I finally made my way to Ad Hoc a couple of Sundays ago for brunch amidst a healthy downpour from the sky. It was one of those Sundays that should be spent cozied up on the couch with a cup of tea in hand, gazing out the window at the wet. But as it was, I had a reservation and nothing should get in the way of Thomas Keller grub, not even kamikaze raindrops.
Babyfigs and I plodded our way into the restaurant around 10:30am and got a window seat that gave us a good look at idle streets bereft of tourists, a rare sight in Napa. While the weather continued its course outside, the two of us started plotting our next trip while waiting for our meal. With food as the key driver, Portugal had emerged as the top candidate, with Italy a close second (Spain is always a possible side trip. Always).
In between spoonfuls of creamy, home-made yogurt with crunchy blueberry granola, we dissected the merits of Portugal vs. Italy.
When I to Portugal for work, we took a 45 minute cab ride to the ocean just for dinner. It took forever! I can’t believe they made us go so far for dinner”
“But the food was worth it right?”
“Yeah it was incredible. Everything in Portugal is delicious.”
Our server, Katie, stopped by to let us know that our next course would be delayed because they forgot to excise my arch nemesis from the potato and scallion cake featured in the entree and had to make a new one. And as a salvo for the perceived inconvenience, they brought out a mid-course of smoked salmon, chive cream and haricot vert.
“Italy would be fun too. I went in college but I didn’t know how to eat good food then and I was broke. I want to go back again”.
“Me too. This smoked salmon is so yummy. It’s a good thing that I hate scallions”
When the entree finally came, the scallion-free potato cakes were delicious and crispy. They had pressed raw potatoes through a very thin ricer so the spud comes out the other side in long, thin strands like capellini. Then they lay the starchy mass together in a pile and crisp the outsides in a pan before finishing it in the salamander. Along side the potato cake were spears of asparagus, soft scrambled eggs, and country ham.
“I think the deciding factor is which destination has the cheapest plane ticket.”
“Sydney is cheap right now.”
“But is there anything good to eat in Sydney?”
“Probably not, but I think I should go at least once.”
“Why not New Zealand instead? It rocks.”
Since we drove up to Napa for the sole purpose of eating at Ad Hoc, we hadn’t planned out the rest of our day and neither of us were inclined to slog from one winery to the next. So while we were savoring a dense chocolate cake with home-made mint chip ice cream, our server suggested we visit Page Wine Cellars just up the street.
Due to the rain, the place was devoid for customers except for us so we plopped down at the tasting counter and tried out a pairing of their wine with Recchiutti chocolate (one of my favorite chocolatiers) and ended up in a long conversation with Egan, the lone guy manning the booth that day.
It turns out that he just came back from spending two years in rural Ghana working for the Peace Corp during which he picked up the native language. So if anyone out there needs a translator who is fluent in Twi….
Of course I had to ask about the foods I wax nostalgic for, like palm butter.
“Did you eat fufu?! I love fufu!”
“Yeah, I had to make my own and it took forever.”
“So when they dropped you off in the middle of nowhere, they pointed you to your hut and gave you a standard issue mortar and pestle?”
“Pretty much! It was hard to adjust to the diet and no fun to run outside to the ‘bathroom’ in the middle of the night. There was practically no protein in the diet and most of it was lacking in nutrition. We went in as men and came out shrunken to the size of teenage boys.”
And then there were the adventures of having mother natures’ alcohol made from the sap of palm trees. The sap is so sugary that it starts fermenting the moment it gets drawn out. There is a twelve hour time-line where it starts out as a harmless, sweet liquid before turning into very potent alcohol, and finally, pipe cleaner. You really have to time your drinking in Ghana, can’t just uncork a flask any old time. With that brew, the men sit around and play drinking games.
“We’d sit and and yell out, ‘Goat or child!?‘ every time we heard something wail. If you were wrong, you had to drink”
This referring to the abundance of both children and goats in the village and the eerily similar sounds they make. Why do you think we call children ‘kids’?
At the end of the day, I walked out with an unusually smoky bottle of merlot named Purgatory. I guess the taste is evocative of the fury of hell. You’re close enough to smell the smoke but not close enough to get burned. I typically dislike merlot but it tasted good and and I liked the name, quite apropos given my general state of mind that week. Anyways, that’s a post for another day.
And one final tidbit….these two little bags will be on their way to Westchester, NY next week. I wonder what’s inside?