Ad Hoc – Napa, CA

“For temporary relief from hunger.”

The slogan is the first clue that Ad Hoc is no French Laundry.

You don’t have to book two months in advance to the day. You don’t have to worry about receiving a call that your reservation has been cancelled (while you’re driving on the interstate on your way to Napa, no less) because you confirmed a mere 24 hours before instead of the 48 required by the restaurant.

You and your dining companion share one menu clipped to a brown manila folder. On it is the four course prix fixe meal for the day. What you see is what you eat. There is no other choice.

For the most part, the service is casual and pleasant. You may do a double take when a question like “May we ask the chef to prepare your dinner now?” comes out of the blue. This is just to remind you that even if everyone around you is in jeans, you are dining in a Thomas Keller restaurant after all.

The food is not meant to be worshipped, it is meant to be eaten. Although the waiter announces each course, he doesn’t do it with such awe that you feel like you have to genuflect at the arrival of the salad. It is a heavenly salad, though. The rocket arugula is a little more peppery; the endive, a little more crunchy than the supermarket variety. Since Ad Hoc shares the same vegetable garden as the French Laundry, this is not a surprise.

The kitchen veers away from the prevailing trend of complicating cooking with too much chemistry. There are no attempts to turn familiar dishes upside down or into edible puns. No. Ad Hoc chooses to focus on well executed comfort food. Apparently, they even serve fried chicken on occasion, and that dish has a loyal following.

So, you may not ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ at the sight of the pork belly and shrimp on a bed of broccolini, but you do smack your lips at the thought of how well they’ll share the space in your stomach with the salad. The entree is served family style and looks like a one pot meal. Of course, you know better. Judging from the crispy skin of the pork belly, the plump and barely opaque gulf shrimp, as well as the tender but still bright green broccolini, each component has been cooked separately and to their optimal temperature before being assembled in the dish.

The brownie is a misnomer. It’s a 5″ diameter slab of solid chocolate; in fact, when you cut through it with a fork, it doesn’t crumble, it smears. Thankfully, you have the foresight to share one instead of each having your own; otherwise, you would be bouncing off the walls from the sugar rush.

Since there is no ten course meal to hold you hostage to your seat for four hours, dinner does not feel like you’re sitting through Latin mass pre-Vatican II. If you’re an old married couple, you can be happily on your way in under two hours.

Menu:

endive & arugula salad, k&j orchard peaches, shaved fennel, black olives, marcona almonds, stone fruit vinaigrette

crispy pork belly, gulf shrimp, romesco sauce, melted leeks, broccolini, saffron calasparra rice

agian dairy tomette d’helette cheese, tomato gazpacho

warm chocolate brownies, whipped vanilla cream, caramel sauce

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~ by Jaded Fork on August 6, 2008.

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