Ad Hoc Review
Thomas Keller is likely a name you’re familiar with. He’s an icon, a godfather of American cuisine; his establishments have earned him awards and accolades year after year. Keller is, indeed, a man who needs little to no introduction.
I had the pleasure of dining at Ad Hoc in Yountville, a more casual and approachable offshoot of Keller’s iconic The French Laundry, and just half a mile away. Ad Hoc’s Chef de Cuisine, Matt Alba, shows his finesse and technique he’s honed over the years working with the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group.
Ad Hoc is a cozy, yet elegant space. Once you walk in, there’s a faint smell of fresh bread in the air. While not prepared onsite, Ad Hoc sources its bread from right down the street at Bouchon Bakery, another Keller institution. Ad Hoc’s menu changes daily, but follows a general pattern of a garden salad (sourced from The French Laundry Garden), a main course, a cheese plate, and a dessert. Their menu itself has a whimsical appearance, presented on an office clip folder, matching the colors and energy of the room, and outlines their set menu of the day.
I was able to dine at Ad Hoc on two occasions, one day after the other. On both days, I started the meal off with fresh bread from Bouchon Bakery. Although the bread and butter were cold, the smell of the bread was intoxicating. There’s something special about ripping a piece of bread open and taking in all of the aromas. I found myself constantly burying my nose into the bread, reminding myself that this is how bread should smell. This would set the tone for the whole meal: a reminder of how things should be prepared.
The salads both days were refreshing and palate opening. Although, perhaps just a touch overdressed for my taste, but still ever so delicious. The produce is simply spectacular in Napa Valley. The croutons are made in house, likely with some leftover bread, fried in butter and garlic. While I thought they may have been a bit greasy at first, I find myself craving more and more of them. These simple salads are a pure way to start your meal off, bright and acidic, preparing your palate for the main course.\
The mains were a grilled hanger steak with grits and collards, and pork belly with garlic rice and a sweet and sour pepper sauce. The hanger steak was cooked to perfection, a beautiful medium rare throughout the whole cut. The real star of this dish was the braised collard greens, impeccably seasoned and perfectly cooked to the point where they were soft, yet substantial.
The pork belly was crispy and unctuous, paired beautifully with the spicy, sticky aji dulce pepper sauce and garlic rice. It was reminiscent of filipino food, with sweet, salty, sour, spicy, and fatty all in one dish.
The cheese boards up next were also spectacular, especially the honey that accompanied it. This was some of the best honey I’ve ever tasted, and I love that they absolutely did nothing to the cheese nor the honey.
The first dessert, I admit I did not enjoy, largely due to the large chunks of peppermint candies sprinkled on top. This had a very unpleasant and hard crunch, detracting from my experience with the dish. The chocolate mouse underneath was satisfyingly bitter and slightly astringent, markings of quality chocolate with little sweetener added to it, luscious and velvety in texture. The dessert on the second was much more to my taste, a bright cranberry and lemon curd, sharp and sweet, yet still fresh and fruity.
Unfortunately the waitstaff was not as attentive and conversational as I would’ve preferred, but by no means did they have any errors during the dinners. They answered all of my questions to the best of their abilities, but did nothing beyond that.
Chef Alba is without a doubt a talented chef. You can see Keller’s attention to quality produce and minimalist touches throughout the dinner. The price point is hard to beat as well, with 4 courses offered at only $55, I was left a satisfied diner. With that said, there is absolutely nothing about Ad Hoc that is begging me to return. The meals were of high quality but incredibly standard. Without having too many preconceived expectations of a Thomas Keller restaurant, Ad Hoc doesn’t have many glaring flaws, but with the weight of a name like Keller behind it, it leaves much to be desired.