A dining adventure at Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc in Napa.
Any visit to a Thomas Keller restaurant would be exciting, but Ad Hoc in Napa has a little twist that kindled our interest: there is one pre fixe menu every evening, so you have no choice in your order other than wine pairings. The menu is presented in a file folder, which made the office-supply-loving neurons in my brain do a disco dance. Well done, Mr. Keller.
The brightly lit space, stainless steel tabletops, pale woods and flurry of servers dressed in chocolate brown uniforms combined with pig centric decor came together for a modern-tinged-with-farm look. The place was hopping when we arrived, and nearly every table was filled with diners. It’s popular, and after our experience, evident why reservations are required. The pre fixe menu includes four courses: a salad followed by the main course, then cheese, and wraps up with dessert.
This is certainly an upscale place with impeccable service, but the file folders and family style dining make the entire experience casual and social. Will and I, given his restaurant background, talked about how brilliant the concept is from an operating standpoint: without the million different options a traditional menu provides, (“I’d like the chicken but with the side that comes with the salmon, and can you please hold the tomato?”) these chefs can focus on the same dishes in the kitchen, preparing them to perfection for each table.
The staging area for the servers is also a practical concept that is conducive to the flow of the service and adds to the decor and personality of the restaurant: the plates, flatware, and napkins are arranged on a table in the center of the room on top of a farm table for easy access. Servers are standing attention to notice the minute a table has completed their course. Within a few minutes of setting our flatware down on our plates (fork and knife parallel at 5 o’clock, of course), our plates were taken and table cleared. All servers were personable and friendly.
The main course is served in an All Clad pan that not only looked pretty, was the perfect size to serve a dish like this. Now I want this All Clad pan. We enjoyed braised short rib with creamy pasta and mushrooms, shrimp scampi, and blistered broccolini. Luckily for me, Will hates mushrooms so I ate every single one. No mushroom left behind. Mmm. I want to eat this again.
After the main course, there is a cheese course. Clearly, my husband is more sophisticated than me because I thought this was an odd placement in the sequence of courses, but he informed me that “it’s how the French do it.” So we had cheese and pickled things. The wine pairing for this one was not my favorite, so this was my least favorite course, but I think I would have liked the cheese in the food line-up otherwise.
My all-time favorite, cannot-ever-resist-ever dessert is a brownie. I declined coffee, but then sipped on most of Will’s and now I want a french press, too. So I looked up a french press on Williams-Sonoma, and read the “how to brew with a french press” and learned that the brewing process is only 4 minutes and sounds pretty easy. I envision calm mornings, with my hair glossy and in place, sharply dressed in an ironed shirt, nibbling on a bowl of cut fruit with a healthy carrot muffin, reading the Wall Street Journal while pressing down on my French Press for a fresh cup of perfectly brewed coffee. That’s what my mornings would be like if I had a French Press, and got up fourteen hours early to do the laundry, iron my shirts, take the time to straighten my hair with a round brush, and bake a carrot muffins.
Now that I’ve relived last night’s dining experience, I think I’m going to go take a walk through the Black Stallion vineyards. I’ve been up since 5-flipping-A.M. because I’m still on east coast time. Hopefully this will be the last time I spend my vacation time writing a blog post, and I can sleep in tomorrow!