Thursday, November 20, 2008

Is the Fried Chicken Worth the Wait?

I had heard about Ad Hoc's fried chicken dinner--I heard people line up on alternating Monday and Wednesday nights; heard Thomas Keller soaks the chickens in milk, and even feeds them milk before slaughter; heard the all you can eat family style meal is addictive; heard that you won't find a better deal in all of Yountville. Well, the rumors are true, sort of.

First off, the space itself is worth a visit--spare, with waiters wearing shirts that recall gas station attendants from the 1950s, with wide smiles and big praise for the God of Food--Mr Keller. The wine list, as you might imagine, is stellar, focusing on local wines, but not leaving out the stars of other regions.

We got there early on a Monday night and though there were no lines to be seen, about half of the tables were already taken (at the 5pm opening time). The diners were a mix of locals celebrating birthdays, families and folks on a date. Local secret: you can sit at the bar without a reservation.

Food is served family style in a 4 course prix fix style. Our fried chicken was accompanied by a wedge salad, black eyed peas and rice, collard greens, a rich cheese with a late harvest honey and a dark chocolate brownie (with a creme fraiche topping). Every thing I tasted was better than the next...except the chicken. Don't get me wrong, it is good. Too good; sinfully good. But it can not stand up to the reputation--especially not when the cuts are fatty, or pink (yes we had to send a piece back). The chefs did redeem themselves with the last piece: a thick, juicy breast of white meat that almost melted in my mouth. Almost.

The servers said to come back for other dishes, which change every night and are, some say, better than the infamous chicken. Besides the fried chicken days, diners don't know what is on the menu until that afternoon, but you will be in for a treat if Keller's take on beef stroganoff is on the menu.

Bottom line: try the chicken at least once, but come back for the truly creative dishes, the ones worth a hefty $50 per person.

Ad Hoc (

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