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Ad Hoc The French Laundry Thomas Keller

The French Laundry (with an Ad Hoc chaser)

We went to The French Laundry last year around this time and didn’t think we would be back so soon. But when our friend Simone said she had a reservation for four to celebrate her boyfriend Seb’s birthday on December 20 and asked us to join them, the only real answer was, “Hell, yes!”

The Clothespin

Seb and Simone (S&S) are a great couple to know because aside from being two of the most generous people we know, when it comes to food, they’re hardcore, balls-to-the-wall omnivores and cooks. This was their second trip to The French Laundry, as well, and while we both knew what to expect when we walked in the blue door, none of us had any idea how awesome this day was going to be.

What's behind the blue door?The blue door beckons…

Since it was right before Christmas, the restaurant and grounds were decked out with holiday flair, including a Christmas tree in the garden with clothespin ornaments.

Clothespin Ornaments

We were seated upstairs by a corner window with a view of The French Laundry garden across the street. This location was great because there was lots of natural light for pictures. (It’s also right by the restroom, which is helpful when you’re going to be sitting for a few hours.)

S&S and I got the Chef’s Tasting Menu and my wife opted for the Tasting of Vegetables, which isn’t vegetarian but gives prominence to vegetables. S&S both opted for the wine pairings and the truffle course, while I did a non-alcoholic pairing featuring a selection of by GuS and DRY Sodas and my wife stuck to the complimentary NORDAQ-filtered water.

I don’t want to go into every dish of this meal, but here are some of the highlights. You can also view a slideshow of the full picture set below.

The Vol au Vent de Legumes D’Automne was the second course of the Tasting of Vegetables and it was one of the most beautiful dishes of the afternoon.

Vol au Vent de Legumes D'AutomneVol au Vent de Legumes D’Automne
Romaine Lettuce, Sugar Snap Peas, Fennel Bulb, Radishes and Port Wine Reduction

My third course was the Grilled Pavé of Japanese Toro, and they showed us the slab of fatty tuna they were using before they brought out the dish. It looks just like my favorite luncheon meat in a can! :)

ToroToro or SPAM? Either way, it’s all good.

Here’s the final plated dish:

Grilled Pave of Japanese ToroGrilled Pavé of Japanese Toro
Satsuma Mandarins, Eggplant, Fennel, Nicoise Olives, Arugula, and Pimenton

I’m so happy that Seb & Simone ordered the truffle course because I’m wouldn’t normally break down and get the truffles. These were white truffles from Alba grated over a bowl of risotto, and as you can see, it was a generous helping. (photo by Simone)

Risotto with White Truffles from AlbaRisotto with White Truffles from Alba
Brown Butter

In lieu of a big bowl risotto and truffles, we were presented with a White Truffle-infused Custard with Black Truffle Ragout and Chive Potato Chip, served beautifully in a hollowed at egg.

White Truffle-infused CustardWhite Truffle-infused Custard
Black Truffle Ragout and Chive Potato Chip.

Coffee and Doughnuts are a French Laundry classic. This isn’t on the menu, so make sure you request this when you make your reservation or ask the server when you arrive to see if it’s available.

Coffee and DoughnutsCoffee and Doughnuts
Cinnamon Doughnuts and Coffee Semifreddo.

After the Coffee and Doughnuts, we took a short break to visit the kitchen before the dessert courses started. When we first sat down at around 11:15am, we asked if Thomas Keller was around, and our server Mischa said she hadn’t seen him. It was around 4:30pm when we got to the kitchen, and the first thing we saw when the kitchen door swung open was Keller expediting dishes. It had been two weeks since the four of us first met Chef Keller at the Ad Hoc at Home book signing (S&S were our guests). S&S met him again the next day at Omnivore Books in San Francisco because Seb wanted to buy a signed copy of Under Pressure and get the Keller-authored pamphlet included with his new Polyscience Immersion Circulator signed by chef, too. Ahhh…stalk— I mean fanboys. :)

Hangin' with Mr. KellerReunited and it feels so good…

We reintroduced ourselves to Keller, and he said he remembered us from the book signing(s), which made three out of the four us giddy. Keller gave us a brief overview of the kitchen as Seb and I drooled over the half-size hotel pans fitted with immersion circulators and filled with butter—this is where lobsters spend their final moments.

The KitchenSee those pans filled with butter on the left? That’s where the best lobsters go to die.

There are many cool things in kitchen, but one of the best is the live video feed with the Per Se kitchen in NY. This allows Keller to keep an eye on things at his restaurants, and I read somewhere that a video feed from the Bouchon Beverly Hills kitchen is in the works.

Chef Thomas KellerThe Eye of Keller is on Keller Earth (i.e. the TFL and Per Se kitchens).

I received the daily Ad Hoc menu email during the first part of our meal, and we started joking about going there for a “dessert” of grilled short ribs. We were going there anyway because I had to pick up a couple prizes for Menu for Hope, and when I mentioned this to Keller he seemed surprised yet fascinated by this plan, but I don’t think he thought we would follow through.

We returned to our table jazzed at meeting Keller again and ready to polish off dessert so we could head down to Ad Hoc. We were celebrating both Seb and my wife’s birthdays, so their desserts got an little extra flourish. Here’s Seb’s:

Gateau Saint Nizier Au ManjariGateau Saint Nizier Au Manjari
Mango Chili Relish, Valrhona Cocoa Nibs, Lime Foam, and Coconut Milk Sorbet

And here’s my wy wife’s birthday opera cake:

C's Birthday Opera Cake
Opera Cake
Praline Namelaka, Milk Granité and Coffee Ice Cream

The mignardises included a pecan pie with creme chantilly, a selection of chocolate truffles, and some amazing toasted macadamia nuts that were rolled in chocolate and caramel and dusted with confectioner’s sugar.

Pecan Tart with Creme Fraiche ChantillyMignardises

As we left the restaurant we were presented with menus signed by Keller, some French Laundry shortbread cookies, and the birthday kids got a package of French Laundry chocolate bars—think Nestle Crunch but 1000x better.

Birthday Chocolate Bars and TFL ShortbreadParting gifts…

While our first trip to The French Laundry was an amazing experience, I think I got caught up in the mystique of the restaurant and was really nervous and uptight the whole time. This time I went in with a really laid-back attitude, and it made the experience a lot more enjoyable and relaxing.

Here’s the complete set of French Laundry pictures:

[pictobrowser type=”flickr” userID=”arndog” albumID=”72157623041520340″]

The Ad Hoc Chaser

We left The French Laundry happy and sated, but we weren’t that full so we headed down to Ad Hoc. After being welcomed by Ad Hoc General Manager Nick Dedier and the rest of the Ad Hoc crew, we took our places at the bar and ordered two a la carte orders of grilled short ribs (one for each couple) and four ice cream sandwiches, you know, just to finish off the day with something sweet.

Grilled Short RibsAd Hoc’s Grilled Short Ribs
TFL garden tokyo turnips, French round carrots, red radishes, baby leeks, Colorado rose potatoes

As we were waiting for our food, Keller showed up to drop off a bottle of wine for another party that was dining there. Keller saw us sitting at the bar and said, “Oh, you’re here!” and bid us good eating. Ad Hoc Chef de Cuisine Dave Cruz came out a little later and said, “Not bad. Twice in one day.” (Simone is now convinced that Keller stalked us!)

As I was finishing some of the best short ribs I’ve ever eaten, Nick came over and said something to the effect of “I’m so proud right now.”

Ice Cream SandwichesIce Cream Sandwiches
Chocolate Chip Cookies and Vanilla Ice Cream

Seven hours later, we finally left Yountville a little “food drunk” but blissful and elated at how an unassuming December day unfolded into truly memorable one.

Happy New Year and all the best for 2010!

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Ad Hoc cookbooks reviews steak The French Laundry Thomas Keller

Cook the Book: Ad Hoc at Home – Asparagus and Steak

Ad Hoc at HomeI’ve never been genuinely excited about a new cookbook release, but Ad Hoc at Home marks the first time I’ve had a real personal connection to the recipes in a single cookbook. Inuyaki readers know that I’m a fan and regular diner at Thomas Keller’s casual dining restaurant, and the Ad Hoc Menu Archive is one of the most popular features of this site. My wife and I have been to Ad Hoc 30 times in the last 2½ years (it’s our favorite restaurant) and have always come away wishing we knew how to make some of our favorite dishes, desserts, and condiments at home. I’m very happy to report that Ad Hoc at Home delivers the goods.

The cookbook’s arrival coincided with my birthday, and to celebrate, I invited some friends over for dinner last weekend so that my wife and I could cook for them. From the book, we chose the grilled asparagus and marinated skirt steak and supplemented the meal with polenta topped with a mushroom ragout and SavorySweetLife’s chocolate chip cookies for dessert.

The grilled asparagus, which includes prosciutto, fried bread, poached egg, and aged balsamic vinegar, is pretty easy to put together. After removing the woody bottoms and peeling the asparagus stalks, simply season a couple bunches of asparagus with kosher salt, freshly ground pepper and canola oil and then grill them for a couple minutes per side until tender.

AsparagusGratuitous Asparagus Porn

I had some issues poaching the eggs. I know this sounds silly, but they weren’t coming out as pretty as we wanted, so those eggs became snacks. Inspired by our meal at Commis in Oakland a couple nights before, I decided to have some fun and make 63-degree eggs. How is a 63-degree egg different than a regular poached egg or over-easy egg? The answer: texture.

63 Degree EggA 63-degree Egg

At 63-degrees Celsius, egg whites are just barely set and the yolks have a pudding-like consistency. To achieve this goal, eggs are cooked in a 63C waterbath for about an hour. The precision is important because at 65C, according Harold McGee, the egg whites become “tender solid” as opposed just barely set at 63C. It’s possible to maintain a consistent temperature using a pot on the stovetop, but I have an immersion circulator, which makes things a lot easier. :)

63-degree Eggs
The immersion circulator in action.

The eggs went on the plate last, so my friends got to see these beautiful eggs emerge from a freshly cracked shell. My wife gets credit for the plating of this dish, which is loosely based on the picture in the book.

Grilled Asparagus, Prosciutto, 63-degree Egg and Torn CroutonsThe fried bread croutons are awesome, too.

The marinated skirt steak isn’t a difficult preparation either. I substituted the skirt for flap steak, which is similar to skirt steak and a cut of meat I’ve used before in my Bistek Tagalog. It’s marinated for at least four hours in a mixture of olive oil, thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, peppercorns, and garlic. The meat is seared in a thin layer of oil for about 90 seconds total, adding thyme and butter to the pan and basting the meat after flipping it halfway through. After searing, the meat is placed in a 350 oven on a roasting rack and cooked for 8-10 minutes until the internal temp of the meat is 125F. Rest the meat and slice it vertically against the grain before serving.

Marinated Skirt Steak

That meat looks perfect doesn’t it? There was just one problem. I forgot to season the meat with salt and pepper before I seared it, so it was underseasoned. There was still flavor from the marinade, but the meat was definitely lacking flavor. I was crestfallen. My wife saved the dish by making an impromptu beef/mushroom gravy, but I was so disappointed with myself.

We paired this with some Fra’Mani polenta (sold exclusively at Costco) topped with a trumpet and baby shiitake mushroom ragout. I know polenta is pretty easy to make, but as fans of Paul Bertolli’s Fra’Mani sausages, we had to give his polenta a try and it’s really good. My wife added some strong English cheddar to the polenta for some extra flavor and topped it with the mushrooms.

Fra'Mani Polenta and Mushroom "Ragout"

Aside from the underseasoned steak, which was totally my fault, this meal was a huge success and a testament to Ad Hoc at Home’s accessibility for home cooks. It’s a tribute to Keller and his love for good, homey food, as well as chef de cuisine Dave Cruz, whose influence is present in every meal in the Ad Hoc kitchen. According to Ad Hoc general manager Nick Dedier, Ad Hoc at Home is projected to surpass the 10-year-old French Laundry cookbook’s total sales in just three years. With food like this, it should surprise no one when it actually happens.

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Ad Hoc reviews The French Laundry

Memorial Day Maine Lobster Rolls at Ad Hoc

Yeah, yeah…another Ad Hoc post. I know. I’ve been meaning to write about some of the cooking I’ve been doing, including baking my first brioche or my thoughts on liking traditional waffles more than Belgian waffles, but when Ad Hoc’s daily menu email update arrived in my inbox yesterday morning, the words “Maine Lobster Rolls” jumped out at me.

Maine Lobster RollsThis was the full portion for two people.

Ad Hoc recently started doing barbecue nights on non-fried chicken Mondays, but for Memorial Day, they decided to offer the Maine Lobster Rolls to give dinner more of a picnic vibe. Now, I’ve never had an authentic New England lobster roll, but I think I may have spoiled myself by having this one, which features lobster from the same purveyor that supplies The French Laundry, a custom sweet roll from Bouchon Bakery, shaved celery, red onions and garlic aioli.

Maine Lobster RollsThe sweet, housemade pickles were excellent, too.

The meal started off with fried French Laundry chickpeas that were like fried, salty edamame—an amuse bouche of sorts, but they don’t use words like that at Ad Hoc. :)

French Laundry Fried Chickpeas

The leek salad featured more French Laundry vegetables and some crispy Jamon Iberico, what Bac-O’s aspires to be when it grows up.

TFL Leek Salad with Jamon Iberico

The cheese course featured Rogue Creamery’s aged and creamy Caveman Blue, raspberry-vanilla jam and beer flatbread.

Rogue Creamery's Caveman Blue with raspberry-vanilla jam beer flatbread

The toasted lemon pound cake with chantilly cream and macerated blueberries ended the meal on a surprisingly light note.

Toasted Lemon Pound Cake

I was content to spend Memorial Day chillin’ at home and watching Game 4 of the Lakers/Nuggets Western Conference Finals battle, but since the Lakers ended up playing poorly and losing, I’m glad I spent my time up in Yountville enjoying the sublime comforts of a great meal instead of stressing out at home yelling at the TV.

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Ad Hoc reviews The French Laundry Thomas Keller

The Ad Hoc Swine and Wine

Ad Hoc’s fried chicken nights have made every other Monday night in Yountville a lot of fun, but last night’s “Swine and Wine” was so good that Ad Hoc might be the place to be on the last Wednesday of every month. The four-course, prix-fixe dinner featured whole pigs that were roasted Cuban style in La Caja China or Chinese box.

La Caja ChinaStep 1: Put the pig in a box…

The meal was an opportunity for Ad Hoc to showcase some of their purveyors and they were on hand throughout the evening to talk about their products.

Wines were provided by Dave Miner of the Miner Family Vineyard. I’m not a wine expert or aficionado, but I do like them easy to drink, and the Miner wines fit the bill perfectly. Before the first course, we were served a really nice white wine sangria, and the dinner wines were their Viogner (white) and Enigma (red). I also got a taste of their Oracle, a Cabernet Sauvignon blend, and I liked that one too.

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Ad Hoc dessert The French Laundry Thomas Keller

French Laundry Pastry Chef Brings Insights to Ad Hoc

Claire ClarkI recently heard that pastry chef Claire Clark left The French Laundry to go back to her native UK after more than three years at Thomas Keller’s crown jewel. But before she goes, Clark is spending her last few weeks dropping knowledge at Ad Hoc, Keller’s “casual dining” restaurant.

Apparently, she started at Ad Hoc a couple weeks ago and will likely only be around for a couple more, so you if you’re a Claire Clark or Ad Hoc fan, you might want to head up there soon. But even if you miss her, Clark’s influence should have a lasting impression on Ad Hoc’s dessert courses going forward.

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beef musings sous vide techniques The French Laundry Thomas Keller

Contemplating Christmas Dinner

I’m in charge of Christmas dinner again, and I’m still a little torn on what I should make. The adventurous part of me wants to take a rib roast and separate the cap meat (i.e. calotte, deckle) from the actual ribeye…kinda like this:

ribeye-partsFrom left: ribs, eye, cap.
Picture from Ideasinfood.com

Then I can cook the cap meat sous vide to a nice medium rare in attempt to partially recreate this dish:

Calotte de Beouf GrilléeThe French Laundry’s Calotte de Beouf Grillée (12.08.08)

For the center cut, I would oven roast it to medium rare and end up with a sort of deconstructed prime rib cooked two ways.

The other part of me wants to go old school and roast a nice beef tenderloin or standing rib roast. I’ve been successful with rib roasts before but have never tried a tenderloin. But as old school as a tenderloin roast might sound, I’d probably endup cooking that sous vide anyway.

Aside from the main courses, Yorkshire puddings are definitely on the agenda, and I think my wife is going to make her garlic bacon mashed potatoes. I am extremely tempted to make this Macaroni and Gravy recipe by fellow food blogger Lainie as a second entree, and I know my cousin Cristy, who hosted Thanksgiving, has something up her sleeve.

If you’re looking for some Christmas recipes, you might want to give these a try:

I’m not sure if I’ll be posting again before Christmas, but if I don’t, I hope everyone has a happy and safe holiday season!

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Northern California reviews The French Laundry Thomas Keller

The French Laundry

It’s pretty obvious from the content of this site that I’m a big fan of Thomas Keller, and up until this week, we had enjoyed every level of the Keller empire (Ad Hoc, Bouchon, Bouchon Bakery and cookbooks) except for his crown jewel—The French Laundry.

The French Laundry

Despite all the cooking and eating that I chronicle on this blog, I hardly see myself as an authority on food. If anything, I have a lot to learn about food, especially on the higher end of the spectrum, so each dining experience is an opportunity to glean some knowledge about what I’m eating and how it was prepared. This made my approach to this meal simple—trust the chef and enjoy the experience.

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The French Laundry Thomas Keller

Monday Night Laundry

We’ve wanted to go to Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry for a while now, and my wife and I agreed that we would actively try to get a reservation for this winter or spring. What I didn’t expect was that I would get lucky while looking on OpenTable.com the other day when I snagged a reservation for Monday night.

The French LaundryWe’re going on Monday!

The French Laundry is one of the toughest reservations in the world and most people that call them directly end up on a waiting list. They do have two tables available (one at each sitting per evening) allocated to OpenTable.com, which gives you another option for getting a reservation, but I think luck is a big factor in booking success.

Due to the price per person ($240 including service), Monday night’s meal is going to be our Christmas, my wife’s birthday, which is the week before Christmas, and maybe our next anniversary all rolled into one. Luckily we’re not drinkers or else the wine pairings could easily push this meal close to the $1000 mark. I did read that The French Laundry does non-alcoholic beverage pairings, so we’re definitely going to look into that.

While the overall cost is daunting, we also know that this is likely a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so we’re going to roll with it.

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musings SPAM The French Laundry Thomas Keller

The SPAM Laundry?

I saw on a recent eGullet Forum thread that Thomas Keller once prepared a SPAM tasting menu at The French Laundry for one of his friends. This momentous event in SPAM-dom was chronicled in the May/June 2001 Saveur magazine by winemaker Jayson Pahlmeyer of Pahlmeyer Wines, who was the (lucky?) recipient of the SPAM tasting menu.

As an ardent fan of both SPAM and Keller, and because I featured newly converted SPAM fan Anthony Bourdain on this site a couple days ago, I went looking for the article but couldn’t find it on Saveur’s Web site. I ended finding a copy of the magazine on eBay for $5, so I bought one and transcribed it so you can read this funny story.

I love that Keller embraced SPAM as a viable ingredient and committed himself to the “joke” by creating an entire tasting menu based on a meat product that is both loved by so many (like me) and reviled by others (most of my non-Asian friends). It shows both his keen sense of humor and versatility as a chef, and I became enamored by SPAM’s potential for greatness in Keller’s hands.

For the record, I still haven’t had the chance to eat at The French Laundry (reservations are probably the toughest in the world), but I am anxiously awaiting the opportunity to experience it first hand. In the interim, visits to Bouchon, Bouchon Bakery and Ad Hoc keep me happy…for now. ;)

(Thomas Keller picture from the Ad Hoc Web site.)