Ad Hoc, Yountville, CA

I can’t believe that as many times as I’ve visited Napa, I haven’t been to Ad Hoc. This is Thomas Keller’s “take what we serve,” family-style restaurant in Yountville, just down the Street from The French Laundry (pssst, that link will magically work in the next couple of months).

At first glance, Ad Hoc seems frightfully expensive for what you get, but it isn’t at all, and in fact, I can’t wait to go back. There’s a different, family-style, set menu served each night of the week, and since we went on a Monday, here was ours (there’s no difference going on a Monday than any other night, in terms of price, quantity, or quality – at least, none that I know of):

 <— This is $52 per person, which may seem expensive, but I’m going to try and explain why it’s a very good value.

People were grumbling about Eric Ziebold’s “Whole Chicken” for $56, even though that was for *two people* – well, Ad Hoc’s menu for two people is $104, and you’re getting “Fried Chicken,” so how am I possibly going to explain this?

Very easily. It’s been well-established by now that Ziebold’s chicken at $56 is a ridiculous bargain, considering what you get with it, and this set menu, at $52 per person, is also a very good deal (I won’t go so far as to call it a “ridiculous bargain”) – considering that it’s 100% of the food that you’ll be eating on this evening – and every single thing is fantastic! Or at least it was for us.

Wine, of course, is extra, but Ad Hoc’s wine prices are fair, and their wine list is expertly chosen – with this set meal, you have to go (or “you’re best-off going”) with a Rosé, since a Rosé is sort-of half-way between a red and a white, and will overlap both white courses and red courses – remember your Venn Diagrams from Geometry:

 <— Except that the overlap is much greater than this picture shows.

So, they naturally had a couple of Rosés to choose from, and our request for our server was simple: Bring us the palest, driest Rosé from France, preferably from the Southeast of France, that you have. He knew instantly which wine to pick, and that brings up another point: Our server knew every ingredient in every dish that we had on this evening, and also knew the wine list back-and-forth. Thomas Keller trains his staff very well, and you just don’t see this kind of knowledge in a lot of restaurants – this is worth a lot to the diner, even though it may be something that gets overlooked.

Our Grenache Gris: a 2015 Domaine de Figueirasse ($40) from the Languedoc region of France. “Do you know if this wine was bled off the top of the vat?” I asked, and he said, “No, its gently pressed..” How many servers are even going to know what “vin saignée” is? Bled Rosé can be fine, but pressed Rosé is just a better wine making method – I could write a 5,000-word thesis on why this is so, but it just is. Oenophiles are reading this right now, nodding their heads, and admiring our server – every single one of them.

This is an all-organic winery that was founded in 1905, and this is the wine you should be getting here with anything that isn’t a dark meat, such as beef or lamb – you’ll be happy, I promise!

Our meal began with a bread course (house-made bread (don’t forget, Keller’s bakery is essentially right next door) with the same, wonderfully creamy, salted butter you get at Bouchon. With it, came a perfectly dressed County Line Chicory Salad with eggs mimosa, pickled red onions, French Laundry garden radishes, and creamy garlic dressing – and when I say “perfectly dressed,” I mean that this salad could not have been dressed any better, and contained exactly the correct amount of dressing.

We took our time noshing on our salad, and even though the restaurant was completely full, we didn’t feel rushed in any way. Only when we were finished, and not a moment before, were the plates cleared, and within moments the main course and two sides arrived, and oh did they look good – and they were every bit as good as they looked. This is some of the best Buttermilk Fried Chicken I’ve ever eaten, and ironically, about the only better fried chicken I’ve had was in the next county over, but we’ll get to that shortly. The batter is dredged in buttermilk, and the chicken is served with Cauliflower Gratin and Mushroom & Carrot Ragout. I strongly suspect my dining companion will have more to say about these two side orders. Don’t let the picture of the chicken fool you – this was a huge amount of fried chicken, and we had some to take home for lunch the next day – you’ll have leftovers from this meal unless you play Offensive Tackle for the 49ers.

And there’s still more to come. One of the only truly generous cheese courses I’ve encountered in quite awhile (aren’t you sick of getting little slivers of cheese?) By the way, here’s a dirty little secret: Many retailers mark up their cheeses by (be sitting down when you read this) 100%. Cheese is not that expensive at the wholesale level – when you see cheese that’s $20 and $30 a pound, don’t blame the cheesemakers, and don’t blame the wholesalers; blame the retailers. Why do you think you see so many Groupon offers from cheese retailers, advertising 50% off their cheese? Do you think it’s because they want to lose money? Let that one sink in for awhile, and store it in your long-term memory. Back to the meal: *Look* at this amazing Andante Dairy’s Tomme Dolce, served with the most *amazing* Corn Pone and House-Made Mixed Berry Jam!

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You’re *still* not finished, because there’s a dessert course – in our case, two jars of Pumpkin Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crumble and Whipped Chantilly, one of which is pictured here, turned over after being half-eaten – we thought coffee would hit the spot, so we got a French Press of Decaf Coffee with our dessert ($5 total, and worth it).

Well, I don’t know if I’ve convinced you that this dinner is worth $104 for two people (not including extras), but for my palate and budget, it was worth it and then some. Ad Hoc is a wonderful restaurant, that has many of the niceties that a Thomas Keller institution can provide – and don’t forget, he spends an *awful* lot of time in Yountville, which is essentially a one-street town. Ad Hoc is wonderful, and worth a trip from San Francisco – *absolutely* worth a trip if you’re in Napa or Sonoma counties to begin with.

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