Monday, January 25, 2010

Ad Hoc - Yountville, CA
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Ad Hoc sure comes off as one flaky restaurant. Back in 2006, Thomas Keller opened shop and intended for it to be short-lived, aiming to eventually open a burger place or something similar. At the time, I was still in college on the other side of the country and remember feeling distinctly disappointed that I would miss out on Keller's second aptly-named-common-Latin-phrase restaurant. You see, I had to put all those years of dead language studies to good use. Turns out Ad Hoc stuck around longer than planned, and I had a chance recently to sample TK's hand at upscaling the downmarket on a Napa shenanigans weekend with J, J, and P (and a surprise run-in with L).

Admittedly, my expectations going in were high. I had an excellent experience at The French Laundry and a lesser but still good one at Per Se (entree courses were lackluster; signature canapes were good). Ad Hoc is known to be the holy grail of fried chicken (don't mind if I do!), but alas, we came on the wrong day. In any case, I had in mind to expect attention to detail and high-quality ingredients in other forms of non-chicken from Keller's charmed kitchen.

Salad of Baby Mixed Greens
Salad of Baby Mixed Greens - cara cara and blood oranges, ruby grapefruit, toasted pinenuts, belgium endive, kalamata olives, citrus dressing

A massive heap of crisp greens and particularly good pine nuts arrived; the dressing was also quite good. Overall, it was a standard, fresh salad - quality not hard to find in in many good Bay Area restaurants. The portion size was somewhat off-putting; I wasn't at all compelled to keep filling my plate but the folks at Ad Hoc strangely (i.e. pragmatically) want you to eat a whole lot of salad.

Marinated Hanger Steak
Marinated Hanger Steak - toscano kale, creamed turnips, rosemary potatoes,  lemon scallion vinaigrette

The vegetable sides were the highlight of the course, and as it turns out, the entire meal. The roasted rosemary potatoes were very, very tasty. Each bite-sized piece had a thin, crisped layer of skin that was bursting with flavor. The creamed turnips and kale (not pictured) were delicately prepared. The steak was good-quality, but ultimately forgettable compared to its brilliant vegetable counterparts.

Rosso di Langhe
Rosso di Langhe - apple-endive chutney, palladin toast

This, like the salad, felt like a filler course to me.

Flourless Chocolate Cake
Flourless Chocolate Cake - amaretto semi freddo

Ad Hoc's concept just doesn't entirely work for me. Keller has always said he strives to elicit the "God, I wish I had just one more bite of that" reaction with his food. With the exception of the rosemary potatoes and creamed kale, the sheer quantity of each course and lack of variety became a burden in this meal. I would like to see the kitchen improve the first course, or incorporate more sides at the very least.

One meal at Ad Hoc is equivalent to about a sixth of one at The French Laundry. It is clearly cheaper in nominal terms,  and you still technically eat at a Thomas Keller restaurant. And fine, maybe you insist on the casual environment and can't enough of the family style because you're convivial and love to share out of a large All-Clad pan. But $49 is simply overpriced for what you get, and the TK brand alone does not justify forgoing better options in the area. Moreover, you can get better upmarket comfort food elsewhere. For a true Thomas Keller experience, skip this and book the real thing (for a good time, call +1-707-944-2380).

$49 per head; 4 courses, family style. Portions shown above (excluding dessert) are for 4. Menu dated 16-January-2010. 

Ad Hoc
6476 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599-1294
(707) 944-2487

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1 Comments:

Blogger Single Guy Ben said...

I actually don't mind Ad Hoc, but since the menu changes daily, I think it partly depends on what you end up eating that night. Still, I have never eaten at FL or Per Se, so maybe I might think differently if I had those experience in my head while dining at Ad Hoc.

1/28/2010 10:57 PM  

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