Susannah (aka YumSugar) documents her two favorite brunches at Thomas Keller’s ad hoc in a photo slideshow. You might recognize the first meal from my post here. Thanks for the shoutout, Sus! We’ve come a long way from our dorm-room experiments of cottage cheese, canned tuna, and flaming hot cheetos.
The one-hour drive up to Napa Valley from San Francisco was filled with anticipation. My friends and I were meeting up with some other friends who I had not seen in a couple of years. The plan was to meet up in Yountville for brunch at one of my favorite restaurants - ad hoc. Ad hoc is the most casual of Thomas Keller's three restaurants (the others being The French Laundry, Bouchon, and also Bouchon Bakery) all within half a mile of each other on Washington Street. Originally, ad hoc was meant to be a temporary restaurant as another restaurant was in development (supposedly a burger place!). Ad hoc was a hit and became a fixture in September 2007. The prix-fixe menu changes daily, featuring a four-course dinner for $49 and a Sunday three-course brunch every week for $34.
What I love about ad hoc is that it is fine-dining quality food in a setting that evokes a sense of “home.” The dark wood decor, accented with mirrors and the occasional chalkboard surface to note the daily menu represent a no-fuss ambiance that is more Pottery Barn than you would expect from a restauranteur and chef with seven Michelin stars (thanks AJ for the correction!). All the food is served family-style and in generous fashion (psst: you can even ask for seconds of anything, though you likely won’t have room for it). The servers, clad in their casual brown Dickies uniforms, are friendly and even patient in the face of the legions of food nerds who come in and photograph every course at varying angles. One of the servers was even super nice enough to take a number of photos of my friends and me outside the restaurant in various spots of the garden, all on his off time. Nice fellow, wish I remembered his name.
My previous visits to ad hoc were overall quite positive. Their braised short ribs made me believe in beef again, and the now-famous fried chicken is officially Last Meal status. I once had a meal that was so-so (too fatty and salty, is that possible?), but 3 out of 4 times have been great. For all my fond memories and expectations, this meal did not disappoint.
Almost immediately after we sat down, a large wood board displayed three types of quickbreads: lemon-blueberry, raspberry, and carrot cake. Each of the fresh-out-of-the-oven mini-loaves were light and moist inside, with a crisp outer layer and a dusting of powdered sugar. My favorite was the lemon-blueberry, citrus and berries being a winning combination for me. I also had a watermelon-mint sangria that was, frankly, watery and pretty forgettable. I didn’t even drink the whole thing, which means either I’m getting to be an old lady, or it just wasn’t very good.
The quick bread starters were served with a lime zested citrus yogurt and another bowl of marinated pineapple, white pomegranate, and apples. Although butter was also on-hand, I appreciated the tang of the yogurt as a refreshing condiment for the slightly sweet bread.
Next up was the main attraction: Eggs-in-the-basket (which, I swear I’ve seen listed as eggs-in-a-hole elsewhere…). A heavily buttered piece of thick brioche toast was filled with fresh canadian bacon, two poached hen eggs, and a whole grain mustard soubise (read: a bechamel sauce with onions). The eggs were perfectly poached, yielding a luxuriously fresh, creamy yolk that is sopped up by the dense toast. The canadian bacon provided a smoky point without being overwhelmingly salty, and the soubise was so light yet bursting with savory flavor that it made me want to lick my plate. I only wish that I had asked for more soubise on the side. Believe me, hollandaise has nothing on this sauce. If you’re not into eggs, I suppose that this might not be an impressive meal. Fortunately, I have a major thing for poached and soft boiled eggs, so this was a great dish for me. Two sides accompanied the egg baskets: one pile of haricot verts from The French Laundry garden, cooked with piquillo peppers and another heap of simple roasted, buttery fingerling potatoes.
By the time the dessert came out, I was stuffed and grateful for my choice of a knit dress (by no coincidence). We had baked lady gala apples with housemade vanilla ice cream, butterscotch, and pecans. From my experience, ad hoc fresh fruit desserts are much better than their baked goods and other desserts. In fact, on my first trip to ad hoc, I fell in love with mixed berries and cream.
Could I make this at home? I guess. Especially with the new ad hoc cookbook out. But could I make it like this with this detail and these ingredients? Ehh, probably not within my graduate student means and schedule. This is the essence of why I love ad hoc. It has all the elements of my favorite kinds of meals: delicious food that has a sense of familiarity, simplicity, and lack of pretension - executed with class and care. Overall, it was a lovely, satisfying brunch made more wonderful by the company of friends. It was even more special because I had introduced Susannah (note: link corrected) and Arnold to each other a few years ago via their respective personal food blogs (though these days Sus mostly writes about food through her YumSugar moniker), and this was their first time meeting in person. We spent the rest of the afternoon visiting Bouchon Bakery and checking out The French Laundry’s garden, and then some of us went on to taste some bubbly at Mumm winery. Though the weather was a bit cloudy and cool, the idyllic Napa experience was alive and well in the spirit of the day. Thanks for brunch and a great trip, guys!