SF BAY AREA Spotlight: Ad Hoc (Yountville)

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September 8, 2007 by bernadiva

Ad Hoc
476 Washington St
Yountville, CA 94599
(707) 944-2487

Open for dinner Thursday through Monday, $45 prix fixe menu (not including wine).
Beginning September 18, 2007, open daily

The Ad Hoc staff listens as Chef Dave Cruz goes over the evening’s menu.
Photo courtesy of John Lee Pictures, http://www.johnleepictures.com

(Original visit: June 6, 2007)

And to think I almost said, “Count me out!” when my friend Grace invited me out to dinner at Ad Hoc.

Anything with Thomas Keller’s name attached to it pretty much guarantees good food. I learned this from my (I think he might be gay) ex-boyfriend – his family is a big fan of The French Laundry and some of the biggest food snobs you will ever meet. You’ve heard of the Laundry and of Bouchon, perhaps you’ve heard of Per Se (in NYC). Led by Executive Chef Dave Cruz, this small restaurant is another hit for Keller with its down-home yet sophisticated take on comfort food.

Interestingly, this restaurant was meant to be temporary (to be open only six months or so), as Keller intended on opening up a place that served burgers and wine. As Ad Hoc became increasingly popular, it was decided that it would become a permanent fixture on Washington Street (next to Bouchon and The French Laundry) and the burger place would open elsewhere. (I’ve heard rumors that this place will be opening in Santa Rosa soon.)

Back to Ad Hoc.

Walking in, it feels like you are having dinner at a friend’s house – except your friend owns a classy, cleverly-lit, hardwood floored home in Wine Country with a giant dining room. The tables have large panels of silver on them that reflect the lighting onto the ceiling – it makes for an interesting shadow dance while people are reaching for food and moving their glasses around. (Tres artsy, no?) Everyone seems to be engrossed in conversation and nonchalantly sipping wine, a must have in this part of town. Wine list – not too long, with some great choices from all over the world AND from local Napa/Sonoma wineries. Tip: If your waiter suggests a wine pairing, if you have the funds, GO FOR IT. I had my first wine pairing epiphany here at Ad Hoc – more about that later.

Ad Hoc does the prix fixe thing – no muss, no fuss, no hemming and hawing over what you’ll be having for dinner. And it’s family style, so going in a group is great. Plus, if you run out of your main course, they will gladly serve you a second helping. The first night we dined, we started with hearts of romaine salad topped with pickled onions, walnuts, and slices of apple with a Roquefort dressing. It was not only delicious, but pretty too – the dressing was to die for. Next came the main course – fried chicken with green bean casserole and potatoes. The fried chicken was not greasy – it was juicy and flavorful (brined to perfection); the green beans were cooked al dente (not mushy like your run-of-the-mill green bean casserole); the potatoes were just right and seasoned with roasted garlic (yum!). Then came the cheese course – a very sharp Wisconsin cheddar served with sliced peach (or maybe it was nectarine) and orange blossom honey. And to top it all off…strawberry shortcake for dessert – a light and airy version of a timeless classic.

The friend who invited Grace and I to dinner spends a lot of time here – so when we walked in, it felt like we were VIPs. We got amazing service from our server, Nessim, and the rest of the Ad Hoc crew (it’s the kind of service that flows with no interruption, you barely notice as your plates are switched out or your glasses are refilled). They were super attentive, professional, and even put up with our raucous group with a smile. The manager from Bouchon and even the great Thomas Keller himself stopped in this evening. I didn’t even notice that our dinner took nearly four hours – we were having such a great time being pampered by the waitstaff that we could have stayed all night.

A month after my initial visit, I made reservations for eight at Ad Hoc for my birthday. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better than last time, we made another trip to Ad Hoc for my birthday last night, and had “Mar y Montana” – a delicious dish made with poussin (that’s young chicken for those of you who don’t know) and white shrimp. This time, I wasn’t paying as much attention to the names of the courses, I just remember it was another sublime experience. Our server, Peter, recommended a wine for our cheese course that transitioned nicely into our dessert course, where we had a Mascarpone Mousse. And this is where I had my wine pairing ephiphany – the wine made the mousse taste like a smooth, rich chocolate. I’d never experienced wine pairing in action – where the wine brings out a flavor in the food, but this time, the entire table had that experience at the same time. It was amazing.

Go to Ad Hoc. Bring friends. Take your time eating and enjoy every single course, spring for some wine, and thank your servers before you go. It’s worth every penny.

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