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September 13-19, 2006

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Thomas Keller

Celebrity chef Thomas Keller.


Greetings from Kellerville

By Brett Ascarelli

It's OK to have mixed feelings about celebrity chef Thomas Keller. He's almost annoyingly successful, cooking for the most elite of crowds. Yet his interviews are down-to-earth and playful ("Food should be fun," he has said) and he opens his prized French Laundry gratis to the public once a year. While the local population seems to harbor a strange mixture of gratitude, envy and populist-inspired bitterness toward him, the mogul chef blithely has plans for expansion.

Already home to three of Keller's meticulously designed and gut-wrenchingly priced eateries, Yountville currently boasts the French Laundry, Bouchon and Bouchon Bakery. But the little town (population 3,328) is now poised for a quadruple shot of Keller. The Midas touch chef will shortly be opening Ad Hoc, a meat-and-potatoes restaurant with a $45 prix fixe menu of four courses that will change daily. Scheduled to open on Sept. 16, the epicurean hot shoppe will take walk-ins only. Kristine Keefer, spokesperson for the French Laundry says, "So far, the community reaction to Ad Hoc has been very positive. They all say we need a nice, casual restaurant in Yountville." (We'll second that.)

Like its name, Ad Hoc is just temporary; after a few months, the restaurant will be completely re-outfitted into a burger joint, Burgers and Half Bottles. (This move might ring a bell with foodies, who will remember that Catalan chef Ferran Adria opened a fast-food restaurant, Fast Good, in Madrid, two years ago.) Keller's venture, inspired by In-N-Out, will serve burgers, fries and milkshakes, as well as Modicum, the French Laundry's house Cab.

But Keller has something else up his white sleeve: the Inn at French Laundry, an elaborate blueprint combining hospitality with gourmandise. Designed by Antoine Predock, who won the American Institute of Architects gold medal this year, the upscale auberge's 20 rooms will sit on a three-acre site near its august namesake, but the inn is not slated for completion for another two or three years. Until then, we'll be wondering: Will the pool be filled with Sauternes? Will the lobby have tomato air piped in? Will the pillows be programmed with visions of organic sugar plums, so that guests will literally have sweet dreams?

Ad Hoc Restaurant will be located at 6476 Washington St., Yountville. Open for dinner, Thursday-Monday. Walk-ins only. 707.944.2487.

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