Ad Hoc, Yountville, California
A couple of years ago, Thomas Keller opened up a new restaurant called Ad Hoc (6476 Washington St, 707-944-2487). It was meant to be casual, but despite this, the restaurant still featured fixed-price menus. So I figured that the staff would be doing some hard-selling of wine tonight, given that every single diner would be paying the same $49 charge for food. But that was not the case at all. Not only did the waiter not push any wine, he suggested tap water. This restaurant was completely unpretentious: the staff was friendly and laid-back, the food was served family-style, and even a Johnny Cash song or two played overhead. What a pleasant surprise!
Through all of this, every single dish in this four-course meal was spectacular. Tonight's menu started with a Marble Potato & Fennel Confit Salad before moving onto the Snake River Farm's Kurobuta Pork Loin and lentils. What shone about these was the sheer freshness and quality of the ingredients; the meat of the kurobuta was already savory and tender enough on its own, but including a bit of the fat with it just propelled it into heaven. The third course was my favorite part of the meal: Idiazábal, which was a Basque cheese made from sheep's milk, paired with maitake mushrooms on top of a crispy rich toast. It was incredibly savory and downright delicious. The meal closed with a flaky pear tart that I easily inhaled despite the fact that my stomach was ready to explode from the three courses earlier.
Was there anything that I didn't like? Well, I wasn't a huge fan of the Blue Apron Ale, an in-house beer that was apparently created by the Per Se team in New York (thus also giving them the ability to charge a whopping $24 a bottle). I mean, yes the flavor was deep and sophisticated like an American microbrew often is, but that's exactly why it didn't resonate with me, as I prefer a much simpler English ale. That aside though, this meal was easily one of my all-time-favorites. If my meals at both Ad Hoc and Bouchon have been this good, then a French Laundry experience will definitely have to enter the picture one of these days. If only it weren't so darned hard to get a reservation there.