Ad Hoc Fried Chicken – 8/1/10

I purchased the Ad Hoc Fried Chicken kit from Williams-Sonoma a while back. I saw it in the store and immediately had to get it. Nevermind the fact that I had never made fried chicken before, and am slightly averse to frying in a big pot of oil at home – it was Ad Hoc fried chicken, and I had to have it.

The kit comes with enough brine and seasoned batter for two uses, and I first made the chicken pre-blog. Because I would be using so much oil to fry the chicken, I figured I might as well cook as much as I could, and invite some fried chicken-appreciating friends over and turn it into a bit of a potluck.

First, the chicken. I was able to fit 24 pieces of thighs and drumsticks into the brine, which sat overnight. They were dried, and allowed to come to room temperature.

Ad Hoc’s method is to batter the chicken in the seasoned flour, dip in buttermilk, and then dip again in the seasoned flour.

When the chicken was battered, we let it sit for a few minutes to let the batter set.

After that, they went into the oil. I started with oil that was approx. 350 degrees, subsequent batches were frying at around 330 degrees.

After about 12 minutes, the first batch was done!

After about 5 batches, all 24 pieces were fried. I continuously put in sprigs of thyme to flavor the oil, as well as to act as a garnish.

The chicken was pretty damn delicious, if I do say so myself. The exterior was a golden brown; very crispy. But what made the difference was the very flavorful, juicy interior – definitely a result of the brine. Easily some of the best homemade fried chicken I’ve had. While it was a lot of work, and involved a lot of cleanup (all that oil!), it was worth it…though it will probably be a while until I do it again.

Heather baked some jalapeno cornbread as an appetizer/side – luckily, it wasn’t too spicy…but had just the right kick.

Kristen brought some watermelon, which was quite juicy and delicious.

Angelo brought a couple of salads, and James put on his chef’s hat, making baked corn and a homemade crab dip. Unfortunately, I did not get pictures of these. As I wasn’t sure we would have enough food, I had also made a beef stew ahead of time.

I’ve posted enough times about braising dishes at home, so I didn’t do a step-by-step pictorial. I roasted some cauliflower and broccoli as well.

These were cut up, and roasted in my cast-iron skillet with salt, pepper and olive oil.

I also made some mashed potatoes using russet potatoes, butter, beef fat (from the stew) and heavy cream. Unfortunately though, I didn’t get a picture.

Mike and Lilly of LA Beer Hopping were in charge of the beer.

The selection included Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA, Allagash White, Alesmith X, BridgePort IPA, and a Ninkasi Spring Reign. I threw in a Pliny the Elder for good measure. I thought this was a pretty good selection. The IPAs would satisfy the “hopheads,” and the Allagash White, Alesmith X and Ninkasi beers attracted those that wanted a less bitter, perhaps lighter, craft beer.

For dessert, we had a couple of options. Heather brought a homemade peach/blueberry/raspberry cobbler served warm.

And I made a tiramisu.

This was actually fairly simple. I whipped up some cream, adding vanilla extract, marscapone, and sugar once it reached the ‘soft peaks’ stage. I layered lady fingers (dipped in a mixture of coffee and kahlua) and the cream mixture, with grated chocolate at each layer.

I was pretty pleased with the meal. It was a lot of work cooking so much (especially all that chicken), but it was a good opportunity to get some people together and enjoy some good food and good brews.

Bouchon – 7/24/10

Bouchon
The Venetian
3355 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89109

Bouchon has become an ‘old staple’ – the restaurant consistently serves up delicious and comfortable food. So, being in Vegas this past weekend with a big group, Bouchon was a good choice to provide some good food that would appeal to everyone.

A meal at Bouchon always starts with their famous epi bread. Oddly, we received two loaves – one underbaked and one overbaked. The juxtaposition of the two loaves made that fact more evident.

With the bread came a simple cup of pistachios, lightly salted. These were actually quite tasty.

I ordered a French Onion soup, reminiscing on the strong effort from Daniel Boulud Brasserie on my last Vegas visit.

This soup was another very good rendition, with a hearty beef flavor. The onion was not overpowering, and provided a nice sweetness. Great soup for a warm day. Granted, it was 110 degrees outside on this day – and this was still good.

Carré de Porc kurobuta pork loin with summer stone fruit, field greens & whole grain mustard sauce

This looks like a very simple dish, and the pork looks rather plain and dry. However, this was not the case. The pork was quite moist and flavorful, and the peaches added a sweetness that went well. The portion was rather inconsistent with many of the other entrees on the menu, which tend to be on the large size.

Roasted Veal Costalleta Chop glazed Tokyo turnips, whole grain mustard spatzel, bing cheeries, Forestiere butter

This dish was the entree of the day, and came highly recommended by the server. The veal, served bone-in, was cooked perfectly, leaving a very moist and tender piece of meat. The turnips and cherries were great accompaniments, along with the al dente spatzel.

Gnocchi à la Parisienne sautéed gnocchi with a fricassée of vegetables & beurre noisette

Bouchon makes some very good gnocchi. The gnocchi are very light and pillowy, and the vegetables add a vibrant, fresh flavor.

Pommes Frites

You can’t come to Bouchon and not order the fries. You just can’t. These are quite simple, and seasoned just with salt. But the execution is flawless, with a consistently crisp exterior and fluffy interior. Beautiful.

Next we were on to the desserts. For me, many restaurants fail to have desserts that live up to the appetizer and entree. At Bouchon, this is definitely not the case. If I had to make a meal out of the dessert menu, Bouchon would be a pretty damn good choice.

Bouchons vanilla ice cream & chocolate sauce

Their signature dessert, which is always an off-menu “special,” are these cork-shaped brownies made of valrhona chocolate. Usually they have a selection of ice creams, but it was only vanilla on this day. I love the interplay of chocolate and vanilla, and this dessert hits that spot on.

Profiteroles vanilla ice cream & chocolate sauce

What a pretty dessert. The profiteroles are brought to the table and then topped with a chocolate sauce. Again, the vanilla and chocolate flavors meld very well together – really a simple and delicious dessert.

Beignets pastry cream filling & vanilla ice cream

This was the daily special dessert of the evening. The first thing I thought of when I heard “beignets” was the coffee & doughnuts dessert at The French Laundry. I loved that doughnut, and I loved this one too. Light and fluffy, this beignet was filled with a light, sweet pastry cream. It was kind of reminiscent of a lighter version of a Krispy Kreme cream-filled doughnut. Excellent. I wish we had a different flavor ice cream, however, as this was the third of three desserts with the same flavor.

Overall, a very good meal at Bouchon. I’ve come to expect well-executed, comfortable food at each location, and Bouchon seems to always come through.

Bouchon – 4/16/10

Bouchon Beverly Hills
238 N Canon Dr
Beverly Hills, CA 90210

It’s been a little while since going to Bouchon. Since going twice on its opening weekend, I hadn’t been back until now. I was interested to see if the food and service still held up to what I remembered from the first weekend. My friend and I came on this Friday night at 8 without a reservation – and were able to be squeezed in outside under the heat lamps.


I have said that Bouchon is one of my favorite casual restaurants. It’s simple French bistro comfort food done well. The execution, as expected at any Thomas-Keller restaurant, is top-notch. The first dish we ordered was one of the daily appetizer specials: salmon tartare.

The salmon tartare was topped with lemon juice, and accompanied by shallots, capers, chives, eggs through a sieve – and topped with creme fraiche. The crostini that came with it provided the crunchy texture, and the salmon and creme fraiche the bulk of the flavor.

Poulet Rôti – roasted chicken with riz rouge, Michigan sour cherries, wilted spinach & chicken jus

I’ve had the roasted chicken at Bouchon before, and it really is top-notch. The skin is very nicely browned and crispy, and the meat (both white and dark) is superbly moist and flavorful. The chicken jus is rich and delicious, and I almost like the accompanying red rice/spinach/cherries mixture, adding some extra heartiness to the dish. A really well-executed dish.

Steak Frites – pan-seared prime flatiron served with maître d’hôtel butter & French fries
Bouchon’s fries are delicious. Wonderfully crispy, perfectly salted. Add a tender, perfectly-cooked steak with a compound butter, and you’re set. The flatiron steak was very tender and cooked a beautiful medium-rare.

Profiteroles -vanilla ice cream & chocolate sauce
Probably my favorite dessert at Bouchon, these profiteroles are wonderfully simple. The valhrona chocolate sauce sets the tone here, as a rich chocolate flavor that’s not overly sweet. The interplay with the vanilla ice cream is just wonderful. The pasty adds some crisp – in all, a very satisfying dish.
The food tonight was good – on point. However, service was not. Entrees came out before we were finished with the appetizer, and even before our next set of silverware was placed down. We were totally devoid of bread service the entire night. When we inquired about this after finishing our entrees, we were given a pair of loaves to take home. This was definitely nice, though never should’ve happened in the first place.
Is Bouchon still my favorite casual eatery in LA. Possibly.  I think the food was still consistent; however, the service on this night was definitely lacking. I’m still a fan of the place, but it’s not the slam dunk that it was when it first opened.

Ad Hoc – 12/28/09

Ad Hoc
6476 Washington St
Yountville, CA 94599

Fried chicken night. Served every other Monday, this is probably the most famous dish served at the restaurant. So popular, the chicken brine and mix is sold at Williams-Sonoma (which I’ve tried to make). So, I had to come out and try it here for myself…and I’m glad I did.

The menu for the night, of course, centered around the fried chicken. There was also a celery and apple salad, cheese course, and ice cream sundaes as the other courses. Note that the menu is signed by chef Dave Cruz.

Celery and Apple Salad
arkansas black, pink lady & sierra beauty apples, little gem lettuces, herbed walnuts, creamy celeriac dressing

There’s not a ton of celery in this dish, but celery and apples do work as a combination. The apples were crunchy and sweet.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken
butter braised radishes & kohlrabi, tfl garden pea shoots, brussels sprouts, yukon gold potatoes

Ah, yes. What I came here for – the chicken. It was cooked a little darker than I expected, but it was very crispy. The meat was extremely tender and moist – the brine does wonders for the chicken. Delicious.

The accompaniment to the chicken was this small dish of potatoes, radishes, kohlrabi, brussels sprouts, and pea shoots. This dish was fine, but the highlight here was definitely the chicken…so much so, that we asked for more (staff at The French Laundry earlier had recommended doing so). I was surprised by how moist the breast meat was, as that’s much harder to do than the dark meat.

They brought out one more piece for everyone – definitely worthwhile to ask for.

Crawford Family Farm’s Vermont Ayr
cranberry quickbread, persimmon jam

This cheese was very mild. The housemade cranberry bread and persimmon jam were both good.

Ice Cream Sundaes
popcorn ice cream, peanut brittle, chocolate sauce

Popcorn ice cream, peanut brittle, chocolate sauce…sounds wonderful. And it was. The popcorn ice cream was nicely flavored, and went well with the peanut brittle and chocolate sauce.

This was definitely a great meal, and I was stuffed after eating all that chicken. Ad Hoc fried chicken night lives up to its expectations and produces some very moist and flavorful chicken with a nice crunchy batter. I hope to be back for fried chicken next time I am in the area, but I also want to try some of the other dishes Ad Hoc has to offer.

The French Laundry – 12/23/09

The French Laundry
6640 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599

The French Laundry is a food temple – a trek that any gourmand in America must make at least once in their lifetime. I first went in July of 2004, and it was easily the most anticipated meal of my life. I remember not being able to sleep much the night before. The restaurant had just gone through a renovation and had not announced an official re-opening date. I was playing around on OpenTable one night and stumbled upon an availability.  I remembered having to wake my dad to tell him this news, and use his credit card in order to confirm this reservation.

I had gone again in December of 2006, and now in 2009, figured it was time for a re-visit. It’s gotten noticeably easier to get a reservation on OpenTable. With a little persistence, I was able to snatch a 5:30 (in my opinion, the ideal time for a group not staying overnight) reservation over the Christmas holiday. Armed with a new camera (thanks Angela!), I was excited for this next trip.

Upon entering the premises, you walk into a garden and outdoor waiting area.

The famous blue door entrance to the restaurant.

The dining room is cozy and has a very warm and elegant feel to it.

Each table is set up with fresh flowers and the signature clothespin holding the napkin together.

The menu has two options: the chef’s tasting menu and the tasting of vegetables. The menu for the day is here: French Laundry menu – 12/23/09 and the chef’s tasting menu, which we all had, is shown below. There was also an optional supplement offering white truffles from Alba, shaved over an option of housemade tagliatelle, gnocchi, or a Carnaroli risotto.

The amuse bouche served here have been staples over the years. The first is the Gougères, which are cheez-it flavored light cheesy bread puffs.

The second is the salmon tartare coronet with creme fraiche. Simple and tasty, they make a great start to the evening.

Next was the first main dish of the night, also a staple of the menu.

“OYSTERS AND PEARLS”
“Sabayon” of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar

This is a really creative dish and a nice play on words. The oysters are trimmed and set into this tapioca sabayon with a dollop of caviar. Really delicious.

The next course had an option of a winter squash soup and a foie gras terrine.

SPICED WINTER SQUASH SOUP
Chestnuts, Arkansas Black Apple, Watercress and Maple

There was not much to the soup. It tasted of squash with a little spice, but not much else.

MOULARD DUCK “FOIE GRAS EN TERRINE”
Flowering Quince, Honey-Poached Cranberries, Celery Branch and Black Truffle

This was pretty good as a terrine goes, as I usually do not like them. The accompanying brioche was delicious and came with three finishing salts.

The next course, a seafood one, was a choice between a bass and scallops.

SHALLOT-CRUSTED ATLANTIC STRIPED BASS
Salsify, Spinach, “Soubise” and Red Wine Reduction

This was a great dish with a nice crust and a moist flesh. Definitely cooked well.

NANTUCKET BAY SCALLOPS “POÊLÉES”

Cauliflower, Satsuma Mandarin, Pine Nuts, Arugula and Niçoise Olive “Paint”


This was one of the more disappointing dishes of the night. I definitely prefer sea scallops to bay scallops because they’re just meatier and less prone to being overcooked. I don’t think the scallops were overcooked in this case, but the olive ‘paint’ was just way too overpowering for this dish.

The next dish, served to everyone, was a highlight.

SWEET BUTTER-POACHED MAINE LOBSTER
Forest Mushroom “Pain Perdu,” Sunchokes, Brussels Sprouts and Pomegranate “Aigre-Doux”
The lobster was cooked beautifully. The mushroom ‘bread’ was a nice earthy accompaniment, and the brussels sprouts and pomegranate were also a good compliment.

SHAVED WHITE TRUFFLES OVER CARNAROLI RISOTTO

After the lobster course was the truffle supplement. I chose the white truffle to be shaved over the risotto. This dish is quite an experience as well, as the server will bring the huge truffle around in a box to be smelled and then will proceed to shave it on top of the risotto. It was then finished with a little brown butter.

The risotto, prepared with shallots, butter and grated truffle, was really well-made on its own. The truffles, as well as the brown butter, completed the dish and made it unforgettable.


The next course was an option between white quail and rabbit shoulder.

WOLFE RANCH WHITE QUAIL
Chorizo, Cardoons, Sweet Peppers, Panisse, Spanish Capers and “Pimentón”

This dish was the single most surprising for me of the night.  White quail, as explained by the server, was a cross-breed between chicken and quail. I had never heard of this, let alone tried it, so I had to order it…and was glad I did. The breast was so juicy and moist, shocking as it was white meat (closer to chicken than quail).  The leg was good as well, but by comparison, paled compared to the breast.

“ÉPAULE DE LAPIN FARCIE AU CERVELAS”
Baby Fennel, Michigan Sour Cherry, Pistachio and “Sauce Périgourdine”


The rabbit shoulder was stuffed and glazed. Not a bad dish, but it wasn’t as good as the white quail.

ELYSIAN FIELDS FARM LAMB SADDLE
“Pommes Purée,” Nantes Carrots, Snap Peas and Béarnaise Reduction

The lamb is prepared sous vide for 80% of the cooking, and seared for browning the rest of the way. This was a great piece of meat that was juicy and tender, and not too gamey.

The next course was the cheese course. Not being a fan of the cheese course, I opted to substitute this out for a potato gnocchi dish. Everyone else, however, stuck with the cheese.

“SCHARFE MAXX”
Hobbs’ Bacon, Roasted Romaine Lettuce and Tomato Compote

The substitute dish, a russet potato gnocchi, served with brown butter and grated black truffle, was very simple and good.

Next, the first of three desserts.

“DARK AND STORMY”
Maui Gold Pineapple Sorbet, Spiced Gingerbread and Gros Michel Bananas

This was a light dessert, serving to cleanse the palate and give a sweet introduction to dessert courses.

Our next dessert was specifically requested off the menu, due to the fame it’s garnished over the years. Luckily for us, the kitchen obliged.

“COFFEE AND DOUGHNUTS”
Cappuccino Semifreddo with Cinnamon-Sugar Doughnuts

This was probably the best doughnut I’ve ever had. Warm and soft – it was just delicious. The semifreddo had a rich coffee flavor to it (I took a scoop to show the “coffee” under the “milk froth”), but the highlight was really the doughnut.

The final dessert was a choice between two dishes.

“GÂTEAU SAINT NIZIER AU MANJARI”
Mango-Chili Relish, Valrhona Cocoa Nibs, Lime Foam and Coconut Milk Sorbet

This was a flourless chocolate cake, and I really liked the coconut milk sorbet. The lime foam, topped with sea salt, was not really necessary, in my opinion.

BAKEWELL TART
Huckleberries, Marcona Almonds and Crème Fraîche Sherbet

This was an interesting dish. A little bit doughy, a little fruity – this would be a nice end to the meal.

MIGNARDISES

The mignardises for the night included a pecan tart, caramel and chocolate covered macadamia nuts, and assorted chocolates.

The pecan tart and macadamia nuts were not remarkable, but the chocolates were good, especially the pumpkin (orange and white colored at top). Unfortunately, we were so full that we were not able to try all of the flavors.

At the end of the meal, the bill comes out on a laundry tag, a fun touch that the restaurant has had since its inception.

In addition, we each got some shortbread cookies to take home.

We were lucky enough to be invited into the kitchen at the end of our meal.

We were told that Thomas Keller had been in the kitchen and left an hour earlier (DAMN!). However, it was great to be able to check out the kitchen, which was spotless. I was surprised by just how small the kitchen was, and how it was able to serve such an array of dishes in such a small space.

In all, it was a great experience. I was a little anxious that it wouldn’t live up to expectations, because they were quite high, and I had been hearing a lot of peoples’ concerns about Chef Keller’s decreasing involvement in the kitchen. However, the restaurant definitely lived up to my expectations and proved to be a fantastic meal.  We were all very pleased, and I can’t wait for my next trip back.

Ad Hoc – 11/28/09

Ad Hoc
6476 Washington St
Yountville, CA 94599

Ad Hoc is located down the street from The French Laundry and Bouchon in the Napa Valley town of Yountville. Whenever in the area, I stop by Bouchon Bakery to pick up some treats. One of my favorite bakeries, it was opened in 2003 to start serving fresh breads, tarts, cookies, and all sorts of goodies.

A look inside the bakery.

As it was around 5:30pm, a lot of the selection was depleted. However, there was still a variety of breads, cookies, tarts, and macarons available.

Their signature namesake item is a cork-shaped chocolate brownie called a ‘Bouchon.’ Notice the stack of them on the left in the picture below, and on top.  Calling them a brownie does not really do it justice, but it’s a closer, more delicious relative. These are a must-try here, and is also part of the signature dessert at Bouchon Bistro.

With my baked goods in hand, it was time to head down the street to Ad Hoc.

I’m not too sure what’s taken me so long to visit Ad Hoc. Opened in 2006, it was meant to be a temporary restaurant in the space, pending a new concept by Thomas Keller (a burger joint was widely rumored). The restaurant’s concept is fresh, comfortable food, served family-style. It is easily the most reasonable, accessible way to sample Chef Keller’s food. Because the restaurant became so popular, it became a permanent fixture in 2007.

The decor is comfortable and well-lit, with a bar area in front.

There is only one menu each day, posted that morning. I consider myself a pretty picky eater, so the idea of not knowing what the food will be until that day is a bit unsettling. Given this restaurant’s popularity and the fact that it’s a Thomas Keller restaurant – I had to give it a try. The menu rubric is typically as follows:

First course: Soup or salad
Second course: Main entree and sides
Third course: Cheese
Fourth course: Dessert

The only really predictable part of the menu is the famous fried chicken.  It’s served every other Monday night. On this Saturday evening, the menu was as follows.

First course – Broccolini Salad with prosciutto di san daniele, lola rossa, shaved crimini mushrooms, shaved red onions, kalamata olives, creamy fennel caper dressing

Second course – Prime Beef Ribeye with wild arugula, fingerling potatoes, meyer lemon vinaigrette, and a red bell pepper and winter squash gratin

Third course – Neal’s Yard Dairy’s Ardrahan melted on palladin toast, pickled carrots, marshall’s farm wildflower honey

Fourth course – Buttermilk Panna Cotta Trifle with pear compote, marinated blueberries and pistachio biscotti

Given that I’m a pretty big meat eater (especially beef), I was excited to see the ribeye on the menu and was wondering all day how it would be prepared.

The courses came out quickly, starting with the salad.

The broccolini was fresh and flavorful – I’ve lately become a pretty big fan of this vegetable. The prosciutto added a nice saltiness to go with the broccolini and lettuce. I rarely eat salads..I really don’t like them..but this was easy to eat, with clean, fresh flavors.

We decided to try a Modicum Meritage Red Blend to pair with the meat. Modicum wine is the house wine of The French Laundry, produced in limited quantities as a joint venture with an unnamed winery and the French Laundry.

Next came the main entree – the ribeye. I found it kind of amusing that they don’t ask how you’d like the meat prepared. It’s prepared medium rare – the way it should be. The loin of the ribeye (on the right) was grilled and then cooked sous-vide. The cap (3 chunks on the left) was grilled.  This is probably the first time I’ve had the loin and cap split apart with different preparations. The cap is definitely fattier and more tender, and the loin is more lean with a beefier flavor in my opinion. The meat was served with arugula and fingerling potatoes topped with a meyer lemon vinaigrette. Definitely tasty.

Now, was it better than what I could get at a good steakhouse? It was definitely different. A steakhouse is definitely not going to sous-vide my beef – typically it’s a sear and broil or just grill.  In the end, I’m not sure the work put into this preparation was better than a steakhouse ribeye, but it was still a tasty piece of meat – and T. Keller is not going to put a simple steak on the table.

On the side was the red bell pepper and winter squash gratin. This was also a good dish, showcasing the in-season squash and peppers with a nice breadcrumb crust on top.

Next was the cheese course.

I’m really never a fan of the cheese course and always try to substitute it out for a different course, but in certain occasions (like this one), it’s unavoidable.  This was a cow milk cheese served with toast, pickled carrots and honey. It was mildly pungent, and not really spreadable on the toast. The honey was delicious, and I thought it went well with the cheese. However, it did not convert me to being a fan of the cheese course.

Next up was the buttermilk panna cotta trifle. I’ve had a number of Thomas Keller’s panna cottas before at other restaurants and have been a fan. However, this one was on a yogurt-like consistency with a hint of sourness. Not being a fan of yogurt, I didn’t really care much for this dessert. The pears and blueberries inside did have good flavor, however.

The panna cotta trifle came with pistachio biscotti, which I found to be very good, especially when dipped.

In all, this was a pleasant meal. As a fairly picky eater, the menu did not totally go my way. However, I was quite pleased with the first two courses, especially being able to try the ribeye.  Did it live up to expectations? Sorta. Maybe not really. Nothing was really remarkably delicious, but I appreciated the freshness of the ingredients, and the food was executed very well.

The restaurant is deserving of another trip, and I know just the occasion – fried chicken night.