Ad Hoc: Unpredictable, Family-Style Dining in the Key of Keller

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Restaurant Napa Valley

Ad Hoc takes Thomas Keller's refined cooking in a more comforting direction.

When culinary legend Thomas Keller acquired Yountville Diner’s former home, he planned to transform the space into a “burgers and bottles” restaurant. In the meantime, he opened Ad Hoc, a short-term solution with a clever motto: “For temporary relief from hunger.” Keller and his team really play up the temporary aspect, down to peel-away stickers with the restaurant’s name on the business cards. In a surprise twist, casual Ad Hoc has proven so popular, Keller is thinking long-term, and he’s scouting other locations for his burger-and-wine concept.

Ad Hoc chef Jeffrey Cerciello is cooking a four-course dinner from Thursday to Monday. It’s unclear how involved Keller is; I asked, and our waiter said that’s “top secret.” The menu is different each night, a la Chez Panisse. Unlike Chez Panisse, the menu is a reasonable $45 per person, and it’s served family-style (self-serve from big plates and bowls). The menu is never exactly the same. A couple dishes have gained a following, including fried chicken and sirloin tips, but they never have the same accompaniments.

Chez Panisse has their menu online, so you have the option to reserve a date with a menu that interests you. There’s no such option at Ad Hoc; you get what they serve. Thankfully, with the way Keller and his underlings source their ingredients, it’s a safe bet.


Wine Napa Valley

Ad Hoc is centrally located in the Napa Valley, so it was no surprise that most of the wall behind the bar serves as a wine rack. The wine-flanked blackboard lists the day’s menu. Further details appear in the dossier-like food and drink menu.

Pig Napa Valley

Our waiter was more forthcoming about the restaurant’s pig statues. He said the motto at Keller’s restaurants is “Be the bacon,” which has many meanings. First, there’s the obvious: bacon makes every dish better. Second, pigs make the ultimate sacrifice to improve the dish. Employees at Ad Hoc aren’t expected to sacrifice their lives for the good of the restaurant, but they are expected to do everything in their power to improve guest dining experiences.

Bread Napa Valley

The bread basket featured a wheat miche and the lighter Palladin, named for Keller’s chef friend, Jean-Louis Palladin. Breads came with butter and a dish of sea salt, perfect for sprinkling on the crusty breads.

Salad Napa Valley

Hearts of Romaine Salad came topped with torn garlic croutons, pickled red onions, Pecorino Romano and anchovies. On the side: creamy anchovy dressing. Romaine was cool and crisp, the croutons not too crispy, and pickled red onions added a sweet, vinegary kick. Very good salad.

Steak Napa Valley

Allison wasn’t excited about eating at a restaurant with no choices, and said she’d only be happy if they served beef. Lo and behold, we entered Ad Hoc and saw “warm sirloin tip” listed on the blackboard. Allison was more than happy with the Snake River Farms Wagyu Sirloin Tip. Served au jus in a bowl with mild piquillo peppers, baby fennel, black olives and fingerling potatoes, the dish was simple and delicious. The juicy beef was especially terrific, with a thin outer char and excellent flavor. Unfortunately, my camera flash washed out the sirloin’s wonderful rosy hue.

Cheese Napa Valley

The cheese course was underwhelming: Wisconsin Sheep Dairy Co-op Dante paired with toasted almonds and thin-sliced Fuji apples. The hard cheese had a pretty good nutty flavor, but wasn’t my favorite, and the almonds and apples weren’t exciting.

Cake Napa Valley

Basque Cake, an almond cake with a faintly sweet exterior, paired with apricots and cherries poached in white wine. Like the rest of the meal, the cake was simple and satisfying.

After a day of wine tasting, we were wined out, so we drank Gus’ Meyer lemon soda – “grown-up soda,” and Vernor’s ginger soda – aged for four years, just as it was in the 1860s.

When a chef of Thomas Keller’s caliber opens a restaurant, expectations are sky-high. Happily, I wasn’t disappointed. The atmosphere is relaxed, and the crowd is excited to be there. The food wasn’t sophisticated, but it was certainly satisfying, with top-notch ingredients and generous portions. Two of the four dishes, I probably wouldn’t have ordered if I saw them on a menu, but they were clearly good for what they were. Some people are turned off by a dictatorial “you will eat what we make” approach to dining, but since I’ll eat anything, it’s exciting to walk into a culinary crap shoot. Thankfully, when eating at a Keller restaurant, even when he’s not in the kitchen, the diner’s dice are a little loaded.

Ad Hoc: Unpredictable, Family-Style Dining in the Key of Keller

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Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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