A brief moment before passion overtook reason
I had my first Thomas Keller meal on Saturday night!!!
We tried to get into French Laundry at the last minute, but never heard back from the wait list. My brother-in-law gave my parents the French Laundry Cookbook when it was first published in 1999. I don’t think my parents ever really looked at the thing (shhh!). It’s not that they didn’t like it, but frankly I’ve never seen either of them follow a recipe, and Thomas Keller isn’t exactly the place to start if you’re following a recipe for the first time. They’re sort of old school James Beard-types, especially my father. He read all of Beard forty years ago and now rarely picks up a book in the kitchen with the exception of the occasional reminder from tattered pages. But I’m different from them. At the top of my Christmas list at the age of twelve was a classic Kitchen Aid mixer. How was I expected to work in a kitchen without one? I knew from a young age I needed tools! and that the right tools would open the doors to haute cuisine. Perhaps in my minds eye I already had my sites set on the French Laundry. I was destined to be a Kellerite (a label I’ll happily apply to myself, with confidence, in spite of the fact I’ve never eaten at his signature restaurants). I’ll never forget sitting in my parents’ living room home for winter break from college pouring over the French Laundry cookbook and marveling at the number of straining processes involved in any one single dish.
The journey to Saturday night dinner was long and filled with deliberation. After I got a spot on the wait list for French Laundry, I called Bouchon (TK’s French bistro), and secured a 9PM reservation. Very late for I. and I. There was something that felt a little staid about Bouchon (total preconception, but a preconceived feeling nonetheless). I’d heard rumblings about TK’s new spot: Ad Hoc, and decided to give them a try. A reservation at 8:15? We’ll take it! I visited the website and liked what I saw. First, the story of their organic origins:
The building at 6476 Washington Street was originally intended to be a very different type of restaurant. While we were designing it we thought we’d experiment by opening a temporary restaurant and calling it Ad Hoc, which literally means, “for this purpose.” The idea for Ad Hoc was simple – 5 days a week we’d offer a 4 course family style menu that changed each day, accompanied by a small, accessible wine list in a casual setting reminiscent of home. We wanted a place to dine for our community and ourselves. The decision to change over the restaurant, however, was taken out of our hands by our guests. The response was so positive, we simply couldn’t close. So, in September, 2007, we decided to stay open permanently and now we’re serving dinner 5 nights a week as well as Sunday brunch.
Then I checked out the menu (posted on their website daily) and got really excited. Here’s what we had:
Everything about our Ad Hoc dinner was ideal. In the world of education, we often talk about the importance of the context in which learning takes place. My learning about TK’s food was no exception. I arrived starving and admittedly slightly grumpy. I was immediately disarmed by the professionalism of the server who greeted me in her UPS-ish brown button down uniform (replete with Ad Hoc vintage trucker hat style patch on the sleeve). Hm…interesting way to start things off. Yet, I liked it. I was comfortable.
We were seated at a small table on the far wall from the door against a window. The decor is modern without being sterile or CB2. I immediately approved of the flowers: large scale arrangements of forsythia and immature almond branches. The crowd was diverse, and casual. There wasn’t a shred of pretension, just a bunch of people who seemed pretty happy to be eating great food.
We looked over the menu (which I’d already memorized). Our server came to the table and inquired about any food sensitivities or allergies. I didn’t want to tell him about I.’s dairy allergy, but when I. did so himself our server simply replied, “that’s no problem we’ll do something else for you [for courses three and four].” Wow. I was impressed. Tolerance of food allergies? Substitutions? I hadn’t expected as much.
I. doesn’t drink, but I love my wine. I said, “for wine I was thinking…” and before I could finish my sentence the waiter inserted, “the Riesling.” “I’ll take it!” I replied.
I love a knowledgeable server with a strong opinion. Nothing better in my book.
As it turns out, the Riesling was delicious with my salad. The sweetness of the wine played beautifully against the saltiness of the capers that accented fresh watercress with beets and fava beans from the French Laundry garden (where else?).
The rest of the meal is just a blur of bliss. Once that tri-tip came out I think my mind turned off and from then on I was strictly ruled by passion. I vaguely remember switching to red, but rational thought escaped me for the rest of the evening. I think I wanted to swim in horseradish creme fraiche. Any takers?