Saturday, June 18, 2011

On the Road Eats: Ad Hoc

Yountville, California, is Thomas Keller's town. For those who can't get into The French Laundry, the options to get a Keller experience abound. There's Bouchon Bakery and the adjacent Bouchon Bistro. And a bit farther down the road, Ad Hoc (which happens to sit right next to Redd).

Ad Hoc, originally intended as a temporary casual dining restaurant, has continued to live on as a permanent spot serving one simple four-course menu, family style, that changes every night. So, this is one for those who are ready to take their chances with what might be served. You'll likely have made a reservation in advance, but on the day of, you can check the Web site to see what your $52 will get you.

The interior is comfortable and without pretense or stuffiness. It's the right place to unwind after a day of touring wineries.

This evening started with a salad of baby mixed lettuces, garden carrots, shaved radish, English peas, California asparagus and dressed in a light cippolini onion vinaigrette. The vegetables were beautifully robust and bright. If only I could get vegetables that tasted this good everyday, maybe I'd be better at fulfilling the daily recommended servings.

I had hoped for the famed fried chicken for my main course, but no dice. I was less enthused when I saw that I'd have to settle for a beef dish, but I was converted to total enthusiasm when I tasted the Santa Maria style barbecue made with Snake River Farm's Wagyu beef trip tip. It was wonderfully flavorful and cooked tenderly with speck pepper and paprika. It came with sweet corn on the cob dusted with lime salt, fennel cabbage slaw and buttermilk biscuits with sausage gravy. Unlike the meat, the slaw was forgettable.

The biscuit on the other hand was great and buttery and though I usually use gravy sparingly, I spooned this generously on my biscuit. My dining companion (perhaps more familiar with Southern cuisine than I am) deemed the biscuit tasty but not flaky enough in its texture.

The other thing that did a lot to amp up my excitement during this meal was the option to supplement our dinner with a bonus shrimp and grits dish (for $16 more). The shrimp were large and sweet, though not quite as good as the ones I'd had at Redd earlier that day. Smoked paprika butter covered the Anson Mills grits, which could have been a bit smoother. But I don't regret the choice to try this dish (with a late reservation, the server had to check to see if it was still available).

Before dessert, there was Marin French Cheese Co.'s Triple Creme Brie served with pastry puffs drizzled with wildflower honey and topped with toasted sunflower seeds. Though I like cheese, I rarely order it instead of a sweet dessert, so I welcomed its inclusion in the meal. The pastry puffs were light and I loved the light sweetness of the honey together with the cheese.

The chocolate cupcakes were a nice homey touch to end the meal. They were topped with Valrhona ganache and marshmallow fluff that filled the center of the cupcake as well.

Ad Hoc was a fun experience and I think one worth trying. Having faith in the kitchen to produce a convincingly delicious meal paid off.

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