Christmas Carols and French Jokes at the French Laundry

Got strong feelings about kids in restaurants? How about kids singing Christmas carols in extremely fancy, extremely cramped restaurants — say, the French Laundry? We were there on December 23, and right as our waiter began to rhapsodize about our Snake River Farms–sourced calotte de boeuf, half a dozen little urchins scampered into our five-table dining room, dressed up in velvety costumes that reminded one diner of “that show The Tudors.” They glued themselves to doorways and stairs, and began to regale us with Christmas songs.

The kids are members of a nonprofit Napa children’s choir called VOENA, or Voices of Eve ‘n Angels, and are one of Chef Keller’s favorite singing groups, according to a Laundry rep. For five years they’ve been singing to diners for three nights just prior to Christmas, and if you’re lucky, you’ll hear their [adult] choir leader make the same “We have to have a French song; this is the French Laundry!” joke twice, as we did, once over the sea urchins with blini, and once during the Bartlett pear sorbet.

Could the kids sing? Yes. One soloist knocked our socks off. Is this a whine from a grinchy privileged diner? Perhaps it is. But we never expect to return to the Laundry again and don’t dine at fancy places with much frequency. When we complained later that it would have been nice to get a heads-up that half a dozen Christmas carols would be sung in extreme proximity during a fraction of our meal, we were told that had we gotten said heads-up, we certainly would not have canceled the reservation in favor of a stop in at In-N-Out. This is true.

But for $250 per person, plus that damnable $75 corkage fee per bottle, we could have lived without hearing yet again the holiday songs that plague us en route to the Jay/ Borough stop, blasting from speakers on the Fulton Street Mall. And apparently eleven months of the year, Chef Keller agrees with us: A rep confirmed that “typically there’s no music in the dining room, nor artwork — just flowers and wall sconces. The idea is that it’d be nice to focus on the food and wine and just the entire holiday dining experience.” We agree with that sentiment, and suspect the servers might, too. They were incredibly talented, incredibly knowledgeable, and to our eye did not have that “bit of pep in their walk” the rep assured us they have when they hear the choir singing.

Really? Having half a dozen teenagers stacked up and around the main stairwell in a tiny former home doesn’t disrupt service? “No. They work around it.”

Hmmm. Keller and his holiday spirit were both on site that night, and the eats were grand, but it’s worth noting that this sort of thing only happens in Yountville, California. At Per Se, in New York City, there were no carols.

Christmas Carols and French Jokes at the French Laundry