Yountville, California: June 2022
Thomas Keller has transformed Yountville in Napa Valley into a must-visit for food enthusiasts. By branching out with more laid-back dining options, he ensures that both casual diners and the most demanding gourmets are catered to. Dive with us into an exploration of Keller’s culinary spectrum Yountville, from the brasserie setting of Bouchon Bistro to the relaxed charm of Ad Hoc + Addendum.
Thomas Keller’s restaurants
It is always interesting to understand how successful restaurants grow into small empires. If the path was traced by Alain Ducasse and Joël Robuchon, modern chefs have refined the model into many versions and styles to improve their revenue streams with businesses that yield higher margins. We have analysed similar expansions by chefs such as Niko Romito or Albert Adrià in the past.
After taking the reins of The French Laundry in 1994, Thomas Keller swiftly introduced his first side-project, Bouchon Bistro in 1998. Deciding to stay within Yountville in Napa Valley, this was continued with Bouchon Bakery in 2003. This bakery, with its viennoiserie and bread, effortlessly rivals the crème de la crème of Parisian pâtisseries, and believe us, we know a lot about it. They are both a short 300m walk from The French Laundry and its beautiful vegetable gardens.
Branching out from his Yountville stronghold, Thomas Keller showcased his most upscale and gastronomic flair in New York with Per Se and replicated the Bouchon Bistro magic in Las Vegas in 2004. By 2023, Las Vegas also boasted three Bouchon Bakery locations. In 2006, Yountville embraced the laid-back allure of Ad Hoc + Addendum. New restaurants continued in Miami with The Surf Club Restaurant in 2018, followed by a new Bouchon Bistro in 2023.
These projects have accumulated high praise and accolades over the years, including three Michelin stars for Per Se, a star for The Surf Club, and Bouchon Bistro in California maintaining its star for 15 years until 2022. Wanting to see if the acclaim was merited, during our tour of Napa and Sonoma we took advantage of the opportunity to explore all of the ventures in Yountville.
Bouchon Bistro aims to imitate the feel and aesthetic, perhaps a bit idealized, of a French brasserie more than a bistrot or a Lyonnais bouchon. Predominantly, the menu boasts brasserie favourites like steak frites, roast chicken, sole, tartar, seafood platters or oysters. However, it also incorporates dishes such as salade Lyonnaise, characteristic of a bouchon, and pig ears, which would be common in a bistrot. Their wine list is a highlight, reasonably priced for US standards, and is rich in both the great Californian wines— featuring labels like Arnot-Roberts, Kistler, Kongsgaard, Racines, Littorai, Pax, Heitz, Matthiason, Corison or Shafer — and French classics, ranging from Vacheron to Dagueneau in Loire, or from Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey to Bonneau du Martray in Burgundy.
The experience starts with Bread and Butter from Bouchon Bakery. Shaped to resemble a wheat plant, this lean French bread delivered a similar experience to a baguette in taste and texture. A genuine nod to the basics done exceptionally well. It came with a light salted butter and freshly roasted pistachios, served warm.
On ice, the Moules had a distinct chewiness, suggesting they might have been overcooked. However, the zesty cocktail sauce with a touch of heat and the tangy mustard-based sauce managed to complement the mussels well, making up for their dry texture and creating a balanced taste experience.
Our second starter, Pâté de campagne, was a heartier nod to traditional country cuisine. Made from pork with a slightly grainy texture, it resembled mortadella in taste, punctuated with hints of fennel and black pepper. Not exactly what we expected. While the high fat content enriched its flavour, the paté was simple and unassuming. A true pâté de campagne should be more intense and heavily spiced with pepper. It was the sides that pulled it all together: a touch of mustard, crunchy cornichons, fresh watercress, sharp radishes, and some good toast. Together, they made for a satisfying, well-balanced bite.
Things got much better with the Steak Frites. The flat-iron steak was cooked spot-on to medium-rare, edge to edge, with a thin crust. Clearly a prime cut, it hailed from a well-nourished cow, and while not aged, it boasted a robust beef flavour that stood out even without the added depth of ageing. Caramelised shallots added a touch of sweetness, sitting between the steak and a flavourful maître d’hôtel butter with a hint of parsley.
The frites were a standout in their own right. Likely fried in peanut oil, their consistent 4mm thickness strikes a balance: crispy on the outside, yet soft inside. Some unexpectedly long frites add a touch of whimsy.
We accompanied our steak with a Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.
|2019 DuMOL – Wester Reach Pinot Noir
|Dark colour. Dark cherries, plums and cola. Ripe fruit but not jammy.
|Concentrated with plums and cola, but not very complex. Some oak appears in the midpalate and finish to round up the flavours. Traditional to the style.
|Crisp, full body, high alcohol, soft low tannins. Medium finish. Typical Russian River Valley Pinot that kept some freshness and achieved balance.
Our meal concluded with a Lemon tart. The pinenut crust was a delightful change from the norm, but it was the custard that raised eyebrows. Its intense tanginess felt overpowering. Was this level of acidity intentional? A bit more sweetness might have made a world of difference in achieving a balanced bite.
Perhaps it’s better to head out and try some of Bouchon’s Bakery viennoiserie or macarons.
Ad Hoc + Addendum
Ad Hoc is Keller’s most relaxed dining spot, highlighting everyday American classics. Guests can enjoy a set four-course menu, designed for sharing among the table. Especially notable are the additional offerings such as the fried chicken and selections from the barbecue. Housed in the same building, Addendum serves as Ad Hoc’s takeaway version.
Our menu started with a Spring vegetable salad. Fresh asparagus, crisp radishes, sweet English peas, and mixed greens came together in a celebration of seasonal produce. The cohesive touch? A well-crafted buttermilk ranch dressing, adding a creamy tanginess that made every bite just right. It honestly showcases fresh ingredients without unnecessary frills.
As a main, the Barbecue Chicken delivered with its juicy, tender chicken, glazed in a smoky tomato and paprika sauce, and perfectly chargrilled. The dish shines especially with its silky buttermilk potato mash, which channels the rich, buttery style that would make Robuchon proud. Yet, the collard greens on the side were unremarkable.
Naturally, we had to order the iconic Buttermilk Fried Chicken too. This now ranks among our favourite fried chicken dishes, right alongside that of Atoboy in NYC and Seoul’s Hyodo Chicken. Using American chicken, known for its larger size and tenderness compared to European chickens, the dish delivered on all fronts – juicy meat but also, surprisingly, full of flavour. The batter, while light and crisp, held a straightforward but effective blend of black pepper, white pepper, and a touch of paprika. Instead of fiery heat, the focus was on a clean and pleasant seasoning. The larger clumps in the batter added an extra layer of crunch, making every bite satisfying. And with Kongsgaard Chardonnay as a pairing, one could not ask for more.
We finished with a simple Strawberry shortbread, a British-style scone layered over a brunoise of ripe strawberries and topped with a dollop of vanilla Chantilly.