The French Laundry, which The New York Times called the “most exciting place to eat in the United States,” has been open 10 years now. We had never eaten there, even though it is located just 68 miles from Sacramento. We finally made our reservations, which are required two months in advance. The tasteful dining room has a notable absence of artwork or ambient music, keeping one’s focus on the plates. The nine-course “chef’s tasting menu” ($150) dazzles with a parade of delightful, whimsically named dishes (“oysters and pearls,” “beets and leeks,” “coffee and doughnuts,” etc.) that are the signature of Executive Chef Thomas Keller. The eye-bugging total on the dinner check reflects the high costs associated with elite ingredients, labor-intensive preparation (sauces may be strained 20 times, for example) and astonishing service (tableware was changed after each course). For us, it was a memorable, once-in-a-lifetime experience. Unless, of course, somebody else wants to pick up the tab next time. 6640 Washington Street in Yountville, (707) 944-2380, www.frenchlaundry.com.