French Laudry/Ad Hoc
Am visiting San Fran and Napa for my birthday in a month and I was wondering if anyone was fortunate enough to get a reservation at French Laundry? My husband and I had 4 phone lines calling the reservation number 4 days in a row and could only get wait-listed after trying for 2 hours straight. We decided to try Keller's Ad Hoc which was easy to get a reservation. Has anyone tried this? Also any recommendations for non-touristy restaurants that are excellent?
Ad Hoc is outstanding. If I lived in Napa I'd go all the time. I haven't been able to make it into FL yet, but I sure would like to someday. Ad Hoc is a completely different restaurant, but it's excellent food (different fixed menu every day) with a nice casual vibe and great service. Can't go wrong.
Keller has three restaurants in Napa, French Laundry, Bouchon and Ad Hoc. Each is distinct.
I loved Ad Hoc. The food is very casual and downscale, often American in influence, yet perfectly executed with impeccable ingredients. I had the best fried chicken that I've ever had in my life there. However, if you're looking for something formal or upscale, Ad Hoc is not the right choice.
Bouchon is very good. The style is French Bistro, and the food is well executed. It's loud and busy, and the tables are centimeters apart. The foie gras is out of this world. Overall, I think the food has a more upscale feel than Ad Hoc, though the atmosphere is very casual.
Although I've had great meals at both, based on reports on this board, Ad Hoc seems to be more consistent than Bouchon.
If you have your heart set on a four star tasting menu extravaganza consider Cyrus in Healdsburg (Sonoma County). Haven't been there myself, but consensus is that the food is outstanding, second only to French Laundry in Wine Country.
We had a wonderful meal at Ad Hoc in July. We knew it was not going to be FL nor Bouchon. We'd been to the Bouchon in LV which is excellent, which is why we decided to skip it in Napa (although, we wish we had the time to go so we could make a comparison, next trip for that I guess). Ad Hoc is a very casual experience, as others have mentioned - served family style - they bring one dish of each item to the table and you serve yourself from that dish, to your plate. Bread is brought to the table - amazing bread at that, with intensely good butter. We started with a simple salad of radicchio and endive, with plums and mint served with a herbed buttermilk dressing. The first course was veal cutlets, servied over broccoli rabe and pearl onions. On the side was polenta with stewed roma tomatoes. Cheese course was a sheeps/goats mlk cheese (I can't remember what kind it was, served with local honey and marcona almonds (there is always a cheese course). Desert was a buttermilk vanilla panna cotta with fresh berries. Very simple, very fresh and almost perfectly executed (the veal was over salted, but not that it ruined the dish). Wine list was varied, and not over priced and service was friendly and knowledgeable. Portions were abundent, we could have taken home 1/2 of what we were served, if we lived there, for another meal. Plus, the crowd themselves were friendly too - the table next to us wound up over hearing something we were talking about and we ended up having quite a chat for a while. We even saw Michael Chiarello there, so apparently it draws everyone, from the locals, out-of-towners, and fellow chefs alike.
Over all a great choice. We were a bit worried, because my husband is somewhat picky about certain foods (i.e.; he eats no seafood) but we called in advance and they assured us they could accommodate us, no matter what would be on the menu that evening - and made a note in the book about his "no seafood" request to boot. We lucked out, the menu that evening could not have been more perfect for us, had we asked for it from Mr. Keller ourselves :-)
BTW - I would give a 2nd, to Mustards if you're looking for other places. We had an equally great meal there too, but entirely different. Kind of "upscale diner, comfort food" but most definately NOT diner food. I had a rabbit dish to die for, my husband a perfect hanger steak, the freshest salads we've ever had (they grow their own produce on the premises) and a truly remarkable blackberry/necterine crumble - also, an amazing wine list complete with outstanding desert wines.
You will absolutely love Ad Hoc - I second the other comments in this thread re casual, different experiences than others, etc. Staff was great. Food was outrageously good - I'm always complaining about too many places that serve food without enough flavor. well, you're going to get huge flavor, beautifully and simply prepared family-style meal here.
We lived in SF for the past 8 years before moving to Ameila Island. Being a wine collector we spent at least 4 days a month or more in Napa. We've eaten at all three places a number of times.
French Laundry is usually ranked #1 in the country or very close to it. The prix fixe meal there is now, I believe, $270/person which includes no wine or any of the "upgrades." Very easy for a couple to spend a $1000 for lunch or dinner (the menu is the same so you might want to try getting a lunch reservation if you are really interested in eating there.) It is very formal and the presentations are almost picturebook. On the SF board there is always a discussion about is it "worth it or not." I think for one time it is an experience that would be hard to duplicate.
Bouchon is a somewhat upscale French bistro. The food is outstanding and they have a wonderful raw bar. In fact, one of our favorite lunches was to sit at the bar (which has an old fashioned zinc top), order two dozen ice cold raw oysters of perhaps 4 different origins and a large pomme frites. This was the perfect lunch between visiting wineries.
Ad Hoc is his new place. As pointed out, it is much less expensive and it is a prix fixe menu. However, just take note, the dinner changes every night, you really have not choice, you eat what they are serving that night. This is just like eating in Berkeley at Chez Panisse. However, the food is very good at Ad Hoc and I doubt they would serve you something you didn't enjoy.
All three of these restaurants are in Yountville. There is also Bistro Jeanty in Yountville, another Frence bistro that is a bit more rustic than Bouchon. It was also opened several years before and is owned by Philip Jeanty, an outstanding chef. The food is grand, great wine list, wonderful atmoshphere. It was one of our most favorite places for lunch.
Another great lunch place is Taylor's Refresher, an old fashion drive in that serve upscale far, things such as a ahi tuna burger. It's located on Hwy 29 just south of St. Helena. Plenty of outdoor seating, wonderful wines by the glass, a "must go to" place if you have time.
September is "crush", the beginning of the grape harvest so is very busy. The valley will have a wonderful "yeasty" smell about it.
Have a great trip.