Who would have thought that a clothespin could generate so much reverence, excitement and envy?

TFL has been the number one restaurant on my bucket list for quite a few years. When we finally secured our coveted reservation, I was still so afraid something would go wrong that I barely breathed a word about it until after the meal was over.

I became a fan of Thomas Keller after flipping through one of his cookbooks. His words spoke to me and as silly as it may sound, I really felt that this man I’d never met and whose food I’d never tasted, really understood me. Over the years, I’ve experienced TK’s food at Bouchon, Bouchon Bakery and Addendum, which all reconfirmed my initial belief in him.

A few years ago, I broached the subject of wanting to come here with DH, but he balked at the prices. It was decided that this was something we would experience in the far far future. Maybe after we had retired. But after eating at some other high end restaurants, suddenly $270 for a 9-course tasting menu at a 3 Michelin Star restaurant (the set price includes service charge), suddenly didn’t seem so bad, especially since the other 3-star restaurants charge significantly more. Through my research, we also learned just how nearly impossible a reservation is to come by through normal means. So when the opportunity presented itself to obtain a reservation, we shifted up our timetable.

Like everything else in Yountville, TFL resembles more a small tavern than a famous restaurant. The quaint restaurant offers two seatings a night and only two tasting menu options: one regular and one vegetable tasting. The menu changes daily and never repeats itself, ensuring that returning customers will never have the same exact experience.

We had a group of four, and were seated in the upstairs section, which seemed a little more private. Still, the spacing of the tables was quite tight because of the small quarters and we could easily hear the conversations of the other tables that evening.

I had thoroughly done my research before our meal, including reading experiences online and talking to friends who had dined at TFL or Per Se. I wanted to make sure we didn’t miss anything in our likely only time at TFL, and it turns out there’s quite a few things you’ll miss out on if you haven’t done your research.

First, all non-alcoholic drinks are included in the $270 price. No drinks other than wine and water were offered, but once we requested a list of non-alcoholic drinks, the waiter named teas, coffees, and several flavored sodas including apple sparkling cider, pomegranate soda and an aloe vera coconut apple drink which was my favorite. It was refreshing, floral and light, and worked as a great palate cleanser between courses.

Amuse bouche

Our first bite was a complimentary appetizer of smoked salmon served on a crunchy cone filled with cream cheese.

Amuse bouche part deux

The second amuse bouche were TK’s famous bite-sized gougères, which are French cheese puffs. Many restaurants have begun serving these, but this was by far the best version I’ve had. I only wish they weren’t so tiny. They literally were one bite, and nothing more. It was one of my most favorite bites of the night. I could easily down a few dozen of these.

First Course, Oyster and Pearls

Description: Sabayon of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek oysters and White Sturgeon Cavier.

I was a little sad to see the amuse bouche end so early, but oh well. The first course is another signature Thomas Keller item. It was a nice way to start the meal. I wouldn’t think to combine tapioca with oysters and cavier, but the ingredients all worked quite well together.

Secret Course, Truffle Egg Custard

This is another one of those things where you have to request to receive it. It didn’t cost extra, but unless you ask for it at the beginning of your meal, it’s not included. I’m so glad we knew to ask for it though because it was one of my favorites of the night.

The creamy egg custard is enriched with white truffles. It is served with a chive chip spoon which only has a lifespan of about 8-10 seconds. So you do have to eat the chip fast. You’re given a regular spoon to enjoy the rest of the custard.

Lobster Rolls

We’ve been eating more live lobster than normal with the cheap sales at H Mart and since DH has learned to steam lobster. (I personally can’t look when he does it but he manages to have a whole conversation with them before dropping them in the pot).

After eating my fill of simply steamed lobsters, I decided to make some lobster rolls. I hope to be eating some genuine lobster rolls when I make a trip later this year to Boston, but until then, here is my version.

We were lucky enough to experience a lot of good meals in 2012. We honeymooned in France and Italy. We had a weekend getaway in Las Vegas. I got to try the number #1 restaurant on my bucket list. And got to experience not just one, but two 3-Michelin star restaurants.  I can only hope to be as lucky in 2013.

Here’s the round-up of my most memorable meals from 2012:

#13 Seasons 52

DH was shocked when this made my favorite meals of 2012. But I really loved my meal here and I am in awe of the flavors they were able to accomplish while still keeping the meal under 475 calories and not cooking with any butters or creams. I predict many more visits in 2013.

#12 Le Chateaubriand

No set menu, one menu a night, rebel chef. This was one fun dinner. I was constantly kept on my toes with the different combinations paired together on our plates. It’s also one of the few restaurants listed in the 50 World’s Best Restaurants 2012 Guide (ranked #15) where you can experience a multi-course meal without breaking the bank (60 euros per person).

#11 Brodard

Alright, I only technically love two things here: chao tom cuon (grilled shrimp paste spring rolls) and nem nuong cuon (grilled pork paste spring rolls), but since our first meal consisted only of these two items, it still makes the list. The spring rolls plus the mysterious dipping sauce were one of my favorite bites this year and I’ve been back about half a dozen times to order large quantities of the rolls for take-out.

#10 Flavor Del Mar

DH and I were both so happy with our meal here. It was our favorite date night meal in San Diego this year and we are going back again soon.

#9 Nana San

We loved everything about this place: the atmosphere, high quality fish, efficiency and reasonable prices. We’ll definitely be back again next time we’re in the area.

#8 Wedding Banquet

I almost forgot about this when creating my list because it wasn’t a regular meal. But I think it still counts. I was impressed with Pearl. While my regular dining experiences at Pearl have been alright, they really stepped it up for the wedding banquet food and it was on par with Chinese wedding banquets I’ve experienced in the past. DH has been bugging me ever since wondering when we’ll get to experience eating a Chinese wedding banquet again.