January 24-30, 2007

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First Bite

Ad Hoc

By Milo-Celeste Knutsen

Dear Thomas Keller: I will never forgive you for sending Napa Valley to the laundry for a permanent press so you could turn the leftovers into Little France. You are the culinary version of Christopher Columbus, whose "discovery" of America eventually led to the disappearance of the natives. But it's finally time to buck up and grudge you some praise.

Mr. Keller, your comfort food restaurant, Ad Hoc, is really something. Or, shall I say: not some things. Not stuffy, not pretentious and, thanks to its temporary status until recently, not really for tourists. Now that it's gone from temp to perm, it won't be so far under the radar, but hopefully, it will still be not all those things for good.

I took my boyfriend there on a recent Saturday night, and I was impressed, because when I called to see if there would be a wait, someone actually answered the phone. And that someone was friendly!

At the bar, we realized we'd forgotten to bring our own wine (corkage $10) and chose instead from your well-rounded list--mostly wines from California, sprinkled with some New World and European. We ordered a glass of Fog Dog, a Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($10) and eucalyptus-tinged Altos los Hormigas Malbec from Mendoza ($8). I've heard you may be rethinking the bar area now that the restaurant's here to stay, and I highly recommend supplementing your beer-by-the-bottle section with a few taps. But for that, Ad Hoc is the quintessential neighborhood restaurant.

Once at table, a relaxed but professional young waiter, dressed in a blue-collar-style uniform, handed us the day's menu and came back a few minutes later.

"Does everything look OK?" he asked, which seemed kind of a funny formality in a restaurant where, baby, there ain't no other choice!

Four courses ($45 single menu prix fixe) rolled out unhurriedly, one after the next. Escarole and green leaf salad served family-style came first, followed by roasted beef sirloin tip with black kale cooked in cola. The beef was buttery and juicy with a tiny bit of perfect char.

Drinking a glass of Les Clos des Paulilles, a Banyuls Rimage ($10), we took our time with the cheese course: Bellwether Farm's pepato with cranberry and currant compote, which was like eating top-shelf cheesecake with cherry sauce. Finally, the blueberry and raspberry fruit tart was quite good, but I was too full to finish it.

Mr. Keller, thanks for a surprisingly relaxed meal that was still focused on quality. Maybe if you dropped the last course, more people would be able to afford to thank you. It would be a nice gesture, you know, for the natives.

Yours, Milo-Celeste Knutsen

Ad Hoc, 6476 Washington St., Yountville. Nightly changing menu offers one meal at a prix fixe $45. Dinner only, Thursday-Monday. 707.944.2487.

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Quick-and-dirty dashes through North Bay restaurants. These aren't your standard "bring five friends and order everything on the menu" dining reviews.