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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ad Hoc

Jealous. That's what we were when we heard our foodie friend, who will be known on this blog as The Cast Iron Chef (he's working on his Iron Chef status, you see) and his girlfriend spent a few foodie-filled days in Napa. One of the highlights? Dinner at Ad Hoc, which he's shared with us here. Allez cuisine!

My girlfriend and I recently had the opportunity to eat at Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc in the Napa valley. According to our waiter, Ad Hoc was originally intended to temporarily fill a space he'd intended for another restaurant concept. But what started off as an experiment turned into a full on restaurant. They offer a single menu daily, so you order just that. Though the waiter did ask if we had any dietary restrictions, so I suspect they could accommodate diners to some extent.

The first course was a rock shrimp and mushroom fritter, with fried artichokes and a lemon aioli, accompanied by a salad of local lettuces. The fritter had plenty of shrimp - the chef did not skimp here. The aioli had just a hint of heat, and complimented the fritter well. The salad was also very nice. It was composed of locally grown lettuces, including one that had a pattern similar to tiger stripes. I wish I'd taken better note of what it was called.

The second course was a beef skirt steak cooked sous vide, with cippolini onions and baby carrots, and polenta with a slow cooked egg. Sous vide cooking involves cooking in a vacuum sealed bag, immersed in water maintained at a relatively low temperature. The portion was larger than I expected. When I cut into the steak, it was very tender, and cooked expertly to a medium rare. Polenta was served on the side, with a slow cooked egg on top. The egg resembled a poached egg, and added a nice richness and flavor.

We weren't expecting much from the third course. After all, it was a cheese course, with spiced nuts and apples. We were wrong. The cheese was Roncal, a sheep's milk cheese from Spain. While it had the consistency of a medium hard cheese, the flavor reminded me of a cross between Parmesan and Swiss cheeses. This worked well with the locally grown Fuji apples and the nuts, which had a slight spiciness to them. When a cheese course impresses you, you know the meal is something special.

Dessert consisted of beignets, a type of French donut. This was served with two sauces, a creme anglaise, and a dark chocolate sauce. As if this wasn't enough, there was also a small dish of house made strawberry sorbet. This truly was a great way to end a stellar dinner. The beignets were hot and fluffy, and the sauces contrasted each other well. The sorbet was just as good.

All in all, it was one of the best meals we've had in a long time. The food was fantastic, and we found the service attentive, but not overbearing. The staff explained each dish as it was presented, then left us to enjoy the meal. In addition to the quality, we left there feeling very full and satisfied. I've recommended Ad Hoc to friends, and plan on eating there again.



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