Ad Hoc - Fabulous! [review w pics]
My trip up to the Northern Cal so I can have my first meal at The French Laundry turned out to be the best food weekend ever (so far). The night before, we tried out Ad Hoc, Thomas Keller's 'comfort food' restaurant (most well known for their fried chicken!).
Ad Hoc was originally meant to be a temporary restaurant, to be opened while they're designing a different restaurant to be opened in that space (hence the name, and the motto "for temporary relief from hunger").
5 nights our of the week, Ad Hoc offers a different 4-course menu for $49, served family style and meant to be shared.
I was putting this post off in the hope that I one day will find the menu that I seem to have misplaced somewhere. But ... oh well, here goes the post without the accurate dish (and cheese!) name :( If I find it I'll update the post.
Our meal started off with a salad of broccoli and cauliflowers with mandarins and almonds.
There aren't mere broccoli (blogger is telling me that 'broccolis' isn't grammatically correct), people, these babies came straight from The French Laundry garden down the street. And my god, these are the best broccoli ever. It's very juicy, moist, and sweet, unlike other broccoli I've ever had which are typically boring and bland.
At Ad Hoc you can always ask for seconds, but my friends told me not to get seconds yet, since we have a lot more coming ...
Our main course was skirt steak on a bed of lettuce.
Now, the thing I love about this particular cut is how flavorful it is. On the other hand, it tends to be tougher than most cuts which is why some people don't like them. But not these babies. Somehow they've managed to turn these skirt steaks into some amazingly tender pieces of meat, yet still retain the flavorfulness that is skirt steak. Amazing!
The main entree came with a side dish of carrots and mushrooms.
The carrots were again tender and sweet. Delicious. I justified myself getting seconds of this because it's healthy and carrots are good for my strained eyes :P
Next dish is the cheese course.
Now this is where losing that menu puts me in big trouble ... don't remember what we had cheese-wise. It was firm and smooth with a subtle taste and aroma. I enjoyed it with the slice of apple (one per person) but the red cabbage didn't do it for me.
For the grand finale, a gargantuan Baked Alaska! A dome of vanilla ice cream baked in meringue.
I'm not sure this photo does it justice. This thing was HUGE. It was about half a basketball, with meringue on top! There were five of us - who all eat a lot- and we barely managed to finish half.
An extremely enjoyable and memorable meal. That oh-so-tender-and-flavorful skirt steak and those broccolis ... man! The casual atmosphere was perfect for catching up with friends and stuffing ourselves to death. Can't wait to return to Ad Hoc.
Just thought we'd mention our experience dining at Ad Hoc on 1/18/09....
We’d heard the hype…in fact, we’d even bought into the hype: a Thomas Keller restaurant that served a four-course family style meal for under $50/person. How could it go wrong? Well, there were several ways it could go wrong. Fortunately, none of them happened during our visit.
We had made reservations about three weeks in advance for a Sunday evening dinner at 6 p.m. We arrived promptly at 6, and were told it would be a couple of more minutes before our table was ready. Sure enough, we were seated within five minutes of arriving. The staff even took the time while we were waiting for our table to take our picture under the Ad Hoc sign.
Upon being seated, our waiter brought out a bottle of water and a basket with both white and wheat French bread. The bread was baked at the Bouchon Bakery just down the street (another Keller-owned establishment). While we enjoyed the white French bread, the wheat French bread was simply heavenly. The bread was a good start to the meal.
We had been told that the first course is usually a salad or (occasionally) a soup. On this night, the first course was beef short ribs with a green bean salad (in a buttermilk dressing) and assorted pickled vegetables. The waiter explained that the idea was to recreate a picnic meal with this course. Well, we’ve never had a picnic as good as this first course. The ribs, marinated perfectly in a “from scratch” barbeque sauce, crumbled off the bone when touched with a fork. The green beans were also tender. Best of all, the buttermilk dressing was lightly applied to the green beans, thereby complimenting the beans’ flavor instead of drowning it.
Having enjoyed a delicious first course, our waiter moved us on the second course: skirt steak with a vegetable medley and creamy polenta. Overall, we found this to be the weakest of the four courses. Not that it wasn’t well prepared (particularly the vegetable medley). However, the polenta turned into a brick as it cooled (thanks to the copious amounts of parmesan cheese in the dish). Also, the skirt steak was seared; meaning, it was brown on the outside and very red on the inside. We like our steaks cooked a bit more than how this skirt steak was prepared. Still, we didn’t send the dish back for extra cooking because we knew that skirt steak can get tough if overcooked. So, we ate the dish as it was prepared, but wished it could’ve been cooked a bit more.
With one hit and one near-hit under our belts (and on our waistlines), our waiter brought out the third course: the cheese plate. The cheese was a sharp jack from a local dairy. It was served with apples and honey. Our waiter gave us a hint before we sampled this course: “Stack it. Put the cheese on the bottom, top it with an apple slice, and drizzle the whole thing in honey.” That was great advice. The combination was heavenly. It was so good that we gave serious consideration to licking the honey jar. In fact, we were so distracted by the dish's flavor that we forgot to take a picture of the dish until we had almost finished it!
The meal closed with the desert course: banana bread with chocolate mousse – vanilla ice cream and caramelized pecans. The banana bread, which was moist and buttery, came in slices that looked like the top and bottom of a banana nut muffin. This presentation made it perfect to create a banana bread-ice cream sandwich. We each put one scoop of ice cream between two banana bread slices, and then started eating. We’re embarrassed to say that we did lick the plates after this dish.
Throughout the meal, we were impressed with the ambience of the place. The staff does a very good job of promoting a casual atmosphere (right down to the blue jeans and tennis shoes that they wear). However, underneath that casual surface is an organization that is almost military in its precision. We noticed it in several aspects:
- The place was spotless. Even the windows looked like they had been cleaned earlier in the day.
- The plates for each course were laid out on a central table. So, when a table had finished one course, the dishes were whisked away to be quickly replaced with another set of plates for the next course.
- The wait staff may have been dressed casually, but their knowledge of each dish and their overall attentiveness belied their casual appearance.
The only misstep in the whole evening involved one of our party who was celebrating a birthday that day. When we made the reservation, we told the Ad Hoc staff that one of us would be celebrating a birthday. However, no acknowledgment of that occasion was given by the Ad Hoc staff. We saw others in the restaurant receiving that acknowledgement (usually in the form of a candle in the banana bread). But, our wait for that acknowledgment didn’t materialize. Still, it was a minor misstep in an otherwise great evening.
So, was Ad Hoc worth the hype? Despite some minor quibbles, our answer is a resounding “Yes!!” If you want basic food prepared extremely well, then Ad Hoc is your restaurant. We are anxiously planning our next visit to this gem of the Napa Valley.
Were you there on 1/31/09? This menu matches perfectly with the meal you describe:
TFL Garden Broccoli Salad
white cauliflower, toasted almonds
sweet vidalia onions, cara cara oranges
shaved brioche croutons
Roasted Beef Skirt Steak
braised hearts of romaine, spiced sweet carrots
shiitake mushrooms, tomato-pepper soffritto
Silver Mountain Clothbound Cheddar, toasted walnuts
sponge cake, vanilla bean ice cream
chocolate butterscotch sauce
Thanks for the report -- I think "broccoli" is already technically plural, which is why you can't make it "broccoli"
Firm, smooth ... doesn't Ad Hoc to all local cheese? Maybe Matos St. George? http://www.cowgirlcreamery.com/prodin... I've seen it listed as the cheese course in past Ad Hoc reports.
re: Ruth Lafler
What a great report.
I, too, tried Ad Hoc for the first time. Last night with my husband for a birthday celebration.
Fried chicken was terrific - flavorful, moist, as reports have said here.
The cheese counse was a suprising highlight. A local cheese, dry, hard-- stood perfectly with a blood orange jam. We loved it, so bright tasting. We asked-- they had just made it that morning.
We also really enjoyed the salad- Spring greens with peas, asparagus-- and a smokey duck ham or pate. Lovely. Setting comfortable, service friendly and attentive. A great meal.