Monday, May 11, 2009

Sonoma restaurants: Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc

Every foodie worth his artisanal salt knows that Thomas Keller is a culinary god. French Laundry is a once-in-a-lifetime experience in dining bliss. That said, it's not the kind of place you can afford to go to on a whim. We tried it last time we were in wine country and loved it, but this time around we went lower key and ventured to Napa to give Keller's lower price point restaurant, Ad Hoc, a try.

From what I've heard the restaurant was, true to its name, a placeholder for another concept, but it's proven so popular that they've stuck with it for now. The concept is simple - each night the restaurant serves one four-course menu for $49. Thomas Keller for under 50-bucks? What a deal!

The space is spare and low-key, perfect for a simple but delicious repast after a day of wedding planning and wine tasting! We brought along a half bottle of Clark Claudon Cab given to us by the lovely Briana Marie Clark, a photographer who gave us a tour of her family's property. At $10 for half bottle corkage, it was a cheap way to drink with our meal.

First up was a spring vegetable garbure, which is apparently a fancy way of describing a simple soup. It was chock full of peas and carrots and other spring goodies, and the broth was light and flavorful. Spring in a bowl! It came served family style in a quaint dish similar to what you'd have at home - how cozy!

Next up was the main dish, roasted flat-iron veal with grits. Alas these items didn't quite live up to my Keller expectations. Certainly, the meat was tender, but the entire dish was lacking in seasoning. It just didn't have the punch I'd hope for. That said, I realize that with a different menu every day, this isn't necessarily a reflection on what anyone else's experience would be like any other night. I'm not a grit fan on a good day, but Mr. AT also agreed the grits were a bit bland. At least compared to French Laundry, the portions are hearty and you definitely leave full (but not too full).

Fortunately a cheese tray followed this course and combined several diverse and scrumptious cheeses with a delightfully sweet dried fruit compote (and some so-so spiced nuts). I wish more restaurants included cheese plates, it's such an under appreciated part of dinner.

For dessert we enjoyed rum pompinettes which turned out to be a rum soaked mini-bundt cake filled with cream and fruit and served with a side of pistachio sauce. It was an unusual and yet simple dessert, and the sauce was a major highlight for me. Yum!

All in all we had a great experience, even if we weren't enthralled by our entree. Service was genuine and warm, and without having to take orders, it was perfectly paced, too. I'd definitely go back again if not just to see what Keller's team cooks up next!

Pros: Great concept, world-famous chef, reasonable prices, low-key wine country vibe
Cons: Dishes are hit and miss

Ad Hoc
6476 Washington Street
Napa, CA

Ad Hoc on Urbanspoon



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