HAWK-EYES ON AD HOC
The final stretch of culinary school has felt like sprinting a mile. They’ve kept us on our toes with the design and execution of our own prix fixe menus for the restaurant and exit practical exam preparations on top of our typical school work load. Add after school jobs, the time consuming task of future job hunting, and holiday preparations to the list and you get a full schedule that leaves precious little time for blogging. I will circle round eventually to fill you in on the going-ons of the final months of culinary school but to tide you over until I can get to it, I’m posting the review of Ad Hoc I wrote for our front of house class in the restaurant.
“Ad hoc is Latin for “concerned with one specific purpose.” In Northern Californian the phrase roughly translates to mean “the casual dining venture of renowned chef Thomas Keller serving a varying four-course family-style fixed menu in a relaxed homelike setting.” Diverging from the refined extravagance driving all things French Laundry, accessibility is the name of the game at Ad Hoc as evidenced by the restaurant’s rustic fare, casually sophisticated atmosphere and accomodating hospitality style.
With the assured hand of a fine-dining veteran, Keller maintains conceptual consistency throughout the dining experience. The website is simple and easily navigable. Blissfully devoid of music, the homepage features the nightly menu (posted each afternoon) in typewriter-esque typeface, a clean baby blue and white color scheme, limited picture content, and user-friendly tabs clearly marking the different categories of information.
The reservations page provides the restaurant’s hours, address, and phone number as well as a link to opentable.com – a suitable means of acquiring a table for the evening, but real T.K. magic is reserved for those patient enough to call in and wait-out an automated answering message. Eventually with a live person on the other end of the line, topnotch training converges with inherent generosity to create a rare commitment to hospitality. No gluten? Not a problem. No dairy? No sweat. Change the time from 5:30PM to 9PM? You got it.
This simplicity with a smile approach continues into the dining room where mirrored tables await the prompt delivery of their diners from the hostess who ushers guests through the open, softly lit space. The décor is homey but in a vanilla Pottery Barn way that, frankly, lacks luster relying heavily on scenes of downtown Yountville seen through large, paned windows for visual interest. Though perhaps the restaurant’s bland atmosphere is a conscious continuation of the prosaic ambience of it’s touristy hometown.
The limited wine list, presumably selected with the evening’s fried chicken menu in mind, offers reasonably priced options by both the glass and the bottle. The food is proficient – we had an excellent steak salad with soshito peppers – but frequently seems to have simple confused with simplistic. Vegetable sides, though plentiful, feel like an after thought and while the kitchen does an admirable job accommodating dietary issues, most dishes require a qualifier to feel satisfying: “these Brussels sprouts are nice – for gluten, dairy-free.” And it cannot go unmentioned that my chicken thigh arrived at the table underdone to the point of bloody while my co-diner’s barley casserole was dried-out to inedibility.
The concept of Ad Hoc is appealing. Who doesn’t want to experience a home-cooked meal by the Executive Chef of the French Laundry? Sadly, the commitment to this vision feels insincere: the well-trained staff moves through the appropriate motions but the uninspired food betrays the absence of the celebrity chef behind the name. Our meal at Ad Hoc hardly qualified as bad but it certainly didn’t delight or amaze either and with a $96.00/person bill, delight ought to be a given. T.K, I expected more. “