Monday, May 12, 2008

Mother's Day Brunch at Ad Hoc

We had a lovely brunch yesterday at Ad Hoc - I'm not sure if there was really anything special for Mother's Day but they did serve their famous fried chicken, which was an unexpected treat!

We started with a plate of mini pastries from Bouchon Bakery, then a smoked trout salad with romaine leaves, apple cubes and walnuts. The dressing was light and very nice - the smoked trout was really good. Then we had the fried chicken, served with nice crisp waffles. Plus a side of sauteed spinach, Hobbs bacon and eggs that had been slowly steamed (?) for 90 mins, then placed into simmering water for another minute. This resulted in almost custardy eggs that were great on top of the waffles. Finally we finished with fresh strawberries served with a creamy marscapone-based sauce and a warm sugar cookie.

The drink service was also impressive - nicely brewed pots of tea (good tea selection), and a special bottle of Blue Apron Ale from the Brooklyn Brewery ($25 bottle of beer!). The story goes that each of TK's restaurants gives him a gift for Christmas and they spend a lot of time trying to figure out a good gift for him. Ad Hoc gave him a basket of NY-themed foods, including a small bottle of ale from the Brooklyn Brewery. He liked it so much that he asked the brewery to brew a special version for his restaurants. Now they ship this special ale across the country for his Napa places and the $25 per bottle is pretty much the cost. It's a big bottle and for you beer aficianados, I was told it was like a much better version of Chimay. And you can only get it at his restaurants, including Per Se in NYC.

My companions also loved their espressos - we asked for details and they use Illy pods (not beans!), but their machine is "tuned" on a weekly basis for optimal performance. It's a much tested process - they tried out 30 different water filters before they settled on their current standard.

And I have to say that the service staff at Ad Hoc was incredibly knowledgeable and friendly - and honestly, just so happy to be working there. It was impressive!

Oxbow Public Market - Napa

Our over-indulgent weekend continued at the new Oxbow Public Market in Napa, a much-needed short walk away from our hotel.

The market is quite small and very manageable, which was a nice change from the sometimes overwhelming Ferry Building in SF. We wandered through and bought a picnic from the Fatted Calf (beef jerky), Model Bakery (lemon bars, bacon bread - yum!, baguette), Rotisario (roast chicken, asparagus salad), Three Twins Ice Cream (meyer lemon sorbet), Oxbow Cheese Merchant (bean salad, olives, gruyere, Eclipse goat cheese, Bleu D'Auvergne blue cheese). We also stopped at the Olive Press (some very nice Arbequina oil) and the Whole Spice Company (Zhug - a nice melange of hot spices).

We returned to our hotel and ate by the Napa River.

Is the French Laundry worth it?

We were fortunate enough to be invited to join some good friends for lunch at the French Laundry this past Saturday - the 9 course prix fixe is $240, service included. I also sprung for the foie gras upgrade for an additional $30.

The meal was just sublime. All but one of the courses was out of this world - the one course was good, just not transcendental. And I inquired about the fact that "coffee and donuts" was missing from the menu, and they served it to us (all four of us) at no additional charge. Plus the price included tea/coffee and bottled water.

I say it's well worth it - of course, I didn't have to invest the time in obtaining the reservations, so I got off lucky! Get your reservations now!

Lunch at French Laundry - Chowhound post

This was my second time dining at FL - my first dinner was 8-9 years ago. And somehow luckily for me, both the reservations were procured by someone else!

We arrived a few minutes early and walked around their pretty demonstration garden across the street - they had orange cauliflower and large purple plants that were labeled brussels sprouts. Plus numerous other interesting vegetables.

At 11:15 a.m. our party of 4 was led upstairs to a window table. All four of us picked the Chef's Tasting ($240 including service) and since only 2 of our group were drinking, we asked our waiter to set up a wine pairing (which turned out to be 3 half bottles over the course of the meal - $275).

We started with small cheese gougeres - could have definitely had a whole basket of these. The next amuse was smoked salmon and creme fraiche, served in a small cone. Again, very yummy.

Our first course was caviar in a cauliflower panna cotta - I couldn't really taste the cauliflower, but since I like caviar, this was a nice little dish but not out-of-this world. The second course was a choice between a Hawaiian hearts of peach palm salad and a foie gras torchon ($30 additional). Two of our group had the salad which was petite and tasty and the other two had the foie gras. This was a generous serving, served with warm brioche toast and little balls of bananas (interestingly good). Funnily enough, less than a minute after the first plate of toast arrived (still warm), they substituted it for another plate - saying that the chef wanted to make sure we had warm toast!

We were also served a selection of salts that were unusual - a lighter salt from Maine, a sel gris (which is apparently the lower layer under fleur de sel) and a reddish salt they called Jurassic salt (which was the strongest of the 3). The salts were great on the creamy local butter that they served. They also served a seasoned butter that was nice. We completely finished both tubs of butter!

The third course was a choice of black bass fillet or tuna tartare with whipped fava beans. Tuna was good but the bass was transcendental - perfectly sauteed and served with tiny fresh english peas. Next was a nice poached Maine lobster tail - again, very nicely done, served with very tender asparagus.

The fifth course was a choice of white quail or a jambonette of rabbit. Both were remarkable. The quail was served with small white meat and dark meat portions with some truffle jus and very sweet corn. It was crisp and tender. I could have eaten twice the portion without blinking. The jambonette was an unusual preparation - shredded rabbit meat that was seasoned and moist, panko breaded and fried, served like a lollipop. This wasn't my pick but I did taste it and it was surprisingly delicious. I had a second taste ;)

The sixth course was a lamb ribeye - I was most looking forward to this, since I love lamb. And it was ok - would have been rated good at any other place but it just wasn't anything particularly special. The small fried artichokes on the side were really good (and I don't like artichokes).

The seventh course was the cheese course - Mrs. Quicke's Cheddar from the UK served with broccoli florettes and mushrooms. This was just ok for me. The cheese didn't seem special enough.

The eighth course was a buttermilk sherbet, very unusual and good for palate cleansing. Then we had a surprise course of "coffee and donuts". We had this the last time I was there and I had asked about it when we ordered. Our waiter told me the chef could prepare it for us - and it arrived for all 4 of us, as a special, additional course. No extra charge. It was delicious - a small sugared donut, served with the hole sitting on top (cute) plus a coffee semifreddo in an espresso cup on the side. Plus it was free! That made me happy.

The dessert course was a choice between "milkduds and popcorn" and a pistachio layer dessert served with strawberry sorbet. The former was an intense bar of chocolate dessert with layers of mousse, chocolate malt etc with a popcorn sorbet. I think I was too full to appreciate this. The second dessert seemed a little bland but the sorbet was excellent.

Finally, for the "mignardises", the ladies were served two deliciously small portions of vanilla bean creme brulee. And for the life of me, neither my husband nor I can recall what the two men were served (this wasn't listed on the menu). Whatever it was, it was good.

We finished up with coffee and tea - really good espresso and proper tea service. Plus little orange biscotti and chocolate covered macadamia nuts.

We were given bags of shortbread cookies as a parting gift, copies of the day's menus in a nice folder and rolled out of there around 3 pm.

Overall, I think I liked having lunch better because I didn't have to go to bed so full.