Saturday, May 28, 2011

Chef's Tasting | ad hoc

After a long afternoon wine tasting at a couple vineyards in the Napa Valley (posts to follow), we headed over to Chef Keller's ad hoc in Yountville (down the road from The French Laundry) for dinner.

I love the signage that ad hoc decided to use as its logo (along with the clever tagline)--very appropriate once you know and understand its back story. ad hoc was originally intended to be a very different type of restaurant--ad hoc, meaning "for this purpose," was chosen to literally fill the purpose of being a temporary restaurant while the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group (TKRG) was working on the design of the originally planned restaurant and its accompanying space. The idea behind "ad hoc was simple--five days a week, it would offer a four-course family-style menu that changed daily, accompanies by a small accessible wine list in a casual setting reminiscent of home." There was such a positive response in the community to ad hoc that the TKRG simply couldn't close it, abandoning the space's original plans. I'll explain more about the logo's design when I get to ad hoc's menu.

Really cute pails of flowers and clementines at the mâitre d' desk.

The other "trademark" of ad hoc--this pig!

The bar at ad hoc.

Inside the dining area of ad hoc.

View from our table inside ad hoc.

Here's the logo infused with the restaurant's physical menu--a tabbed folder label! How awesome is that?!

The menu is formatted like a temporary construction agenda--it even has those dual prongs to indicate that changes can change (in ad hoc's case, daily) at a moment's notice. Included in the menu is the dinner menu (left) and the small, accessible wine list (right).

A closer look at the dinner menu--love the construction hat on the pig! Plus, the date is right on top and the day of the week is marked with a red markered X!

Bread basket!

Since we had gone wine tasting all afternoon, we all opted for non-alcoholic drinks. Bill had the dry meyer lemon soda by Grown-Up Soda. I had a sip of this, and it was very citrusy. It reminded me a lot of the limonata by San Pellegrino.

Marcus went with the dry cranberry lime soda by Grown Up Soda. Marcus enjoyed the citrus hint to the sparkling cranberry juice.

I initially wanted the Waialua mango soda, but ad hoc was sold out, so our server recommended the Blenheim fresh ginger ale to me. There certainly was lots of fresh ginger in it! The ginger flavor was very biting yet had a nice refreshing aftertaste. Once I got closer to the bottom of the bottle, it was a lot stronger than it was initially, making it hard for me to finish the rest. So if you're a ginger lover, this soda is for you!

The first course on the dinner menu was a frisée and watercress salad with smoked duck breast, pixie mandarins, toasted hazelnuts, Kalamata olives, shaved red onion, breakfast radish, and citrus vinaigrette. It reminded me a lot of the smoked duck salad I had at The Ginny Lee over at Wagner Vineyards by the Finger Lakes last month. This frisée and watercress salad was a nice blend of smoky (from the duck), citrus (from the mandarins and dressing), bitter (from the watercress and other greens), and crunchy (from the radish and hazelnuts). It was a great summer salad--filling yet refreshing. The hazelnuts were also lightly toasted, bringing out its crisp flavor out even more! The simplicity of the ingredients within this salad is what makes it so great, proving you don't need crazy fancy ingredients to make a really good salad.

We were served Snake River Farm's Kurobata pork short ribs with marble potatoes, cippolini onions, English peas, white corn, roasted broccoli rabe, fried hen egg, and Fuji apple mustard as our second course. These short ribs had the most tender and softest meat I've ever had (with pork). Juicy with a bits of fat on the side--so delicious! The charred bits on the skin of the short ribs were my favorite part--definitely gave the ribs some ruggedness! The medley of marble potatoes, onions, peas, and white corn was very fresh and seasonal, and after breaking the sunny-sided eggs, the runny yolk and the fried whites, the mixture just got even better! Like a spring time potato hash, it went great as a side to the short ribs. This course really reminded me of something served at a farm dinner--very much in tune with the theme of ad hoc.

There was an additional (but optional) course (putting the total courses at five) as a $16 supplement to the dinner prix fixe--it consisted of stuffed piquillo peppers with garden cabbage, Carolina rice, and gulf shrimp. We were already feeling kind of full when we arrived at the restaurant, so we opted out. If I ever make it back to ad hoc, I will definitely try to come with a relatively empty stomach so I can enjoy the whole experience with the possibility of an additional fifth course, for sure!

The third course was a cheese dish--patacabra (Spanish for "goat's leg"--the meaning stems from the cheese's unusual shape) with palladin toast and Marshall's Farm wildflower honey. Patacabra is a Spanish cheese from Zaragoza located in the Aragón region. I was a little apprehensive about trying the cheese (I was worried about how my taste buds and how my body would react to it), but after Bill tried a piece with the palladin toast and a little drizzle of wildflower honey, he urged me to have a bite, reporting that it wasn't too strong and that I'd be able to handle it. I wanted to be braver on this trip than I've ever been before, so I just went for it. I sliced a little bit of cheese and added a drop of wildflower honey--all on top of the toast and went in for a taste. The cheese was tolerable for me, even though it was pretty pungent. It was also very smooth in texture and robust in flavor. I could only take a couple bites because it ended up being a bit heavy for me (you see, I was getting to be quite full at this point). It actually reminded me a lot of the crostini di fichi that I had at Maialino a little under a year ago--more specifically, the concept of cheese with a good amount of artisanal honey. If I hadn't been so full, I think I would've enjoyed it a bit more (as well as tolerated a few more bites).

For dessert (as well as the last course), the kitchen served us strawberry rhubarb crisp with vanilla ice cream. For having not really been exposed to much rhubarb in cooking before, I really liked this dessert and how it was done--a great balance between creamy and tart. It reminded me of a summer fruit pie a la mode, only more relaxed and casual in construction, as if the crust was just crumbled on top instead of enveloping the contents.

Right as we were leaving, Bill spotted Chef Keller having dinner with another guest at one of the tables in the dining area! Last time Bill was at ad hoc (also his very first visit), he and Pam were having dinner when they found Chef Keller having dinner at the bar! Crazy how both times he's been to ad hoc, Chef Keller is present! I know Marcus and I haven't finished our post on The French Laundry (I promise it'll be up in the next week or so), but I need to mention that we weren't expecting Chef Keller to be at either French Laundry or ad hoc, let alone in town at all. I know he had been in New York in the previous weeks for the opening of Bouchon Bakery near Rockefeller Center as well as for the 2011 James Beard Awards, so I was totally convinced he would still be on the East Coast. But somehow, Marcus and I saw him coming out of the kitchen at The French Laundry (will fill you in on this later), and now there was a second sighting (for us and for Bill)--Chef Keller having dinner at his very own ad hoc! What are the odds?! Pam likes to say that I have really good "chef-dar"--I wonder if that's what it is, or if it's just pure luck that I seem to run into chefs so randomly. In either case, just thought I'd note that here!

Findings: The dinner menu at ad hoc was really well done. It was a meal comprised of simple ingredients and straightforward preparations--just like how a meal at home with family would be. It was nice to see how Chef Keller can leave the realm of high cuisine (though, not saying that ad hoc doesn't require the same skills, talent, and knowledge) to tackle the field of traditional home, family-style cookery, successfully executing both with elegance and detail. The seasonality of the ingredients here on the West Coast is so phenomenal--there are so many varieties and kinds of produce and such that I've never even heard of or knew existed! It is so awesome to see these newly discovered items used to their potential in vibrantly tasting (and looking) dishes at restaurants like ad hoc. So I'd say making a stop at ad hoc is well worth it--especially if you're looking to take a break from all the rich and savory meals you'll probably be having during a visit to San Francisco and the Napa Valley. The flavors here are straightforward and easy to understand with some nice surprises added in for good measure.

Price point: $4-5 for each soda, $52 per person for daily dinner menu.

--May 22, 2011

ad hoc
6476 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599

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