The story goes that the building currently occupied by Ad Hoc was intended for a very different type of restaurant. While the space was being designed, Thomas Keller decided to open a place to serve casual, family-style food. A place that emulated the feeling of eating at home. Thomas Keller’s home that is.
The idea worked so well that popular demand turned permanent what was formerly an interim project. But in many ways, the makeshift feeling still rings true.
Keller’s third wine country restaurant is also in Yountville (likely the U.S. town with the highest number of fine dining restaurants per capita); just a few blocks from Bouchon and The French Laundry. On the nondescript facade, a discreet metal sign hangs from the canopy: Ad Hoc. For temporary relief of hunger.
Inside, the makeshift atmosphere highlights the fact that things are somewhat out place. The ambiance is spacious, comfortable and elegant but lacks a distinct personality. A small bronze pig standing on a vintage butcher’s bench is the only unique element in the somewhat unremarkable interior. But that’s the whole idea. Ad Hoc is truly ad hoc. When we walked in, "Hotel California" played on the restaurant’s sound system. An introduction to a music selection that seemed to come from an anachronistic jukebox. Hits from the 60s, 70s and 80s shuffled from Forest Gump’s soundtrack.
The casually dressed wait staff walks around in jeans, sneakers and brown Dickies work shirts sporting a patch with the restaurant’s name. But the casual wear is no indication of careless service, quite the contrary. As you’d expect, service is sharp and well trained. This is Thomas Keller’s home after all.
Ad hoc has a bold proposition. The prix fixe menu changes everyday to feature a single 3-course meal. There are no options, no vegetarian alternatives or side dishes. You’d be served what the chef has prepared for that day, much like dining at someone’s home. So why is this a bold proposition? In the land of endless choices and ever-growing food restrictions, driving over an hour to find only one option seems to go against the American way of life. I, for one, love the idea.
But I have to admit I felt a small disappointment as, after waiting a week in anticipation, I opened the manila folder menu to find the title: “Sunday Brunch”. Did I just drive 60 miles for ham and eggs? For a moment, I considered calling Bouchon to see if they’d take a couple of lunch walk-ins. But as the song “I can’t help myself” played in the background, I decided to stay. Thomas Keller has never let me down.
Eating at home means family style. Dishes are served on large plates, portioned for the number of people on the table. The presentation is casual but careful. Although the server explains the chef’s preparation, it’s up to you to dish up your plate. It didn’t take long for me to realize this was no ordinary brunch. What was once brief disappointment quickly became lasting enthusiasm.
First course was Yellow corn grit cakes with smoked trout salad, heirloom tomatoes, and house cured salmon. Beautifully presented in polenta-like cakes, crunchy outside and creamy inside.
Each one topped with perfectly balanced complements. Flavorful combinations that delicately highlighted each ingredient.
Despite the name, what came next was anything but ham and eggs. Ham & Eggs, marinated bailey long pork, slow cooked hen eggs, wilted spinach, buttered country bread, mixed berry jam. The sliced pork was buttery and tender. Toped with roasted red bell peppers that brought a nice sweetness to the dish. The eggs were of great quality and perfectly cooked. A great combination of flavors and colors that, despite the generous portion, left me wanting more.
Even the buttered toast, served with a coulis-like jam, was worthy of the last breadcrumb. “How am I supposed to live without you” by Michael Bolton played in the background.
To finish, Nectarines and cream. Mascarpone cream, lemon syrup, shortbread cookie. An example of how the simplest desserts are sometimes the best. Summer peak sweet white nectarines and Santa Rosa plums served under a large dollop of luscious whipped mascarpone cream. Simply irresistible.
As we finished the meal, the first contemporary song started to play, as if bringing us back to present time. “We’re going to be friends” by the White Stripes; perhaps a sign that we’d be back many times.
Ad Hoc brings together the casual comfort of family-style dining with the coveted high-end cuisine of Thomas Keller. The food is simply exceptional and with only one choice in the menu, you just can’t go wrong. Reservations are usually available for the same week making it a great opportunity to try Keller’s food in an unfussy atmosphere. For dinner or brunch. Either way, you won’t leave disappointed. Cue “On the road again”.
Ad Hoc is at 6476 Washington St.