Archive for Thomas Keller

Ad hoc, take 2: The letdown of the season

Posted in Restaurants, Reviews with tags , on March 5, 2008 by Susannah


image: ad hoc website

Last month I tried ad hoc for the first time and enjoyed it so much I practically ran home to rave about it. Naturally, when I had an opportunity to return last weekend, I jumped at the chance to go back.

I wish I hadn’t. Continue reading

Fried chicken at ad hoc: A religious experience

Posted in Restaurants, Reviews with tags , , on February 12, 2008 by Susannah

ad hoc

I have wanted to try ad hoc‘s food since its opening in 2006. The newest of Thomas Keller’s Yountville restaurants, it was initially supposed to be a temporary restaurant based on a prix fixe family-style menu. Today, the menu still stands, but its short-lived status does not: In September 2007, due to popular demand, the restaurant became a permanent fixture.
Perhaps part of the reason for the restaurant’s popularity is its fried chicken, which has a cult following like none other. Fried chicken night is hard to catch (pun intended), as the chicken is made twice monthly and only on Monday nights. For those of us who have 9 to 5 jobs, the chicken is particularly elusive, but a few weeks ago, I finally bit the bullet and made the hour-and-a-half drive up to Yountville from San Francisco.

Despite arriving on time, we waited at the bar with a drink for at least 15 minutes. We were finally seated in a cozy corner table. We were handed menus (although we didn’t need to order) and house bread. The bread basket was filled with two different kinds of bread: a triple alliance loaf with spelt, rye and flour, and a pain de campagne. While the pain de campagne was a rustic country bread with a similarity to sourdough, the triple alliance bread had a true coarseness to it, and was what I would have imagined to be true peasant bread.

Our first course, a contemporary twist on Cobb salad, began with baby iceberg wedges, which were covered with a vinaigrette of olive oil, vinegar, mustard and Worcestershire, then topped with kalamata olives, ham, parsley, red onions and soft-boiled eggs. While it didn’t have many elements of a Cobb salad (bacon, avocados, Roquefort cheese), it was well-balanced and light, a perfect start for the rest of the courses to follow.

baby iceberg cobb salad

But it was really nothing compared to our second course of buttermilk fried chicken, which was about to change my life. It was everything I’ve ever wanted in fried chicken: crispy on the outside, with a substantial breading that put every other fried chicken crust to shame; moist, juicy and tender on the inside, yet cooked through and not greasy; meaty, with little to no bones; just seasoned and spicy enough so that no hot sauce was necessary.

buttermilk fried chicken

Our waiter Nessim explained the many elements that contribute to the end result, starting with the ingredients. The chickens are local, organic, free-range young chickens, which explains how I was able to eat through an enormous thigh and have nothing to show for it save one small bone. The hens arrive fresh from Modesto, as the kitchen never freezes the poultry, and are brined for 12 hours and dredged in a coating of all-purpose flour, cayenne pepper, paprika and other spices, dipped into a bath of buttermilk and then dredged into the flour mixture for a second time, fried and topped with thyme.

Here’s where things start to get ambiguous: Fellow blogger Arnold posted Keller’s fried chicken recipe a while back when it was published in Food and Wine. The recipe is similar but doesn’t match up exactly: the breading doesn’t include cayenne, and more significantly, the chicken is breaded once, not twice.

Along with the generous portions of chicken, I enjoyed a glass of cava, a great wine to cut into the heaviness of a deep-fried chicken leg. The chicken was served with giblet gravy, which was good, but I’m not a fan of giblets. Collard greens and black-eyed peas were served alongside the chicken, and they were nearly just as delicious. The collard greens really stood up to the chicken and black-eyed peas; they weren’t overcooked and limp (common mistakes), and the leaves were kept whole rather than chopped into tiny pieces. The black-eyed peas were flavored with bacon (typical) and curry (atypical), and this added a great touch to the the traditional Southern meal.

Buttermilk fried chicken, collard greens and black-eyed peas

Our third course was a cheese course, with two cow’s milk cheeses: Red Gold from Elk Creamery in the coastal Mendocino town of Elk, and Pug’s Leap from down the road in Healdsburg. They were accompanied by raw almonds and organic clover blossom honey, which was some of the most aromatic honey that I’ve ever had, with notes of apricot and vanilla.

Ad hoc cupcakes

Last (and least), Andy and I had a trio of cupcakes for dessert. We had a vanilla cupcake with chocolate frosting and chocolate ganache filling; a chocolate cupcake with white chocolate frosting and filling; and a “madeleine” cupcake with cream cheese frosting and lemon curd filling. Having tried many different kinds of cupcakes, I can say with confidence that these were not remarkable at all — the cake was dense and somewhat dry, and the frostings were all cloyingly sweet.

Given the exceptional fried chicken, however, anything else would have been (indulge me this one time) just icing on the cake. By the time we drove home from Yountville through the foggiest of driving conditions, it was nearly midnight, but I didn’t mind much. I was already dreaming of when we’d be going back.

ad hoc, 6476 Washington St., Yountville, Calif. 707.944.2487

Bouchon Bakery, Part Deux

Posted in Destinations, Restaurants, Reviews with tags , on December 28, 2007 by Susannah

Apologies for not posting sooner — I’ve just returned from vacation in Las Vegas.

It has been nearly two months since my first experience at New York’s Bouchon Bakery, so while vacationing in Vegas, I thought it only appropriate to pay a visit to the Las Vegas outpost of the bakery, located in the Venetian.

I only had a minute to stop by, so I grabbed the ham and cheese baguette and carrot cake on the way out.

Carrot Cake

The ham and cheese baguette was the best I’ve ever had. It had been briefly toasted, and the baguette’s crisp, warm exterior gave way to a soft interior. The ham wasn’t too salty but wasn’t at all lacking in flavor; the semisoft, Swiss cheese was mild. I could taste mustard and the slightest creaminess of mayonnaise, just enough to enhance the flavors of the ham and cheese — exactly the way condiments are meant to be used.

I don’t like traditional carrot cake, but tried the carrot cake that Andy purchased anyway. The cake was a twist on the sandwich cookie, with the icing was the filling, sandwiched by two cake “cookies.” Neither the cake nor the icing was cloying, and the batter had a rich orange peel and nutmeg flavor. I actually found it to be mildly enjoyable.

I’ve attached a blurry on-the-run photo of the carrot cake, but I was too hooked on the sandwich to even stop to take a picture of it. Honestly.

Bouchon Bakery, The Venetian, 3355 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Las Vegas, Nev. 702.414.6200

Bouchon Bakery, Part Une

Posted in Destinations, Restaurants, Reviews with tags , on November 30, 2007 by Susannah

My recent New York visit allowed for a stop at Keller’s Bouchon Bakery in the Time Warner Center. Situated in the middle of the mixed-development supercenter and across from the Samsung store, it’s a fitting place for a cafe but an odd location choice for discerning restaurateur Thomas Keller. The most unusual part of it is not its placement in the shopping center but the glaring “SAMSUNG” sign that hangs above the seating area.

Time Warner Center’s Bouchon Bakery

After a short wait (in which I learned more about Samsung’s offerings), we took the first available seating, which was at the bar. We were almost immediately served bread with butter. The butter was salted and at the ideal temperature for spreading, and the bread, which was slightly warm, was soft in the middle and crispy on the outside, and made that unmistakably airy crackling noise when I pressed it into the palm of my hand.

Bread and Butter

My first course, chicken soup with herb dumplings, elevated chicken soup to a new level. This wasn’t the cloudy, oversalted, canned Campbell’s soup of Warhol’s fame; it was completely transparent and, if anything, it was underseasoned. I reached for salt and pepper only to realize that it wasn’t in plain sight. Fortunately, the poached dumplings were full of of chicken flavor, and seasoned to boot. The chicken wasn’t greasy (although the soup itself was); the vegetables were tender but not overcooked.

Chicken Soup with Herb Dumplings

My Bibb lettuce salad arrived, layered on the plate like petals on a rose. It was sprinkled with shallots, garden herbs, Roquefort cheese and red wine vinaigrette – delicate but delicious. Eating through the lettuce leaves was not unlike unwrapping a present.

Bibb Lettuce Salad

Andy had a ham and cheese baguette with madrange ham and emmenthaler cheese. When he previously ordered this at the Bouchon Bakery at the Venetian in Las Vegas, he recalled it being simple yet refined. Somehow, it didn’t translate this time around: the bread was hard and cold. We had the option of having it warmed in the panini press, but our server informed us that this made the bread about ten times harder. My feeling is that this dish could have been much better — I will have to try it when we revisit Las Vegas this December.

Ham and Cheese on Baguette

For a casual eatery, the service was excellent. Despite overhearing our server say she had a terrible headache, she was friendly and attentive. We received multiple coffee, water and bread and butter refills. This may have been due to the fact that we were sitting at the bar.

All in all, a positive experience. As possibly the country’s most upscale bakery chain, I look forward to visiting its Vegas counterpart next month in search for clues about the restaurant’s consistency. Stay tuned!

Bouchon Bakery, 10 Columbus Circle, 3rd fl., New York, New York. 212.823.9366