Archive for July 2007

Ad Hoc Restaurant – Yountville

July 20, 2007 | Chuck
Family Style - Marinated Skirt Steak

Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc is my absolute favorite restaurant in the Bay Area. I can't think of any other restaurant that captures the spirit of Sunday Nite Dinner better than Ad Hoc. The food is rustic yet refined and served family style. The atmosphere is friendly, super casual and lacks any pretentiousness.

Ad Hoc offers a daily fixed-price ($45), four-course menu. There are no choices and only one menu is prepared each evening. The family style supper begins with a hearty soup or an extremely fresh salad, followed by a main course of seafood or meat. There's an interlude with an artisan cheese course. Then the meal is concluded with an amazing dessert.

Yesterday, Hungry Bear and I paid our fifth visit to Ad Hoc this year with our friends, Brennan and Deb. The menu was...

Haricots Verts and Potato Salad
Proscuitto di parma, walnut halves, shaved radishes,
sherry vinaigrette and fingerling potatoes

~

Marinated Skirt Steak
Sautéed wild mushrooms, pea shoots and Texas 1015 onion rings

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Cowgirl Creamery Sally Jackson Goat Cheese
Marshall farm’s wildflower honey and toasted almonds

~

Warm Chocolate Brownie
Whipped vanilla cream and caramel sauce

As always, the meal lived up to expectations. The green bean and potato salad was fresh and tasty with only a light dressing. The onion rings were nice and crunchy with a slight kick from the cayenne in the batter. The marinated skirt steak was perfectly cooked and melted in your mouth. I believe the highlight of the main course was the sautéed wild mushrooms (maitake, beech and oyster) with bacon lardons. If you go often, you'll notice the frequent use of applewood smoked bacon, and of course, everything is better with bacon!

The third course is always an artisan cheese course and we tend to under appreciate it, because we are excited about the upcoming dessert. Usually, I'm very full after the main course and want to save room for dessert, so the cheese gets a cursory taste. However, if you appreciate good cheese, you will love the cheese offerings at Ad Hoc.

Warm chocolate brownie with whipped cream and caramel sauce... it speaks for itself. Ok, I will say that it's the best chocolate dessert that I've ever had at any restaurant. The brownie is made with a bittersweet chocolate and there is a lovely, chewy outside and soft inside... spectacular!

After eating five amazing meals at Ad Hoc, I'll share some key insights about Ad Hoc.

  • Limit your bread intake - the bread from Bouchon Bakery is fantastic, but the portions are very generous, and you need to save room for dessert.
  • Ask for seconds - even with the generous portions, you can always ask for seconds if you particularly enjoy an item, side dish or dessert.
  • Ask questions - the staff is extremely friendly and knowledgeable about ingredients, cooking techniques and wine, so ask away and you'll learn about sous vide cooking and plate cut short ribs.
  • Signature dishes - the braised short ribs are to die for. The buttermilk fried chicken is served every other Monday. The panna cotta and Basque cake are popular desserts with the staff. A smaller version of the chocolate brownies, called bouchons, can be purchased down the street at its namesake bakery.
  • Sit at the bar - can't get a reservation? Just go early and grab a bar seat. You can also order a la carte at the bar if you aren't hungry enough for a four-course meal.
  • Daily Menu - the menu can be heard by calling (707) 944-2487 or by visiting Ad Hoc's daily menu. Although with the increased popularity, it is very difficult to reserve a table the same day.
  • Special requests - despite the single menu each day, dietary restrictions are accommodated.

I cannot rave enough about Ad Hoc. We actually prefer going to Ad Hoc over The French Laundry. For the price, we can dine at Ad Hoc FIVE times to every French Laundry meal. Plus, we love the casual, laid-back atmosphere at Ad Hoc. And nothing beats sharing a family style meal with good friends!

Location & Hours:
Ad Hoc
6476 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599
(707) 944-2487
Hours: Dinner Sunday through Saturday 
Update 08.30.2007: Starting Sept. 18th, Ad Hoc will be open seven days a week.
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Update 2.29.2008: Since this post, we have gone to Ad Hoc three more times and loved each meal. Here's another slideshow of the dishes we enjoyed recently. The pictures are taken at night with a flash, which I dread doing. Nevertheless, they turned out okay and the dishes still make my mouth water!

Basque Albondigas

[tags]ad hoc, thomas keller, yountville, chocolate, fixed price, rustic, refined, brownie, american[/tags]

Stir Fry Cabbage, Ground Beef and Mushrooms

I love cabbage! Stuffed cabbage, cole slaw, corned beef and cabbage, kimchi, cabbage soup... I love all things made with cabbage. If I'm at a restaurant and I see a dish made with cabbage on the menu, it's usually the one I order. I'm not sure how or when my admiration of cabbage developed, but it runs strong and deep.

Several years ago, I was enjoying some Thai larb and it suddenly occurred to me that I wanted to create a dish with similar flavors. But, I wanted to add a vegetable to balance it out and also make it healthier. Naturally, I immediately thought of using cabbage.

So I turned it into a stir fry dish served on rice. I wanted something simple, healthy and easy to prepare. The outcome was stir fried cabbage, ground beef and mushrooms. The flavors that I borrowed from Thai larb are the saltiness from the fish sauce and the tanginess from the lime.

Continue Reading and Get the Recipe »

Vietnamese at Chez Deb

July 16, 2007 | Chuck
Vietnamese Spring Rolls

Our friend, Deb, recently took a "Venture to Vietnam" cooking class that was offered by First Class Cooking in San Francisco. Deb loved the class and was looking for volunteers to test out her new cooking skills and recipes, so she invited Hungry Bear and me over for dinner this past Saturday.

Deb and her husband, Brennan, are our eating partners in crime when we go to Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc, which is my absolute favorite restaurant in the Bay Area. We even get the Ad Hoc menu emailed to us on a daily basis to drool over, and we sometimes take a last minute trip for dinner in Napa.

Using the Ad Hoc menu template, Deb surprised us and emailed the dinner menu to us on Saturday morning. The menu read...

Vietnamese Spring Rolls
Cold shrimp, carrots, cucumber, bean sprouts, cilantro and mint served
with a crushed peanut lime vinaigrette

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Lemongrass Beef Skewers
Tri tip beef marinated in a lemongrass garlic mixture

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Ca Kho To
Catfish simmered in a ginger, chili and caramel sauce

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Coconut Ice Cream/Mango Pudding
TBA - depending on chef’s mood later today.

Needless to say, we were very excited about dinner. When we arrived at Deb and Brennan's place, Deb had the spring rolls prepared, the beef skewers marinating and was in the process of making the caramel sauce for the fish. There was also a bottle of 2004 Quivira Zinfandel - Anderson Ranch decanting on the table.

Since Vietnamese food is my peep's food, I was impressed that Deb wanted to cook Vietnamese for me. Brennan was actually a little nervous for her, but she wasn't concerned at all.

Deb was right to be confident, as dinner was excellent. All the dishes were tasty and were easy to prepare with fresh, simple ingredients. They were also healthy (very minimal oil/fat) without sacrificing flavor. And the Zinfandel paired well with the lemongrass beef and ca kho.

Deb did make a homemade coconut ice cream mixture, but the ice cream maker had to chill for another 12 hours. So, dessert was MaggieMudd ice cream (toasty coconut, vegan coconut pineapple and mint chocolate chip) with toasted coconut shavings and chocolate chip cookies.  My favorite MaggieMudd flavor was the mint chocolate chip. After we finished dessert, Hungry Bear proclaimed, "Hungry Bear is no longer hungry."

Deb was gracious enough to send us home with leftover ca kho. For dinner on Sunday, Hungry Bear and I stir fried some water spinach and had the catfish on a bed of jasmine rice... yummy! The caramel sauce soaked rice was simply delicious.

Now I have to reciprocate a Vietnamese dinner and pull out my mom's secret recipes! 

[tags]vietnamese, ca kho, spring rolls, lemongrass, beef skewers, coconut, ice cream, chocolate chip, cookies, ad hoc[/tags]

Egg, Pepper Jack, Avocado Breakfast Sammy

I'm a big fan of breakfast sandwiches. My favorite breakfast sammy only takes five minutes to make. The sandwich consists of whole wheat bread, scrambled eggs, pepper jack cheese and avocado.

Last week at the Serramonte Farmers' Market, we picked up a hearty whole wheat bread with sunflower, sesame and poppy seeds. It's called Dakota bread and is made by the Great Harvest Bread Co. franchise in Oakland. The Dakota bread has a great texture from all the seeds and makes a great base for sandwiches. Any type of bread will do, but fresh bread from a local baker makes the breakfast sammy even better.

It doesn't get any better than toasted bread, melted pepper jack cheese, scrambled eggs and a ripe avocado... simply scrumptious. A little sprinkle of kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper over the avocado enhances its flavor even more. There's also a great contrast of textures between the crunchy bread, melted cheese, fluffy eggs and creamy avocado. Since I love spicy food, I top my eggs with a few shakes of a good hot sauce. One of my favorite hot sauces is Crystal Extra Hot hot sauce

I love this breakfast sandwich because it's super easy to make and a delicious way to start any day.

[tags]breakfast, sandwich, eggs, avocado, cheese, sammy, toast, hot sauce[/tags]

Dol Sot Bi Bim Bap

Muguboka Korean BBQ restaurant is in my hood (the Inner Richmond) and I've walked by it many times without trying it out. Last week, Jane, Hungry Bear and I finally went in and had a late lunch there.

When we entered the restaurant, the first thing we noticed was the absence of wood charcoal pits. Korean BBQ tastes better when prepared on charcoal but you also end up smelling like it when you leave. Muguboka is a small, low-key place with about ten tables. Most patrons had their food prepared in the kitchen but I did see a group of people grilling with portable gas burners at their table.

Anytime we try a new Korean BBQ place, we always have to get...

  • Dol Sot Bi Bim Bap
  • Bul Go Gi
  • Kalbi
  • Jap Chae

to compare and contrast the quality of the food. The lunch prices were reasonable at $8 - $9 per dish. Jane and I got the lunch specials that came with rice and a bowl of spicy tofu soup, which cost an additional $2.

Although it was hard to understand our waitress, she was very friendly and the service was very good. Our food came out promptly after we ordered and we quickly had feast of Korean food and banchan (side dishes) in front of us. We were also presented with a complimentary hae mul pa jun (seafood pancake).

We had seven banchans of kimchi, tofu kimchi, bean sprouts, radish kimchi, broccoli, salted anchovies and pickled seaweed. The banchans were adequate but fewer in number than at other Korean places. The only side dish that stood out was the pickled seaweed, which we had never had before and was good.

The dol sot bi bim bap was just ok. It wasn't very flavorful and didn't have enough meat or vegetables on top. The bul go gi was overcooked, dry and was insufficiently marinated. The seafood pancake suffered from the same lack of flavor issue, but it was complimentary... so no complaints.

We did enjoy the kalbi, spicy tofu soup and jap chae. Each dish was tasty and well seasoned. The spicy tofu soup and jap chae were definitely the best two items we had. The total bill was reasonable and came out to $18 per person including tax and tip.

Overall, Muguboka is not as good as our favorite Korean place in the Bay Area, Koryo in Oakland. It's also a step down from Brother's, another Korean BBQ restaurant in the Inner Richmond. However, given the close proximity, friendly service (which I found to be rare), reasonable prices and the smoke-free environment, we will definitely go back.

There are a lot of times when we want Korean food but pass, because we don't want to smell like Korean food afterwards. Muguboka offers a friendly, low-key setting for decent Korean food and the ability to walk out smelling like the way you walked in.

Location & Hours:
401 Balboa St (at 5th Ave)
San Francisco, CA 94118
(415) 668-6007
Monday - Saturday 11:00 AM - 11:00 PM
Sunday 4:00 PM - 11:00 PM
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If Korean food is foreign to you, check out this Korean food primer.

[tags]korean, bbq, inner richmond, banchan, kalbi, kimchi, spicy tofu, jap chae[/tags]