"for temporary relief from hunger"
Thomas Keller's more casual restaurant in Yountville, called "Ad Hoc" was never intended to be a permanent restaurant. While designing a very different type of restaurant (think "burgers and bottles" hamburger and wine pairing), Thomas Keller's team temporarily opened up Ad Hoc ("literally meaning for this purpose only") for just six months to serve the local community.
Offer a 4-course family style meal with a small, accessible wine list in a casual environment that is "reminiscent of home."
It became so popular that it was really hard for them to close it down.
Thomas Keller quipped "if we keep it, we'll have to change the name. Maybe to Ad Lib."
That was 2007. Ad Hoc is clearly still around and going very, very strong. In fact, its fried chicken has become legendary, and Thomas Keller has even written a cookbook for the restaurant.
Finally, after having tried Per Se, The French Laundry, and countless different Bouchon bistros and Bouchon bakeries, I can finally say I've tried all of Thomas Keller's restaurants in the US.
The interior here is airy, bright, and very inviting. Though the atmosphere is casual (most people were wearing jeans), you still feel that everything is high quality and thoughtfully laid out.
The menus come in these brown no-nonsense folders (see picture up top), and all the food is served family style. The menu changes daily, and each day only one specific four-course menu is served ($38).
Since we were having brunch, Bryan ordered a mimosa (made with delicious, freshly squeezed orange juice) for $9.
Biscuits & Jam was the first course, and it was fantastic. The biscuits were among the best I've ever had. They were warm, flaky, and perfectly crispy on the outside. On top? A lovely dollop of maldon honey butter. Yes, even though I'm sure the biscuit is already loaded with butter, it tasted even better slathered with this slightly sweet butter.
The homemade strawberry jam was delicious, not-too-sweet, and full of intense fruit flavors. This was also wonderful with the biscuit.
The "Biscuits & Jam" trio also came with a bowl of freshly cut pineapples, oranges, and grapefruit. All of the fruit was great - sweet, juicy, and and very refreshing.
The second course was a grilled Niman Ranch Beef skirt steak served alongside a soft scrambled hen egg topped with roasted pepper stew and grilled spring onions. I've made skirt steak before. I know it's a tougher cut of meat that can be challenging to cook right. All of the elements of this dish (the steak, eggs, vegetables) were executed properly and enjoyable to eat. However, none of the flavors were really that unusual, and I was a bit underwhelmed. In the end, the entire plate was good, but not exactly that memorable.
Similarly, the fried Russet potatoes were perfectly fried to a golden brown, but did not particularly impress me. I think I've had better home fries at cheap diners.
Thankfully, I absolutely LOVED the rocky road ice cream sundae. This should come as a huge surprise to anyone who knows me because typically, I don't really like marshmallows, and I hate nuts in my desserts! However, I love marcona almonds, and the candied marcona almonds worked beautifully in this dessert. I loved the dense crunch that they provided; plus the creamy chocolate ice cream was divine.
I thought I was stuffed, but we finished up that ice cream really, really quickly.
In general, Ad Hoc is a fun place to visit. The ambiance is friendly, the food is solid, and the prices are reasonable. I found certain menu items (biscuits and ice cream) to be really special, while others (steak, eggs, vegetables) were a bit sleepy. I think your experience will vary tremendously depending on which day you go. If you happen to go on a day when they have their buttermilk fried chicken, you just may think it's one of the best things you've ever tasted in your entire life (or so I've heard).
I plan on returning, if nothing else just to try the fried chicken (which appears twice a month on Monday evenings and sometimes as "chicken and waffles" during brunch). You can also check out Addendum, his new take-out restaurant that only serves their fried chicken and BBQ chicken (not yet opened for the season when we were there in March).
Reservations were impossible to get via Opentable, but a breeze via the telephone. I think they just don't make that many seats available online.
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