Four women. 1 night in Napa. 8 kids left at home (and 1 teeny baby insisting on coming since it’s still in one mommy’s belly). (Does this sound like a bad movie yet?) Yes, I know who I am and yes, I was on a Moms Getaway. I’m not going to pretend that I’m hip or cool. I’m too old for it, my tummy bulges over my skinny jeans a little too much, I never know who sings what songs, and my car has 3 rows in it. But I don’t care. Because when I was hip and cool (if I ever was), I could never afford (either time or money) to take small weekend getaways. (Oh, and don’t pretend you’re hip or cool, either. Because I promise you that there will be a time when you have to explain to your child why there is a permanent sticker, i.e. a tattoo, on your lower back or a hole in your nose/lip/tongue/nipple and those moments will quickly remind you how distinctly not cool you are).
So this unhip and uncool mom took a seat in the back of her fellow mom’s station wagon (carseats removed) and took the blessedly short trip over to Napa. After some damage at the outlets (where I balanced my Barney’s Outlet purchases with wares for my children), we headed over to our hotel for a quick respite before our 5:00 p.m. reservation (yes, I said that) at — angels singing — Ad Hoc.
The original intention behind Ad Hoc (meaning “for this purpose”) was simply to hold the space at 6476 Washington Street. While Keller and his team considered what type of restaurant the space would be, Ad Hoc began to serve casual family style meals. Well, Keller and team never had a chance to decide what 6476 Washington Street would be…because the community response to Ad Hoc was so overwhelmingly positive that the decision was made to keep the space exactly what it already was.
Now, we all know that everything Keller touches seems to turn to gold (Bouchon, Bouchon Bakery — read later in this post). So it’s hardly worth a raised eyebrow to conclude that Ad Hoc is awesome. But why is it awesome? So awesome that if you offered me a reservation to Ad Hoc vs. a reservation at French Laundry, I’d gladly take the one at Ad Hoc? Well, let me start explaining.
The restaurant is convivial, casual, and welcoming. When you walk in, you’ll be warmly greeted by both a host or server, as well as an iron pig (or steel — not sure, as I didn’t take the time to pet him). In fact, there are many pigs in Ad Hoc’s decor, and I took this as just a little sign from heaven that I was meant to be best friends with this restaurant. The room is divided largely into two spaces. On one side, a large bar area and chalkboard listing the night’s menu. On the other side, tables, ceiling to table windows, and another pig. Whether you’re in your Sunday best or crocs and shorts (true story and if you must know, they were orange crocs), you’ll feel comfortable here. And upon a previous visit with my husband, I remember our server telling us so sincerely that we could wear flip flops at Ad Hoc. I know, seriously. How could you not love this place? Put my adoration aside, and let me show you my meal.
Ok, this is how excited I was to eat. I took a picture of the bread. What can I say? I’m a dork (remember? Not hip or cool.).
In greeting the first course, I nearly said “Hello gorgeous!” And it wasn’t because I was trying to pick up on the cute waiter (we actually had a cute waitress, instead). But the Broccolini & Cauliflower Salad was so beautiful when it arrived. The broccolini, purple and cheddar cauliflower, palladin croutons, black olives, ruby grapefruit, petite uplandcress, and roasted garlic vinaigrette provided a gorgeous palette of colors. My eyes took in the feast, and then my mouth savored the vibrant taste of the roasted vegetables against little notes of acidity and an earthy dressing. My favorite part of the dish was a surprise to me — the airy and light crunch from the croutons. Everything was so damn simple and so damn good.
The main dish was something I was all-a-twitter about for most of the day, since I checked online what the day’s menu was. Snake River Farm’s Pork Porterhouse. Now, I was confused about this. Porterhouse? Beef, pork, huh? But when the swine arrived, my confusion was resolved and then my mind went numb as I took in the intoxicating and dizzying aroma of big meaty slabs of pork cooked with and presented with the bone, alongside garden beets (from the French Laundry garden), mokum carrots, red rice, crisp pancetta, braised cavelo nero, and served with a sweet little side of apple mustard. It’s dishes like this that make me find religion, because I was seriously thanking the almighty upon my first taste.
The pork was juicy, tender, and dripping in its own juices. The red rice was more like a creamy risotto in texture. The veggies giving little notes of sweetness (from the carrots and beets) and some tartness (from the cavelo nero). The pancetta…ohhhhhhhh… the pancetta!!! Sliced delicately thin and then crisped in a way that I could never hope to replicate and crumbling gently on the tongue like a fresh homemade brittle. This is a dish that makes you want to cuss it’s so good. (Yes, I see the irony. First you find religion in the dish and then you end up denouncing it. Whatever. Something this good really is a little bit godly and a little bit evil.).
Offered as a supplement were housemade meatballs. Now, that’s sort of odd. Meatballs to supplement pork? But hey, who am I to argue? And my table of moms didn’t want to argue, either, so we obligingly requested 2 orders, please. The meatballs really tasted more of succulent sausage, made richer and more decadent with melted mozzarella, a generous dash of aceto balsamico, and roasted peppers. While it couldn’t compare to the dashing pork porterhouse, this meatball was deliciously satisfying and I would not have been embarrassed to have been caught eating the leftovers at 2am in my hotel room by my mates. Just sayin’.
Then, a lovely addition to any meal: the cheese course. That night, it was the Valdeon, with marinated dates, belgian endive, and pepper gastrique. Valdeon is a rich cow and goat’s milk cheese. I was longing for some honeycomb, but that’s ok. I can deal with marinated dates.
And then finally, dessert. A vat of tiramisu. This picture is misleading because this serving for our table of 4 stuffed mommies was humongous. The ladyfingers were housemade and super delicate. The tiramisu creamy, rich, and a little boozy. Plus, the restaurant accommodated my alcohol-allergic friend (I know, bummer) with some strawberry sorbet (more booze for me!).
So what can I really say? Didn’t that picture of the pork porterhouse say it all? Yes, it was fantastic. Yes, I expected it to be fantastic. So no real surprises here. But I should note that what I love most about Ad Hoc is that there is zero pretense here. You don’t have to wear a jacket (the French Laundry) or stick to a particular cuisine (Bouchon). You can just grab your San Francisco fleece and slip on your flip flops and be on your way. The pigs will love you no matter what.
And rather than get into the “dirt,” I’m supplementing this with a little Bouchon Bakery picture tour. Before we headed back to the city on Sunday morn, we stopped by the Bakery for some take home goodies. These little goodies made it abundantly more easy to leave Napa and return home for my kids’ dreaded Sunday afternoon swim classes.
The ever present line out the door.
The beautiful offerings inside.
Macarons the size of your head.
Just a little snack for later.
My take home box (sweet and savory monkey breads, bouchons, pan au chocolat, macarons).