Monday, July 12, 2010
Ad Hoc: "Temporary Relief From the Ordinary"
After a day filled with an unexpected wilderness hike and lots of wine, MW and I had time to relax before departing for our dinner reservations at Ad Hoc. I know, I know, in a time frame of under 24 hours we would be eating at yet another Thomas Keller restaurant. In my defense (besides them unbelievable deliciousness), Ad Hoc was one of the most highly anticipated meals of the entire trip, especially after MW surprised me with a copy of the Ad Hoc cookbook as a gift. Interestingly enough, the cook book tells the story behind Ad Hoc and details how it was an "accidental restaurant" that came to be. Originally intended to be a burgers and wine bar, Keller selected chef David Cruz to helm the interim restaurant, offering comfort food staples, served family-style. Keller named the restaurant Ad Hoc, a restaurant providing "temporary relief from hunger." While initially reluctant to leave The French Laundry, Cruz guided Ad Hoc to immediate success, creating a legion of devoted following in the process. It was so beloved by its fans that Keller decided to keep the restaurant open and shelve his burger and wine bar plans for the future. After dreaming about and finally having the chance to eat here, I can only hope for a similar restaurant in New York.
Ever since making our Ad Hoc reservations, I signed up to receive their menu daily via email. Part of the anticipation was not knowing what would be on the menu. The only certainty is the meal's basic format comprising of a salad, protein, cheese and a dessert, with the exact courses rotating daily. But uncertainty is not to be feared when you are putting your epicurean fate in the very capable hands of chef Cruz and Keller. Unfortunately, MW and I missed their legendary Monday night Fried Chicken dinner, so I did the next best thing and with the assistance of this handy schedule, I was able to make a reservation knowing the restaurant would be serving beef. Finally, on the day of our reservation I received the day's menu on my Blackberry, but with a surprise addition to the menu!
We arrived at the restaurant a few minutes before our reservation. Despite all of the dark wood, the interior was surprisingly bright from all of the natural light brought in from the windows and white walls. The entire restaurant was pretty full, with families occupying many of the tables. After being seated, we were immediately given menus that appeared in a manila folder. As our server poured us some water and brought us a basket containing Palladin and Wheat Bread baked at Bouchon Bakery down the street, he explained how the prix fixe menu worked and reiterated each course being served family-style.
In the meantime MW ordered a Dogfish Head 90 Minute Imperial IPA. The IPA was fairly typical of most IPA's, but tasted refreshing. Having drunk more than my fair share of wine for the day, I too skipped the wine and ordered an Iron Springs Brewery "Sless' Oatmeal Stout." I enjoyed the stout's rich flavor without being overly heavy.
Our first course arrived in a large bowl, a Salad of Living Butter Lettuce with Grilled White Corn, Shaved The French Laundry Garden Carrots, D'Avignon Radish, Point Reyes Blue Cheese Crumbles, Toasted Pecans and a Sweet Onion-Honey Vinaigrette. We both thought the salad was fantastic. Wonderfully composed, all of the salad's components were balanced. The sweetness of the corn complemented the funky blue cheese while the acidity of the vinaigrette helped to cut through the fattiness of the pecans, making for a great start to our meal.
Next was the supplemented addition of the Roasted Beef Bone Marrow with a Cherry and Fig Compote and Horseradish Bread Crumbs. We eagerly scooped all the marrow from the two large marrow bones, slopping it on some of the Palladin bread and garnishing it with the cherry and fig compote and salt. Like practically all bone marrow, it tasted devilishly good and proved to be a welcome surprise to our meal.
The main course was a Spiced Beef Sirloin with California Asparagus, Half Moon Bay English Peas, Red Rice, Wilted Arugula, Nueske Bacon and Caramelized Fennel. The sirloin was tender and well seasoned. Unlike others, the flavor of this sirloin was robust. Though neither of us were impressed with the rice and the arugula tasted funky in an unpleasant way, we both loved the smoke flavor from the grilled asparagus and were taken by the natural sweetness of the peas. I had read that if there is no shortage of food, the kitchen will gladly give you seconds of any course... though we found the portions to be more than generous.
The cheese course of the evening was a L'Ariegeois-Bethmale from Cowgirl Creamery, served with Pink Lady Apples, Picholine Olives, Blonde Frisee and Pine Nuts. The L'Ariegeois-Bethmale is a combination of goat and cow's milk and had the tang of a goat cheese but the soft and creamy texture of a cow's milk cheese. We preferred it with the sweet apples, though I appreciated it when paired with the briny olives and pine nuts.
For dessert we were served a classic summertime dessert, Strawberry Shortcake with a Lemon Curd and Chantilly Cream. We both thought the lemon curd was a great addition, the tartness serving as the perfect counterpoint to the natural sweetness of the strawberries and halved blueberries. Overall, a wonderful ending to a good meal.
On its face, Ad Hoc seems like the red-headed stepchild of Thomas Keller's restaurants. Lacking in sophistication and world-class accolades, Ad Hoc churns out relatively simple fare, food that any proficient home cook is capable of replicating. Yet, Ad Hoc's naysayers have missed the point, as the restaurant's brilliance lies within its simplicity. Although its sign may read, "for temporary relief from hunger," based on our Ad Hoc experience the sign warrants the slogan, "temporary relief from the ordinary."
6476 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599
To see all our pics please click the flickr link.