Monday, February 12, 2018

ad hoc

Yountville, California, February 11, 2018—
INTO ENEMY TERRITORY today — not Stanford, but the Napa Valley — to see an interesting exhibition of the photographs of Paul Child, documenting his life with Julia in postwar France.

And to dine. It was Paul Bocuse's birthday, Paul Bocuse who recently died, the celebrated inventor of La Nouvelle Cuisine back in the 1960s. This was important in its day for finally displacing what I think of as Swiss-Hotel Cuisine from the culinary establishment. It was, in a way, in its context, analogous to the arrival in our country, a little later, of "California Cuisine."

Thomas Keller, the celebrity chef of the Napa Valley (The French Laundry, Ad Hoc, Bouchon bakery) decided to celebrate this occasion with a menu inspired by Bocuse and cuisine nouvelle. Ad Hoc is a "casual" supplementary restaurant to the hautee cuisine tasting-menu The French Laundry, sharing its access to a fine salad garden, an extensive wine list, and the excellent Bouchon bakery, but lacking linen tablecloths, extensive presentation-heavy courses — and pleasant acoustics.

We dined early, 5 pm, and on a Sunday: but the room was soon packed with a noisy, rather young crowd, some with very small children. (We'd been amused, earlier, to see dozens of these people — daytrippers, I'd bet — out photographing themselves and one another in the fields of mustard blossoms currently filling the valley.)

The first course was a variant on salade lyonnaise: frisée, bacon chunks, a poached egg, a vinegary dressing. This is a favorite of mine, and this version was good. The frisée was in fact a hybrid of curly endive (the usual and authentic lettuce) and some other, sweeter, rather meatier lettuce; the bacon was lightly smoked in the American manner; and the egg was not really poached but slow-cooked to a low temperature in the current fashion: but the result was a delicious salad, and I'm sure Bocuse would have approved.

     🍷Graves, Ch. Villa Bel Air, 2014: just what a Sauvignon blanc should be

I'm not sure he'd have approved the next course — a whole small chicken , perfectly roasted, then split in half and presented just so, with little jus. The bird should have been more adequately salted before cooking, and I like the skin a bit crisper. I should roast my own damn chicken, I guess.

With it, a nice dish of tiny lentils and another of deep but I thought one-dimensional mushrooms.

     🍷Mondeuse, Domaine Louis Maguin (Savoie), 2011: a favorite varietal of mine, this was perfectly mature and true to type, deep and finished

Came next a cheese course, but not what you'd have found in the French countryside, where a chariot would trundle to the table offering a variety. This was a half round of local (Andante Dairy) Saint Marcellin-style cheese, with delicious buttery toast and a small pot of honey.

     🍷Bourgogne blanc, Roche e Bellene, 2014

And then perhaps the best course of the meal, unless the salad won that honor — a beautifully made, silky, deeply flavored custard, unfortunately not that well brulée, probably not to order. But the custard itself was fine, and brought its accompanying wine to life.

     🍷Jurançon, Charles Hours "Clos Uroulat," 2012: soft, fruit, balanced sugar, plenty of finesse
Ad Hoc, 6476 Washington St Yountville; 📞+1 (707) 944-2487

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

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