I can’t believe I was actually considering canceling our reservation! I had booked it two months out so we’d have somewhere special yet unpretentious to go for our anniversary, but we were starting to talk ourselves out of driving up to Yountville for our meal. In the end, we peeled ourselves off our lovely new leather couch and drove up to legendary chef, Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc.
All I have to say is, “Oh…my…gawd.”
Now, it was Keller’s intention at first to turn this casual space in the Napa Valley into a burger and wine joint: casual, rustic, unpretentious. But as an experiment, he decided to make a temporary restaurant out of it with just one seasonal four course meal that changed nightly. No menu of entrees, appetizers or desserts to choose from. There’s a small selection of good wines to choose from though, and the staff knows their wines.
It became so popular that Keller decided to make Ad Hoc a permanent eatery late last year, and thankfully, started to take reservations.
Because all they offer is one four course meal a day for $48 per person (vegetarian option available), they have the opportunity to get the meal as close to perfection as humanly possible, and it shows. They’ve offered many different dishes here, but the popular ones remain their Buttermilk Fried Chicken, Meatloaf, and Braised Shortribs. Because the menu isn’t published until earlier the same day and reservations usually need to be made no less than one month out, it’s really a crap shoot. But Saturdays usually yield a good meat dish. If you’re really lucky, you get the Braised Shortribs.
We got REALLY lucky…
But first, we were served a salad that totally blew us away (and you know I’m a meat and potatoes girl, so that’s saying something). It’s base was made up of whole petite romaine heart leaves that had an amazing sweetness to them. It was accented with meaty, smokey chunks of local applewood smoked bacon, oven-roasted tomatoes (if you’ve never had tomatoes cooked this way you HAVE to try it) that were ridiculously sweet and flavorful, and a light yet creamy housemade herb dressing. The mix of flavors, textures, and level of quality in the ingredients just made this dish sing. It was phenominal (and my husband’s favorite part of the meal, actually).
So as far as entrees go, I’ve long considered braised shortribs to be one of my favorites to order when eating out. But I had no idea what we were in for here.
First off, the quality of meat was unsurpassed with a flavor so rich and buttery. The meat is braised for 48 hours, then seared and roasted. The meat was so tender it barely needed my knife, yet it hadn’t disintegrated like you’d expect with a 48 hour braise. There was even a brilliant salt crust to the meat, yet it was cooked to a perfect medium rare on the inside. It was served with a light au jus and roasted sweet onions. I’m still having dreams about it.
And the accompanying Buttered Egg Noodles with Fresh English Spring Peas and Baby Carrots were no slouch. I was in heaven, literally. Those veggies were so damn fresh you’d think they just reached out the window and picked them out of the garden five minutes ago. And there’s something so comforting about a bowl of noodles. It’s like a hug in a bowl. :)
Next up was the cheese course. We were already stuffed to the brim, so we weren’t sure if we’d be able to make room for this. But just one bite and we MADE room.
We were served a cheese from the Matos Cheese Factory (“St. George”) that had similar characteristics to a gouda. It was served with fresh cherries that we were advised to dip in our accompanying Marshall’s Farm orange blossom honey and chopped pistachios. Again, “Oh…my…gawd.” Follow that up with a bite of cheese and it was so crazy good that there are no words.
As if that weren’t enough, we both had a glass of sweet wine that was made with grapes from the Malaga region of Spain (Jorge Ordonez & Co. Malaga Special Selection). It had wonderful flavors of peach and citrus and just sent this whole third course over the top.
By the time we had gotten to the dessert, my palate was exhausted. But my husband says it “picked my palate right back up!” Fresh local organic apricots were made into a crisp and topped with housemade vanilla ice cream. My husband is still dreaming of the ice cream, which had the flavor of fresh, rich, full-tilt cream. Crazy sweet and crazy good. And the fruit was fresh and delicious. Again, it went wonderfully with our sweet wine.
Everything is served family style, which adds to the casual, homey feel. But there’s no ignoring the pretention that automatically comes with being in this part Northern California. I can’t believe I have no complaints about this restaurant. If I HAD to choose something, it would be the terrible blaring music. I overheard three other tables around us complaining about it. It’s so loud that it gets in the way of conversation and none of it is very good (a mix of Red Hot Chili Peppers, Michael Buble, INXS, and Peter Cetera). But all in all, it still adds to the charm, quality, and character of this place and I certainly wouldn’t consider it a detractor.
I can easily say that it was one of the top three meals I’ve ever had in my entire life. It’s amazing how such a casual restaurant can have such knowledgeable service, beautiful scenery (a winery is just across the street) and brilliantly executed food. I can’t even imagine what going to Keller’s other restaurant, French Laundry, would be like. I mean, I’ve been to Bouchon before (it was lovely, but it didn’t blow me away), but after eating at Ad Hoc, there is not doubt of this guy’s genius in the kitchen.
Ad Hoc – 6476 Washington St. – Yountville, CA - 707.944.2487