Saturday, February 4, 2012

Ad Hoc

If I were to have a restaurant, Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc is probably the restaurant I would aspire to be. It's casual, centered around family-style dinners, and is just as focused on flavor as The French Laundry. They share a different four-course menu every day, but certain dishes have become a standard. One of those dishes is their famous Monday night buttermilk fried chicken, and lucky for me, I was able to snag a reservation for Monday night.

The space is lively, friendly, and warm, with ample bar seating and plenty of table space. The restaurant can feel a bit crowded, depending on where you sit, but ultimately, Ad Hoc provides a fun dining experience.

As professional as any other Thomas Keller restaurant, service here was prompt, kind, and unpretentious. The decor is unbearably clever and the reflective tables and chairs suggest inspiration from a traditional American diner.

Everything about the food is ad hoc. It's all thoughtfully constructed, well-executed, and darn delicious. I would expect nothing less from the great Thomas Keller.

The meal kicked off with a tasty basket of bread, courtesy of Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery down the street. Fluffy and classic.

Soon after came the Endive and Arugula Salad, presented on a wide, bright blue serving platter. The assortment of Belgian endives, red endives, toasted pine nuts, Black Jonathan apples, shaved shallots, sliced prosciutto, and balsamic vinaigrette was just as colorful as its bitter, sweet, and refreshing flavors. The classic combination of prosciutto and apple played off of the sweeter balsamic, while the crisp endives and sharp shallots brightened up the entire salad. The pine nuts added the perfect touch of rich nuttiness to the dish.

The next course was the one, the only, Buttermilk Fried Chicken. Served on a grand two-handled skillet, the fried chicken's addictive and comforting aroma invaded all four sets of nostrils at the table.

This course came with a hearty serving of Red Bliss Potatoes, Haricots Verts, and Bacon Lardons. The green beans were crisp and perfectly seasoned, the potatoes were a great replacement for mashed potatoes, and the bacon lardons made sure you wouldn't leave this meal feeling hungry.

The chicken also came with some addictive Black Pepper Biscuits with Fig Jam. Buttery and fluffy with a crispy exterior, these are probably some of the best biscuits I've ever had. I know, but seriously, Popeye's, step aside. The black pepper was subtle and the fig jam added some seasonal sweetness. Personally, I preferred the biscuit plain.

The chicken itself was outrageous. Brittle and crispy skin laced with bits of rosemary opened up to a juicy, lemony interior. Dark meat or white, each bite bursted with flavor. I'm no fried chicken aficionado, but this is, hands down, the best fried chicken I've ever had. Again, Popeye's, step aside.

The most amazing thing about this fried chicken, however, wasn't the taste. It was how I felt after eating more than my share of the stuff. Surprisingly, I didn't feel like I had just eaten anything heavy. It still doesn't make sense in my head to say this, but I felt like I had just eaten the healthiest preparation of fried chicken in the world. I'm going to have to try to make this at home at some point.

The third course featured Central Coast Creamery's Seascape. The semi-soft creamy cheese tasted like a classic cheddar with a some tang and a little kick from a goat at the finish.

The lightly sweet Marshall's Farm Wildflower Honey and and rich, aromatic, toasted pecans were a great way to compliment the tanginess of the cheese.

The final course was a quartet of Blueberry Financiers with Lime Chantilly.

The financier itself was spongy, packed with melted blueberries, and light touches of nuttiness.

The lime chantilly was smooth and creamy, like a whipped mascarpone. The subtle lime lightened up the chantilly and the financier. Overall, the dessert was light and manageable.

With our check came some Coconut Macaroons, just in case any of us were aching for more food. They were delicious enough and really gave some perspective as to just how dang delicious those financiers were.

By the time my family and I left Ad Hoc, we felt perfectly full. Not uncomfortable, temporarily relieved from hunger, and ready to go back to the hotel and play two hours of Pictionary.

For your viewing pleasure, here's what my 80-some-year-old grandma drew. Yes, it was her first time playing this game. And yes, it was awesome.

Ad Hoc
6476 Washington St
Yountville, CA 94599
(707) 944-2487

GET: A reservation and be prepared to eat whatever delicious family meal they throw your way, but if you can, get a Monday reservation for buttermilk fried chicken.

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