I love the phrase “ad hoc” – as in ad hoc committees and task forces, in ad hoc decisions, and in many other uses. According to the web, in the form of wikipedia, the phrase is Latin for "for this." (the relevant article is here.)
Some time ago, I was in Yountville, a life aspiration, and had a delightful treat of a birthday meal at. . . Ad Hoc. It was amazing. Here’s what we experienced:
First: we waited a tiny bit, entranced by the various pig-related objects around us. When seated, we began the thrilling part; they really get the notion of gluten free! This was important because we happened to be there on one of Ad Hoc's iconic fried chicken nights; and yes, they made gluten free (ok, the real issue is wheat free) fried chicken. And, looking at it, it seemed identical! Apparently it tasted magnificent. They also provided gluten free versions of all the courses, including (and I was incredibly jealous, despite the perfection of my bit) an over the top amazing black pepper biscuit. Yes, I had tiny, perfect, tasty grilled cheese sandwiches for that course which tsted cheesier and butter-y-er (not a woird I know) than anything I have ever tasted. I can remember the tanginess of the cheese. But I was still (and indeed remain) jealous of the biscuit.
Let me slow down, and take you through the courses. First: salad. Because every thing is served family style when possible, the salad was huge. It was chopped romaine with a creamy dill dressing. Sounds simple. Tasted amazing. Then: fried chicken. Ok, there was more -- side dishes of green beans and mashed potatoes. The latter were nearly all consumed by my partner. (Not really, but I know she loved them.) The chicken -- well, it was fried chicken. It was great. I could not make it that well. That's why it was Ad Hoc and not my dining room. If I have a criticism, it would be this: too much food. Way too much food.
All this was followed by the humor and fun of the cheese course. As noted above, mine included itny tiny little grilled cheese sandwiches. I still swoon. Then there was dessert. What wonder? A root beer float. Ordinarily, I would turn up my nose at a root beer float. I just do not like root beer. But: this was Thomas Keller, this was Yountville. I tried it. I liked it. I am not a convert, but I enjoyed what I had. Yes, indeedy.
All in all: I loved Ad Hoc. As I said, I do think the family style leads the restaurant to serve portions that are way too big (no, I am not asking for nouvelle cuisine with puny little 1980s size portions, but there is no word other than HUGE for the dishes that came out. While they were for two, I am not sure what two people on earth could have consumed all of what we received.) Think doggy bags – and really eat them thereafter.In our case, the chicken left overs made it all the way back to Chicago and were delicious as a meal at home.
Finally, I shoudl say this: we all know the story of Ad Hoc. (look it up if you do not); we know that he started mainly serving meals like those his staff at the French Laundry and elsewhere ate -- and loved -- between services. We all know it stuck. And we all know that the food is good. The real question -- and I know my answer: is it worth it? In my case, yes, The food was delightful -- and I love that I ate somewhere that I already "knew" through the cookbook. While I have not made fried chicken, I have made a wonderful chicken dish from the cookbook -- and it was swell to be there, in the flesh (as it were) dining.