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Napa Dispatch: Frank Bruni Tackles Thomas Keller, Ad Hoc

Frank Bruni, in a sort of "DVD extras" feature to his best new restaurants nationwide extravaganza, takes a long look at the most controversial exclusion from his top ten list: His Highness Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc. Like Mr. Frankie's Ad Hoc experience itself, his lengthy blog review features an enormous disparity between highs and lows, many of which we can't help but wonder how/if they will affect Keller's upcoming burger project, particularly the complaint(s) about overwrought informality. Anyway, to the carnage ... and the glory:

Bad News: Bruni Doesn't Like Shticks: "Ad Hoc is where the chef Thomas Keller stages an experience infinitely more casual than he does up the road, at the French Laundry. I emphasize the word 'stages' because part of what doesn't quite work about the restaurant is the transparently studied — and thus sort of shtick-y — nature of its informality. It's too aggressively, self-consciously, cutely informal."

Bad News: Annoying Service: "But I did have a problem with the servers' oddly insistent chirpiness about this family-style approach. 'You should serve each other,' our waitress told us as a general instruction before any of the food arrived, 'and have some fun with that' Our bottle of red wine came. She gave us stem-less glasses — tumblers — for it. (In the Napa Valley?) She poured a sip for me to taste. Then she plunked down the bottle without pouring any more. 'It's family-style ... so I'll let you serve each other.'"

Good News: Fried Chicken: "It was as if Thomas Keller and his kitchen aids had locked themselves in some fried-chicken laboratory for months and experimented with varying ratios of batter to meat and crunchiness to greasiness until they came up with the ideal. And that's what they're serving at Ad Hoc. For a totally reasonable amount of money."

Good News: Price Point: "Of course their bearing and the glassware and everything else need to be seen in the following context: a four-course meal at Ad Hoc was $48, and it';s a lot of food. The three-bean salad that started our meal was large enough to be all of it."

Endgame: Blame the Bean Salad and Cookie: "So why didn't the restaurant make my Top 10 countdown? It almost did. But that bean salad just couldn't really transcend its cold-deli-case associations. And in all seriousness my corner bodega has been the source of richer and more chocolate-y cookies than the hard, bland pucks presented to my friend and me that night."
· The Good, the Bad And the Family-Style: Ad Hoc [Diner's Journal]

[Photo courtesy: Flickr/bubbletea1]