Someone recently pointed out to me that Napa is not really that far from where I work in Contra Costa county. This was quite an eye-opening concept to me, as it opens up new dining possibilities… After commuting by car for almost a year now, the idea of driving an hour is no longer intimidating or monumental. And so I made reservations at Ad Hoc to sample the famous fried chicken which is served only on every other Monday (it’s a good idea to verify with the restaurant about the date if you are set on the fried chicken). This chubby mascot greets you at the front desk.
I have to confess that I am a reluctant visitor to wine country. I’m very interested in going to the source and eating locally but there’s something elitest about the region that makes me avoid it. But I couldn’t resist the prospect of eating fried chicken at Thomas Keller’s decidedly relaxed restaurant Ad Hoc, which specializes in comfort food and features a daily changing $45 prix-fixe menu consisting of salad, main course, cheese, and dessert all served family style. I noticed this porcine artwork on the wall, which looks like a blackboard drawing and is on the cover of the restaurants cookbook, Ad Hoc at Home.
I met my SIL Casey who lives in the north bay and I rarely see anymore, but Napa is conveniently in between us. We were seated at a lovely table for two and were left to look over the menu to decide on beverages. It’s liberating when all you have to do is order drinks. We dug into the bread basket which was filled with slices of rustic country bread from Bouchon Bakery, slathering on the soft creamery butter.
Our server recommended some beer pairings to go with our fried chicken, we started with this erm, interesting Flemish sour ale, which we split. It was sour and we agreed that we were glad we only had to drink half a bottle.
The dinner menu that night was fantastic. I loved each course and we ate like royalty, enjoying some of the last of the summer tomatoes in the Panzanella Salad. The garden heirloom tomatoes came from the french laundry garden (ooh), an artful composition strewn with slices of english cucumbers, crispy croutons, briny bits of kalamata olives, shaved red onion, and drizzled with luscious basil cream. Every bite was resplendant with the bright flavors of summer.
Our server brought the Buttermilk Fried Chicken, an entire chicken (in pieces), piled in a gleaming metal pot. It glistened with shiny crystals of salt and bright green flecks of rosemary and smelled so amazing.
We fell upon the dish with abandon, I felt like a vampire, my fangs extended, swooning over the succulent flesh. All conversation stopped as we bit through the savory crisp shell, which was robustly crisp and chewy at the same time; our mouths filled with silky lush chicken juices and we blissfully inhaled the fantastic aromas. The texture of the meat is exceptional, I generally prefer dark meat, but found the breast meat to be just as juicy and tender as the thigh. This really beats any other fried chicken I’ve ever had, hands down – and so worth the 100 mile pilgrimmage…
The side dishes were quietly spectacular. I couldn’t stop eating the fingerling potatoes which were cooked sous vide and then smashed and cooked in duck fat and served with roasted bell peppers and sprinkled with chopped fresh herbs.
The savoy cabbage and shaved fennel slaw was lovely to look at and had interesting spices mixed in along with fresh herbs. It was bright and crisp and perfectly complemented the meal.
Our third course was unnecessary but delicious, a thick slice of Cana de Cabra, which is a soft-ripened goat milk cheese from southeastern Spain. I loved the cheese, it was creamy and soft, with a beautiful snowy white edible rind and a woody mushroom aroma. It was served with a salad made with lola rosa, a red and green lettuce with dramatic coloring, topped with late summer melons and toasted pistachios
While we ate, the sun set and the light in the dining room glowed with interesting reflections.
Our final course was dessert, a Raspberry & Buttemilk Sorbet served with a delicious elephant ear cookie that was weightless and delicately crisp. The sorbet was like a very upscale version of a creamsicle.
Despite heroic efforts, we were not able to finish everything, so they packed it up in a box topped with a little paper coaster embellished with the pig emblem. That coaster is evil, you bring it home and keep thinking about that chicken everytime you see the emblem.
In the end, it was $75 each which covered tax, tip and one beer each. A bit pricey, but I felt it was worth every delicious penny. The good thing is that I think I am over KFC and even thinking of trying to make this recipe at home. The recipe was published by food and wine magazine here, or one that was adapted from the cookbok here has lots of pictures, or there’s the kit from Williams-Sonoma so you can have your own fried chicken frenzy at home.