chef’s owe her a great deal of gratitude. She was not famous, but she was a pioneer.
I had the privilege of dining at the French Laundry the week it closed. Some of you may be saying “Hey wait, The French Laundry is the most famous restaurant in the world. What are you talking about?” Sally and Don hand picked a famous chef to buy the restaurant but it will never be the same.
This is a recipe that I stole from that last meal. I didn’t actually get the recipe (I have several from Sally that are wonderful) I just imagined it later and came up with this:
- 32oz Chicken Broth (low sodium)
- 6 Tomatillos, peeled and sliced
- 2 Large Sorrel Leaves, chiffonade
- 2 Roma Tomatoes, quartered
- 2 Oranges, peeled and chopped
- 2 Springs of Thyme, stemmed and finely chopped
- Salt and Pepper
- Large Pan
- Chef’s Knife
- Heat the broth with the sliced tomatillos.
- Add half of the thyme and half of the sorrel.
- Lightly salt and pepper and simmer for about 1 hour.
- Add the tomatoes and oranges with the rest of the herbs.
- Simmer for another 10 minutes.
- Adjust salt and pepper.
This is simple, really light and flavorful and you won’t believe how impressed your guests will be even though it seemed like you did nothing. It’s the Sally Schmidt way.