Friday, January 6, 2012

Family style.

Way back when at the beginning of December, I flew out to San Francisco for the very best reason of all - to celebrate a friend. My friend Jason turned 30 recently, and 13 of us gathered in Sonoma to fête him with the proper pomp and circumstance. On our last day, we headed over the hills to Yountville for a visit to one of Jason's very favorite places, Thomas Keller's family-style restaurant: Ad Hoc.

The deal with Ad Hoc is that you show up (you can, and probably should, make a reservation) and eat whatever's on the menu for the day. You can sign up for menu updates on the website, but I kind of like the idea of being surprised. We went for Sunday brunch and completely hit the jackpot: chicken and waffles. Before the true debauchery started, though, we had a delightful citrus salad, with crème fraiche and frisée and candied nuts. It was amazing - the different kinds of citrus (pink and ruby grapefruit, blood oranges) were luscious and juicy, and the nuts added richness while the crème fraiche added body.

And then came the main event: fried chicken with sourdough waffles. Two dishes like this one were brought to the table, and the six of us killed them both. How could we not? It was the best fried chicken I've ever had. (Keep in mind, that's coming from a Yankee, so...) I could tell the meat had been brined, but only in the good way (not in the overly-salty, too-watery way), and the crust was crisp, flavorful, and adhered. Adhering is key, you know, because you want some in every bite. Skin that comes away in one piece with the first bite is no good to me.

The waffles were delicious, too - crisp on the outside, tender on the inside (not unlike the chicken, come to think of it), and speckled with bits of rosemary. Doused with cream gravy and maple syrup, the plates of chicken and waffle were good. So satisfying. So wonderful.

I could only eat three bites of dessert, but not for lack of delicious. It was a spiced chocolate pot de crème with Chantilly cream, with snickerdoodle shortbread served alongside. The cookie and chocolate went marvelously together, and that's coming from a woman who rarely likes anything other than marshmallow, caramel, salt or nuts coming anywhere near her chocolate.

After lunch, we went for a little stroll around Yountville, starting in the garden behind the restaurant. As a born and bred Northeasterner, I don't know that I'll ever get over the magic of citrus trees in full bloom. Or perfect fried chicken.

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