When traveling to the Napa Valley, one of the greatest attractions besides the wine is the concentration of great chefs and restaurants. Foremost amongst these chefs is Chef Thomas Keller, who owns one of America’s most iconic restaurants, The French Laundry. Located in Yountville in the heart of the Napa Valley, The French Laundry is a destination restaurant that food lovers from around the world put on their bucket list to visit. Sadly, we were not able to get reservations for this very exclusive 16 table restaurant while we were visiting. For those who missed out on The French Laundry, Chef Keller has two other options diners in Yountville can try, Bouchon and ad-hoc. We had previously dined at Bouchon in Las Vegas, so we decided to try ad-hoc.
Located on the main street in Yountville, ad-hoc and it’s sister location addendum are Keller’s casual modern dining options. Initially conceived as a temporary cafe in 2006 where Keller could live his dream of having a burger and wine place, ad-hoc’s popularity lead Keller to create a permanent presence in 2007. The menu changes nightly with the ingredients locally sourced from the French Laundry Garden and other local farms in the Napa Valley. Dinner is served in a multi coursed family style service which adds to the casual style.
Our dinner started with two classic cocktails as we both needed a break from wine after a long day touring vineyards, the Barrel aged Bijou and a Moscow Mule. The Bijou was made with housed aged vodka, vermouth and orange herbal liqueur, the barrel aging smooths the rough bitter bite of the vodka making the bijou a very smooth drinking cocktail. The orange herbal liqueur and orange twist gave a great citrus nose to the cocktail.
The Moscow Mule came served in the traditional copper mug and had a nice crisp, fresh flavor. It was well chilled, the lime and mint fresh and the hint of ginger refreshing. The lime wedge garnish would allow a drinker to add a bit of lime if needed, while giving a nice citrus perfume.
A bread basket with whole wheat and white breads came out, made at Bouchon Bakery, along with a ramekin of packed chilled butter. The bread was a beautifully baked rustic loaf, airy and soft in the middle, delightfully crusty and chewy on the outside. The butter was a creamy high fat European style butter which had a rich smooth texture.
The first course was a fresh, very flavorful heirloom tomato salad. Orange and red heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, a mix of purple and green basil, fresh sweet corn, and pesto tossed with a vinaigrette. The flavors exploded on this plate. The sweetness of the corn enhanced the tang of the tomatoes and herbal bite of the pesto. The cucumbers were slightly sweet with a nice crunch. Just out of the French Laundry’s garden, the produce had a freshness that you only get from being fresh picked. The array of colors and textures created a beautiful artistic plate that was as amazing to eat as it was to look at.
The second course was a cut from a slow roasted roasted prime rib from R&R Ranch in Washington accompanied by roasted ice top carrots and a baked russet potato. Side dishes of eggplant Parmesan and creamed spinach rounded out the course. Served with a horseradish creme fresh with micro chives, the prime rib was served medium to medium well except for one small section that was on the medium side of medium rare. Being from the Beef State, the choice to serve prime rib cooked to anything greater than medium was was an odd one that made the meat chewier and less moist than I would like. The meat was also served cool, which may have been a result of the servers seeming to have missed the timing on bringing this course out to us. The horseradish creme fresh had a nice bitter and spicy bite that was cooled by the creme fresh. The carrots were roasted with just a little oil and salt and pepper, the natural sweetness coming out during the roasting. The baked potato was rather unremarkable and unseasoned.
The side of Eggplant Parmesan came with melted mozzarella, tomato sauce and topped with fresh arugula. The eggplant was nicely breaded and the eggplant was dense and firm, with a texture that almost gave it a chicken like texture which was quite different from any eggplant dish I had ever experienced. The fresh arugula and the tomato sauce was tangy and spicy and was a nice combination that played nicely with the breaded eggplant and cut the richness of the mozzarella.
The creamed spinach had a creamy rich sauce sauce with a deep buttery garlic flavor. A hint of cheese and shallot gave a pleasant depth and richness to the spinach that made it better than most creamed spinach dishes I have had. Mrs. Nom was not a big fan of this dish and would have preferred a spinach salad in place of this dish.
Our next course was a cheese course, with white Cabot Clothbound Cheddar from Vermont, house toasted nuts and honey from a local farm. The cheese was a rustic style white cheddar, with a firm creamy texture with small bits of crystalline inclusions that crumbled a bit when you cut it. The cheddar had a sweet nuttiness that complimented a deep savory tang. When paired with the fresh honey, the cheese picked up an almost caramel note that made it quite enjoyable. The only issue we had was the portion size of cheese. Our two top table had enough cheese that it could easily have fed a six top. We saw multiple tables clear this course with most of the cheese going back. It seemed like a huge waste of a fantastic cheese.
Our final course was brown butter waffles served with a Bartlett pear compote and topped with vanilla caramel and whipped chantilly. The addition of the brown butter to the waffles gave them a deep buttery flavor that made the waffles richer and more savory while helping to make the waffles fluffy yet crispy. The Bartlett pear compote was not super sweet with a bit of tang helping tame the sweetness of the vanilla caramel. The whipped chantilly cream was surprisingly firm, with a clean cool and delicate sweetness.
Service at ad-hoc is a curious mix of casual and formal. The servers were always precise in the process of setting and clearing the tables, even wiping any crumbs from the table in between courses. Food service at the table however was sometimes very casual, almost plopping down the family style platters and struggling a bit to describe what was on the plates. The pacing between courses was sometimes way out of whack, with the gap between the salad and main entree courses getting to the point where we both were wondering if perhaps the kitchen had forgotten to prep our order. With servers all working as a team, it seemed as if no one server was responsible for our table, letting our meal fall by the way side. For a Keller restaurant, the service gaffes were definitely unexpected as other experiences with his restaurants had all had an obvious focus on service.
ad-hoc by Thomas Keller
Atmosphere: 4/5 – A pleasant mix of modern hipster chic and California farmhouse, the space was welcoming and warm. The space was a bit loud, with music and diners making a bit of a din.
Service: 3/5 – Servers were personable and welcoming, but at times they seemed lost as it felt like no one server had responsibility for our table, allowing for long pauses in the meal.
Food Quality: 3/5 -Top notch ingredients, incredibly fresh produce full of flavor, good quality cheeses and cocktails.
Taste: 3/5 – The tomato salad was so incredible, it remains one of the top dishes from our whole trip. However the prime rib and spinach were rather disappointing.
Value: 4/5 – Portions were generous, cocktails were reasonably priced. Dinner for 2 was around $110, with four courses.
Overall: 3/5 – ad-hoc was good, but was ultimately a disappointment, as it almost feels like an afterthought in the Thomas Keller culinary experience. After having dined at Bouchon where the attention to the smallest detail and flavors, the food at ad-hoc felt like it was missing the Keller touch except for that amazing tomato salad. For those who missed out on the French Laundry but who still want to experience Thomas Keller, I would pass up on ad-hoc and make my way to Bouchon or settle for one of the amazing pasties from the Bouchon Bakery.
Follow my blog with Bloglovin