Ad Hoc, Yountville

In my first visit to Ad Hoc I had the brunch. It wasn’t as much by choice as it was by chance, but I left genuinely impressed and curious to see how good dinner would be.

The temporary turned permanent fourth restaurant of Thomas Keller (The French Laundry, Per Se, Bouchon) is his first venture into casual dining. But don’t let the understated ambiance or informal wait staff deceive you. The simplicity here is honest yet carefully orchestrated. This is a place designed to make you feel comfortably at home and, in the true spirit of home cooking, eat well. For more on Ad Hoc’s premise, read the brunch review.

With the popularity of avant-garde experimentations on molecular gastronomy, people sometimes associate complexity with great cuisine. Something that appears simple, therefore, can be misleading. Fernand Point, the legendary chef that revolutionized French cuisine and inspired the young Thomas Keller with his book “Ma Gastronomie”, was quoted saying: “The most difficult dishes to make generally appear to be the simplest”. Ad Hoc is the ultimate proof that simplicity, when done right, can evoke powerful memories and be surprisingly rewarding.

The menu

Like at brunch, the menu for dinner changes every day and, akin to The French Laundry, is conceived the night before. Open the beige manila folder and you’ll find only one option printed in monospaced courier typeface. But again, don’t let simplicity deceive you; the 4-course meal is carefully designed in a thoughtful progression of flavors while keeping the familiarity and accessibility that makes great comfort food.

I’m no vegetarian by any means but couldn’t help but wonder what would the meat-averse palate do when confronted with a steak entrée (most people book their tables in advance without knowing what will be served on the day). Our waitress assured us that the kitchen will accommodate vegetarians. When in need, the chef can always borrow a fish or two from Bouchon down the street. But Ad Hoc is no place for a vegan reunion. Diners here should trust the chef and be open to what’s on the menu. If you are the type that order your cappuccino half-caf, dry, nonfat; this may not be the best place for you. But if you enjoy good food, come with your eyes closed; you’re in for a treat.

The meal

Dishes are served family style, portioned to the number of people at the table. The first course, English Walnut Salad. Red leaf lettuce, lola rosa, watercress, golden crisp apples, celery batons, walnut vinaigrette. A beautifully balanced salad, in flavors and textures.

Next, Spiced Beef Hanger Steak. Wild mushroom gravy, winter vegetable fricassee, house made egg noodles. The perfectly cooked meat is tender, juicy and flavorful with a hint of black pepper and paprika.

Together with the flat noodles and buttery vegetables, this simple dish is delicious. And here again, simplicity is the key.

The cheese course was a nice surprise. Normally, chef de cuisine Dave Cruz serves artisan cheeses with classic accompaniments. But for that night, much like at The French Laundry, cheese was used as the main ingredient for a more inventive dish. Lincolnshire Poacher with pickled cabbage and melted onion tart. The English unpasteurized cow’s milk cheese has a salty, sharp taste that goes very well with the sweetness and flakiness of the tart.

To finish, Citrus Trifle. Lemon sponge cake, vanilla & chocolate anglaise, cara cara oranges, mint syrup. This deconstructed trifle comes with a rich, creamy filling on a light, fluffy sponge cake. Topped with refreshing, sweet cara cara orange slices. A dessert so good it made me ask for more.

So is it true that seconds are permitted at Ad Hoc? The short answer is yes. Contingent on availability, of course, you can repeat one or more courses if your appetite desires. Something that is particularly popular when fried chicken is on the menu.

Speaking of fried chicken, ever since the dish made the restaurant’s menu, it became an overnight sensation. “People book vacations around fried chicken night”–our waitress explained. Thomas Keller’s rendition of the classic all-American favorite is brined overnight with aromatics and lemon before it is dipped in buttermilk, dredged in spiced flour and takes it final dive in peanut oil. The result is said to bring epicureans to their knees. But that’s for another story, or is it?

As I was writing this review and going through my notes for each dish, I couldn’t stop thinking about what I actually didn’t try. Could this story just end here? Like the last episode of Sopranos, suddenly and inexplicably cutting to black. Leaving you (and me) without a clue of how Keller’s deep-fried chicken actually tastes like? That just wouldn’t be fair.

Fried chicken night

Going to Ad Hoc is not like dining around the block. It’s like a short vacation in which you spend more time traveling than actually at the table (it takes me about 3 hours both ways). But it is worth it; so there I was, on the road again.

As I exited my car, an irresistible aroma hypnotized me like the enchanted cry of a mermaid. The framed menu outside confirmed for the passersby, it was fried-chicken night. I was starving.

To start, Classic Wedge Salad. Winter radishes, Hobb’s applewood bacon, blue cheese dressing, mixed pickled vegetables. The crisp salad and pleasantly acidic picked vegetables make for a great, light start. A thin bacon strip and the creamy Point Reyes blue, buttermilk dressing add a subtle richness, almost as a teaser for what’s to come.

And there it was, Buttermilk Fried Chicken. The French Laundry garden Brussels sprouts, braised red cabbage, new potatoes & red eye gravy. Piled high on a small piece of butcher’s paper, proudly displaying few if any droplets of oil. Its outer crust in an even shade of golden brown, crispy and spiced with the nice heat of cayenne. In addition to the aromatic brine, Keller deep-fries the dark and white meats in different oil temperatures yielding a juicy, tender meat that is packed with flavor; no matter what part you try. The generous portion may be enough to take some home–and most people do. Even though the crispiness will be gone the next day, the flavors will only get better.

The side dishes are also worth noting. First, the red wine braised cabbage with caramelized onions and Brussels sprouts is a great complement, conceptually and psychologically. Even better are the potatoes with red-eye gravy–made with the addition of coffee, hence the name.

Next, Two American Cheeses. Wisconsin Sheep Dairy Co-op mona, Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk, cara cara orange jam, black pepper breadsticks. A simple all-American cheese course, served at the right temperature, well balanced with the tart jam and crunchy breadsticks.

For dessert, another national staple. Chocolate Fudge Cupcakes. Chocolate cream cheese frosting. I have to admit I was hoping for a lighter dessert, you know, after a pile of fried-chicken. But I couldn’t resist the last breadcrumb of the moist cakes, topped with a lush frosting and crispy rice puffs Valrhona pearls. A cupcake that would leave Ms. Kara, Ms. Magnolia and Ms. Sprinkles at a loss for words.

In short

After having a memorable dinner at The French Laundry a few weeks ago, there was a short period of time when I wondered where to go next. How does one follow the meal of a lifetime? Here’s one way, you eat at the chef’s house. This is how Ad Hoc feels like; informal, comfortable, homey. But the same simplicity that makes the restaurant so approachable is the result of a thoughtfully conceived and carefully prepared menu. This is Thomas Keller’s home after all. The food here definitely calls for seconds, thirds and so on. Be it fried chicken night*, or any other night.

*Fried chicken nights are every other Monday, next one is 2/9.

Ad Hoc is at 6476 Washington St.
Online reservations


Chung Nguyen said...


(That was my ever-so-eloquent comment on your post. I will be hitting up Ad Hoc post-haste.)

Anonymous said...

I am a vegetarian, but if I had the chance to eat at any of Thomas Keller's restaurants, I would happily suspend my vegetarianism, despite not having much of a taste for meat after ten years without it. I think when a chef is that good, it would be silly to refuse anything they create, barring allergies.

Manger La Ville said...

It looks so tasty.How did you know when you made your reservation it would be fried chicken night. if there is some secret I would be so happy if you would tell me. I made a reservation and I found out the menu and canceled. I know, how could I, but I just have trouble eating veal. Plus my mom is a vegetarian, probably not the best choice for her. I didn't know the chef would make arrangements. I feel like a fool for not going. Lesson learned.

Brilynn said...

On my recent trip to Napa Valley I did TFL one night and Ad Hoc the next. I'm only sorry I didn't get to Bouchon as well. Thomas Keller and his team are extraordinary.

Veron said...

Oh did try and make TK fried chicken at home and it was delicious but I am sure not as delicious as the real thing. Those cupcakes look amazing...chocolate cream cheese....yum!

My Sweet & Saucy said...

Loved looking at every photo! What a wonderful experience!

Lauren said...

The pictures look GORGEOUS. I can't get back out there fast enough. Thanks!!

Le laquet said...

I was fine until I saw that rasher of bacon glistening on the iceberg wedge, YUM!

Chef Ben said...

Wow, that fried chicken night looks amazing and I don't even like fried foods. Topped of with that scrumptious looking cupcake! Now that's a casual but decadent night of evening! Glad you were able to catch fried chicken night!

tara said...

What a fantastic meal; classic food made the best it can be. It sounds utterly wonderful.

And now I want fried chicken.