The Ultimate Foie Gras (Terrine)

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As much as I love foie gras in the seared form, that affection is significantly tempered when it comes to terrine. Not that there’s anything wrong with terrine per se, but when you have the seared to compare it with, it’s hard to get excited knowing you are only getting the runner up fruits of a goose’s torturous labor. That said, there are a few exceptions to the rule, because the Ultimates below taste like anything but settling…

The Inn at Pound Ridge – Pound Ridge, NY

As if foie gras wasn’t already enough of a treat as is, Jean-Georges took it upon himself to cross-breed it with crème brulée and thus I give you foie gras brulée. A terrine baked into a crust with a caramelized, candied top. It’s so damn good you’ll never want just plain ole terrine again. The only problem with it I can foresee some people having is deciding whether or not it’s more of a dessert than an appetizer- rich people problems are the worst.

The Bazaar – Los Angeles, CA & Miami, FL

It’s going to take you a minute or two to wrap your head around the presentation of this one, but after one bite of the foie gras cotton candy, you’ll take significantly less time wrapping your head around the fact that you want to place another order of it, stat! To elaborate, they take a tiny brick of terrine and hide it at the core of the cotton candy ball on a stick. The result is a fun, melt-in-your-mouth experience, as the cotton dissolves instantly, enveloping the savory pate in sweetness.

The French Laundry – Yountville, CA

This is the most traditional of The Ultimates, served as a straight up terrine from a local farm that exclusively deals with Thomas Keller, which means the geese are probably fed foie gras before they themselves are turned into it. But it’s actually not the terrine that’s the star here. And while the brioche toast they serve it with is divine, it’s not that either. Interestingly enough, it’s the salt. But not just any salt. A medley of salts sourced from all over the world, including one that dates back over 40 million years! Granted that could easily be a crock of shit that they spin to justify the obscene price tag, but Morton’s or not, I felt quite special scarfing down my foie gras with prehistoric seasoning.

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Ad Hoc

6476 Washington St. Yountville, CA 94599 • (707) 944-2487 • adhocrestaurant.com

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Much to my chagrin, it would appear that Napa and Thomas Keller aren’t perfect. In fact, my chagrin was downright disappointed, to be quite frank. I mean I get that it’s supposed to be a more casual Keller experience than The Laundry or Per Se, but that doesn’t mean we have to throw the badass with the bathwater. I’ve been to hordes of casual restaurants that crush Ad Hoc, so save the excuses, because unfortunately I can’t eat them.

The mediocrity hits you pretty quick when you enter. The décor feels very much like a casual dining food chain. The drinks at the bar, while good, are all classics with no inventive twists, save the fact that they make some of the ingredients themselves. For example they make their own Pims and their own ginger ale, which made for a pretty tasty Pim’s cup.

The menu, however, also proved to be woefully uninventive and considering it’s fixed, there was no escaping the oncoming train of blah. It started with a basket of bread that tasted no better (or worse) than the stuff you might get at an A&P. And the butter they serve with it is the unsalted crap you use to prime a skillet.

The arugula salad with peaches was simple, but good. And it went very well the wine we had chosen. But, Ad Hoc didn’t make the wine, and the salad is nothing you can’t make at home. Next…

The “paella” was quite the looker, hemorrhaging with shellfish. Unfortunately it wasn’t hemorrhaging with flavor. From the over-cooked mushy rice to the relatively bland mollusks, there was little to like about the dish apart from the chicken, which managed to be pretty moist. But relying on chicken to save a paella is like relying on the parsley garnish to save a rib eye.

Following that came the cheese plate and while neither were bad, neither were amazing either. In fact, the piave we had at a vineyard earlier that day put these to shame. And so did the accouterments. The mustard and the pickled veggies were both better than the cheeses themselves.

And bringing up the rear was a blueberry cake of sorts that only served as the final nail in the coffin. Which is a triumph in defeat, because I am an extremely easy target when it comes to blueberries and yet they whiffed it.

Such a let down. I almost want to give it one knife due to the hype factor, but to be fair, nothing was bad. It just wasn’t good either. And in Napa, restaurants should be held to a higher standard.

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The French Laundry

6640 Washington St. Yountville, CA 94599 • (707) 944-2380frenchlaundry.com

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Granted it takes selling a vital organ to get a reservation at this place. And the cost of dinner will be more than the airfare you paid to get there from JFK… AND, it’s hyped like no other restaurant on the face of the Earth- BUT, with all of that said, I can honestly say, it’s still pretty worth it.

The amuse bouche of salmon tartar on a cone filled with creme fraiche set the tone by giving my wife and I a simultaneous foodgasm right out of the gate – sorry for the TMI.

There were, however, a few courses here and there that were just okay, but then came the foie gras terrine with assorted salts including one dating back 40 million years! Now, while I do loves me some foie gras, I am more of a seared foie gras kinda guy – but I must say, this was the best terrine I have ever had.

And speaking of the “best,” the highlight of the meal was the rib-eye. Easily the Ultimate steak of my 44 year life.

A deconstructed cobbler for dessert was also quite stellar as were the little cookies and the amazing macadamia nuts rolled in chocolate, dusted with pistachio.

Then, as an added surprise, for my birthday they took us on a tour of the kitchen where they literally have a giant flat screen TV hooked up to a live feed with the kitchen at Per Se in NYC, so they can keep an eye on both places at once.

So why the four knives and not five? The decor is actually a bit of a let down to be honest. I know Keller likes to keep things minimal so as not to detract from the food, but I don’t buy it. I have been to many an amazing meal where the decor is jaw-dropping and in my not-so-humble opinion, actually ADDED to the experience. Just like service and presentation, which he seems to value greatly, as exhibited by the judicious use of great precision and artistry.

Also, one other pretty significant ding, compared to Cyrus (R.I.P.), I found the courses to be far more inconsistent. Some incredible. Some great. Some just okay. Whereas at Cryus, out of nearly a dozen courses, there was maybe one miss, with more than double the number of hits. And it was half the price.

Oh, and one more nit. We had a wine pairing with each course and I have to say, I have had better pairings at Frasca in Boulder, CO and at Aja (R.I.P.) in NYC.

But 4 knives is nothing to sneeze at. I sincerely can’t wait to go back- ideally on someone else’s dime.

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