Thomas Keller's newest restaurant, scheduled to open in July, is going to feature home cooking. At least for now. Keller expects to revamp the whole thing next spring.
In March, when the chef-owner of America's most-lauded restaurant bought another space a few blocks away from his original, no one could quite figure out what he was going to do with it. Turns out, neither could Keller, who owns the French Laundry in the Napa Valley hamlet of Yountville.
Keller also already has Bouchon, a thriving bistro in Yountville. Plus, there is a clone of Bouchon in Las Vegas, not to mention the ultra-lavish Per Se in New York, where Keller stays in contact with the kitchen when he's not there via closed-circuit television hookup. So what did he need with the old Wine Garden space in Yountville?
Granted, it's a great location—about three blocks from the French Laundry, near where Washington Street branches off from Yount Street.
"We asked ourselves the same question," says Keller, "but we couldn't miss the opportunity. We figured we would come up with something." They still don't know what to do with it permanently, but for now it's set to open in July as Ad Hoc. It seats 77. Chef Jeffrey Cerciello, executive chef at Bouchon, will oversee the kitchen for Keller.
It's "a temporary restaurant," says Keller, "to give us time to look into these two other concepts I really want to do. About 20 years Paul Prudhomme had temporary restaurants in San Francisco and New York. That's what gave me the idea." Prudhomme, the famous New Orleans chef, took his crew on the road to cook Louisiana food while his own restaurant was undergoing renovations.
Whatever Ad Hoc finally becomes, he adds, "I want the food to be really simple."
That would be a tremendous contrast to French Laundry, which is unabashedly theatrical and complex. Dinner for four there could encompass 50 different dishes (or more) and cost north of $1,000, even without wine. Ad Hoc will be just the opposite, says Keller. No reservations. Moderate cost (although the price has not been decided yet).
"Salad, a main plate, cheese and dessert," he says by telephone from Yountville. "One menu for everyone." The food will be the kind of thing Keller likes to eat on his days off. "Fried chicken, beef stroganoff, that sort of thing. It's what I grew up with."
I asked Keller about the wine list for Ad Hoc. Paul Roberts, the sommelier at French Laundry and Per Se, is asembling a list of about 30 relatively inexpensive wines suitable for the simple fare. I asked Keller if he ever considered making the French Laundry wine list available to those who want to splurge on something more ambitious. After all, it is in Napa Valley.
"It's only a five-minute walk to French Laundry," he says. "So sure, we could always run a bottle down there pretty quick. On the other hand, I don't want to make this to be a wine restaurant, with an extensive cellar. But if the people who come there want it, we can oblige."
Chris Lavin — Long Beach, CA — May 27, 2006 7:45pm ET
Sam Ong — May 30, 2006 8:35pm ET
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions