Thomas Keller is arguably one of the best chefs in America right now. He is the only American chef to have been awarded simultaneous three star Michelin ratings for two different restaurants. And he currently holds seven Michelin stars total: three at Per Se, three at The French Laundry, and one at Bouchon. And he’s even opened a humble little restaurant here in our lazy beach town called The Surf Club Restaurant where many of our food-obsessed have raved about.
Movies and TV shows set in professional kitchens often make them seem like wonderful places in which to spend time. But any chef whose done his or her time in the trenches of the restaurant world will tell you that is simply not true.
Most restaurant kitchens are windowless, uncomfortably hot and sweaty food mines sometimes stuck in the most unattractive spaces and bowels of a restaurant space. The lighting is an unflattering fluorescent nightmare, the sound level is usually rife with the clanging of pots, shouts and cussing of fellow chefs and the cacophony of people working in a usually-tight space with the added tension of time pressures.
Oh, but not so this homage to culinary perfectionism. If Keller is the equivalent of a food-making deity, this is his temple. Oslo design firm Snøhetta spearheaded the $10 million project which took four years to complete. Their other projects include Europe’s first underwater restaurant and the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet.
The renovations – the restaurant’s first major expansion since opening in 1994 and completed last year – were said be inspired by chef and owner Thomas Keller’s appreciation for I. M. Pei’s (who has also designed our city’s Miami Tower), glass pyramid at the Louvre.
The result is a gleaming, masterful tribute to cooking suffused with natural light via skylights and a window wrapping around half of the room. The kitchen is almost a free-standing structure now bathed in marble, glass, mirrored glass, dark polished wood and steel. It sort of looks like a cross between a clinical laboratory and heaven. Visitors now arrive at The French Laundry via a series of gardens, which lead up to the restaurant’s iconic blue door. Wave at the chefs if you have a chance.
The cost to dine at The French Laundry is $325 per person for a set meal of nine courses, not including the opening “appetizers”, aka amuse bouche. Wines by the glass are around $35 for whites and $45 for reds (more or less) and there is no set “wine pairing” option. Bottles are hundreds of dollars, perhaps best for when someone else is paying, and corkage fee $150 per bottle. Figure a glass of champagne to start, a white, a red, be ready to drop $300 per couple on wine as the starting point. So yes, adding up those tasting menus plus wine easily gets you to $1k and we haven’t even discussed where you’re sleeping in pricey wine country that night.
An added treat for diners is the kitchen tour sometimes offered at the end of the meal. Ask your waiter if you can thank the chef, and he or she will happily lead you back to where all the magic happens. And what Snohetta has accomplished is magical indeed.
Ready to book a flight to San Francisco? Go for it. Because you deserve it.
In the meantime, please dine at The Surf Club Restaurant in Miami because in its unique Thomas Keller kind of way, it’s wonderful in its own right.