Saturday, June 16, 2007

Simple Perfection from Thomas Keller in Yountville

Here we go from stinging nettles and chicken feet to mainstream from the perspective of no less a culinary icon than Thomas Keller. Here in California's Napa Valley wine country, ad hoc is the famed chef's most recently opened restaurant in Yountville, a town where his presence dominates with the French Laundry, Bouchon, and vegetable gardens everywhere. ad hoc is billed as for "for the temporary relief of hunger," as it awaits expected conversion into Thomas Keller's first "burger and bottle" operation.

Aside from a small but great wine list, the only thing on the menu at ad hoc is whatever $45 prix fixe meal Thomas Keller has decided to serve on a given date. The night we were there, Saturday, June 2, 2007, it was spiced skirt steak with rocket arugula and vidalia onions; haricot verts and potato salad; a plate with sliced Dry Jack Special Reserve cheese along with toasted almonds and Marshall's Farm Honey; then finally a dessert of mixed berries with granola and cream.

First came the haricot verts and potato salad. Needless to say, every string bean---presumably just picked ---was cooked to crisp-tender perfection. Perfect as well in every respect were the radish slices, walnuts, flat-leaf parsley, minced shallots and chives that were also part of this salad. Our waiter informed us it was dressed with an olive oil from France along with walnut oil, and lemon juice.

The skirt steak arrived next. The ingredients with which it was spiced were combined in a wonderful subtly blended manner that I would love to know more about. From a locally raised (Niman Ranch perhaps?) cow, it was medium rare and as lean, juicy and tender as any skirt steak I've ever enjoyed. The wild mushrooms and arugula were pretty straight forward, but oh, the onions! What were the spices added to the batter encasing them that rendered these fried vidalia slices delicious beyond description?

Between the main course and dessert, we enjoyed cheese, almonds and honey as pictured at left: nothing fancy, but plenty good.

Then came the dessert. What could be more simple than some freshly picked blueberries and strawberries lightly tossed with granola and served atop sweet and delicate whisked cream? Still, it somehow pleased me more then any similar dessert ever did before.

A meal so simple as this one, basically comfort food, is not the kind of dining experience that Unique Culinary Adventures typically covers. However, on the infinite scale leading to perfection, especially when Thomas Keller limits the selection to a single four course meal served family style, such an experience as this is unique and notable, even more so than chicken feet or stinging nettles cooked by yours truly.