Posts Tagged ‘Cheese’

Ad Hoc – Yountville, CA

Thursday, October 9th, 2014 by virginia


Even though I knew we were going to be in Sonoma, not Napa, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to eat at a Thomas Keller restaurant, especially because it’ll probably be years before we’ll be “in the neighborhood” again. I know we have Bouchon Bakery in NYC, but it’s not quite the same as a regular sit-down restaurant. The drive from Healdsburg to Yountville was actually over an hour, but it was a pretty scenic trip past rolling hills of vineyards. While I would have loved to eat at the French Laundry, logistically, and budget-wise, Ad Hoc made more sense for us. Originally we had made a reservation for a party of ten, but our group dwindled down to four, which fortunately was not an issue.

I was actually surprised by the decor of the restaurant when we walked in. I don’t know why, but in my mind, I was picturing something a little more casual and countrified. Instead, it was a beautifully modern space with tall ceilings, large windows, and a contemporary vibe. Even though we had a somewhat early reservation, the place was packed and the atmosphere was hopping.

The menu at Ad Hoc changes every day, but whatever is on the menu that day is what you get. There is usually a salad to start, a main course with the option to add a supplemental dish, a cheese course, and dessert. The meal costs $52, plus an extra supplement cost if you choose to add the supplemental dish, and you get everything. It’s all served family style, with enough portions for everyone at the table to have a healthy serving.

On the night that we dined there, the salad course featured a gorgeous mix of little gem lettuce, shaved fennel, apricots, radishes, pickled red onions, and ricotta, with a chamomile vinaigrette. The gem lettuce, which is similar to baby romaine, was unbelievably fresh, with such a crisp texture and intense lettuce flavor. The radishes fortunately were not too bitter, and the fennel was pretty mild as well. The apricots were a great addition – sweet and juicy, while the dollops of ricotta added a nice creaminess to the greens. We all thought the salad was slightly under-dressed, until we discovered that they had brought us a gravy boat of extra dressing that no one had noticed until we were almost finished eating. Oh well. The vegetables were so fresh anyway that we were sort of glad to have tasted them in all their semi-naked glory.


Salad with little gem lettuce, fennel, apricots, radishes, pickled red onions, and ricotta

The main course was grilled hanger steak, which was nicely browned on the outside and perfectly medium rare on the inside. The steak was topped with wilted mustard greens, fried polenta, bell pepper stew, and turnip agrodolce. The mustard greens were soft but not overcooked, and the slight bitterness of the turnips was counteracted by the sweet bell peppers. My favorite part of the dish, aside from the steak, was the fried polenta, which had a perfectly crisp shell and a creamy center. It was a hearty, homey dish and they definitely didn’t skimp on the meat. We wound up boxing up the leftovers.

Hanger steak

Hanger steak with mustard greens, turnips, bell pepper stew, and fried polenta

The supplemental dish was shrimp scampi, which we added to our meal without hesitation (the additional cost was $16). It was a good call, as the shrimp were perfectly cooked and the pasta was clearly homemade, with chewy strands that clung to the well balanced scampi sauce. The dish wasn’t overly garlicky and had just the right amount of acid.

Shrimp scampi

Shrimp scampi

The cheese course was the Lamb Chopper from Cyprus Grove, a sheep’s milk cheese that has a mild gamey flavor to it. It’s a hard cheese but texturally smooth, and it was served toasted cashews and honey. The sweetness of the honey really brought out the tang of the sheep’s milk. It was a nice palate cleansing course.


Lamb Chopper cheese with honey and cashews

Dessert was ice cream sandwiches with sweet corn ice cream between shortbread cookies, rolled in blackberries. They were impossibly messy (the ice cream squeezed out the back when you bit into the cookies, and the blackberry juice got all over our hands), but they were delicious, whimsical, and just plain fun to eat. The shortbread cookies tasted like sugar cookies, though not too sugary, and the ice cream had a subtle hint of corn flavor. I was hoping to taste more of the corn, but the sandwich was just the perfect amount of sweetness to end the gluttonous meal.

Sweet corn ice cream sandwiches

Sweet corn ice cream sandwiches with blackberries

Immediately after our meal, we had kind of mixed emotions about the dinner at Ad Hoc. The food was really good – seasonal, well prepared, and plentiful. But there was nothing that knocked our socks off. Everything was properly seasoned and tasted great, but it was simple, homey fare, and I think we were expecting something a little more extraordinary from a Thomas Keller restaurant. In hindsight though, it was our own preconceived notions that had us a little disappointed at the end of the meal. Thinking back, we truly did enjoy our meal, and each course was amazing in its own right. The salad was unbelievably fresh, the steak was expertly cooked, as were the sides, the shrimp scampi was nicely balanced,  the cheese course was simple but delicious, and the ice cream sandwiches put smiles on all of our faces. It was a meal I would happily eat again, and a complete bargain considering the quality of the food and the size of the portions. If you’re expecting more composed dishes and creative combinations, then this isn’t the place. But if you’re looking for uncomplicated, straightforward, and perfectly executed food that is also unbelievably tasty, don’t hesitate to make a reservation at Ad Hoc.

Ad Hoc
6476 Washington St.
Yountville, CA

While we would have loved to eat here (French Laundry), which is just down the street, Ad Hoc was still a great restaurant in its own right

While we would have loved to eat here (French Laundry), which is just down the street, we wound up having an amazing meal at Ad Hoc


Thursday, December 9th, 2010 by virginia

Kashkaval is a Mediterranean cheese market and wine bar that I had been meaning to try since we moved into our neighborhood but we never got around to it. We passed it all the time though and it always looked busy. One weeknight Josh and I were meeting our friends Shiraz and Nicole for an early dinner so I suggested Kashkaval, hoping that we’d be able to just walk in. Luckily they had one table available that wasn’t reserved until 9:30 pm so we had plenty of time to grab a bite to eat.

The front of the restaurant is the cheese market, and they sell assorted breads, meats, salads, and dips as well. The dining area is in the back and it’s quite cozy, with exposed brick walls and lots of wine bottles on display. Tables are packed in and close together but fortunately the table we got was actually a large booth tucked in the corner so we had plenty of space for the four of us.

We ordered a bottle of wine to share, an Argentinean malbec. It was one of the cheaper options on the menu but was perfectly drinkable. We decided to share a large sampler platter of cold Mediterranean tapas, which allowed us to choose up to six of the appetizers/dips/salads that were on the tapas list. We selected the spicy walnut pepper spread, stuffed grape leaves, baba ganoush, red pepper spread, lentil salad, and beet skordalia. It was hard to choose because there were so many options that looked appealing.

Stuffed grape leaves, lentil salad, baba ganoush, red pepper spread, beet skordalia, spicy walnut pepper spread

My favorite items on the platter were the stuffed grape leaves, which were soft and flavorful, the baba ganoush, which had a nice smokey eggplant flavor, and the spicy walnut pepper spread, which was an interesting spicy/tangy/nutty combination. The red pepper spread was pretty tasty as well, but the beet skordalia didn’t have enough beet or garlic flavor (I think I prefer potato skordalia), and the lentil salad was slightly bland. The menu said the large platter would serve 3-5 people, which is about right. They bring you baskets of of whole wheat pita bread to dip and spread with, and the carbs help to fill you up.

Whole wheat pita bread

Since this restaurant was also a cheese market, we definitely wanted to try out one of the cheese fondues. The special fondue of the day, made with Danish fontina and raclette, was our first choice but unfortunately they had run out of it. We settled instead for the kashkaval fondue, figuring that if the restaurant is named after this particular type of cheese, it must be pretty good. We decided to get an order for two instead of four, since we had ordered that large sampler platter. The fondue came with cubes of baguette for dipping.

Dipping pieces of baguette into kashkaval cheese fondue

The kashkaval cheese had a nice nutty flavor to it and a great, elastic stringy texture that made it fun to dip into. We were able swirl lots of cheese around each piece of baguette, which was a good thing. The fondue was slightly greasy, though I’m not sure if it was the cheese or the olive oil they mixed into it. It did soak into the bread but that just gave it a nice buttery flavor. Towards the end, however, the cheese definitely seized up and became super hard so we sadly had to stop dipping and leave behind a fair amount at the bottom of the pot.

Overall I really liked the food and the atmosphere at Kashkaval. It did have a wine bar kind of vibe to it but was still low key, which I prefer. Tables were pretty tight together but it wasn’t overly loud; we were able to carry on a conversation fairly easily. There were a lot of choices with regard to tapas and cheese/meat platters but there weren’t too many main entrees available. I didn’t mind though because we just shared a bunch of stuff, which meant that we got to try a lot of different things. Prices are pretty reasonable, with the large sampler platter costing $18 and the fondue was $24 ($12 per serving). With wine, plus tax and tip, it came out to about $25 per person, which isn’t too bad. I definitely plan on going back so that I can try more items from the tapas list!

856 9th Ave. between 55th and 56th St.
New York, NY

Chi Cha (Arequipa, Peru)

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010 by virginia

Before our city tour of Arequipa, we had time to get lunch. Our guide recommended Chi Cha, a restaurant owned by Gaston Acurio, who is supposedly the best chef in Peru. He owns many different restaurants throughout the country, but this was the only one we tried so we can’t really judge his culinary prowess.

The restaurant was very large and was divided into two rooms, a bright outer room that was more casual looking and a more formal dining room inside. There were no tables for two open, so they seated us at a large round table that could fit eight people, which made us feel a bit weird but at least we had plenty of space. Our meal started off with a basket of mixed breads, including two slices of loaf bread that tasted like corn bread, two breadsticks, and three different flavors of mini baguettes.

Assorted breads

While the bread itself was a little dry, I really liked slathering them with the accompanying soft creamy butter that was mixed with Peruvian chilis. The flavor of the chilis really came through in the butter, and it was an interesting twist on something that’s usually just an afterthought.

Butter mixed with Peruvian chilis

For our lunch, we decided to share a few dishes that we were told were specialties of Arequipa. We knew we had to try rocoto relleno, which is a spicy pepper stuffed with chopped beef and onions and served with potatoes and cheese. The pepper wasn’t super spicy, but it did have a kick to it. The filling reminded me of chili con carne, though the spices were different. There was a potato and cheese gratin on the plate next to the stuffed pepper, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the cheese flavor. I just don’t like cheese in general, and this particular kind tasted very milky to me. Josh didn’t mind it though. I did like the stuffed pepper by itself.

Rocoto relleno

Another dish that I was eager to try was antichuchos de corazon, or grilled brochettes of beef heart. The beef hearts were served with potatoes, corn, and various dipping sauces, including a garlicky sauce and a spicy rocoto sauce. Josh was not as eager to try this dish, and even less so when our request that they cook the hearts to medium turned out more like medium rare. I loved the flavor of the beef heart though, which was nice and smokey from the grill and surprisingly very beefy in taste. Josh couldn’t get past the texture, which was a little chewy and bouncy, but I thought it was pretty tender considering that it was beef heart. I ended up polishing off most of the dish.

Antichuchos de corazon (grilled beef heart brochettes)

Our last dish was ocopa, which is sliced boiled potatoes covered in a thick, creamy yellow sauce that tastes strongly of Andean mint. The sauce is traditionally made with milk and cheese, and is super rich. This version had pieces of fried cheese on top that were nice and salty, as well as pieces of hard boiled egg and olives. It was an interesting combination of flavors and textures, but unfortunately, I took an instant dislike to Andean mint. I don’t know why exactly, since I like regular spearmint and peppermint, but I had a strong aversion to the Andean kind. Whenever I tasted it in any dish during the rest of our trip, I would immediately recoil in disgust and stop eating right away. It made no sense to me, but I really just didn’t like it. Josh, on the other hand, did enjoy the mint, as well as the ocopa. I guess we don’t always have similar tastes!


When they brought our check, they also brought us two marshmallows to finish our meal on a sweet note. I forget what flavor these were, but they were sweet, light, and airy.


Overall we thought the food at Chi Cha was pretty good. While I just didn’t like the flavor of the ocopa or the potato and cheese gratin with the rocoto relleno, it was just a personal taste, not an issue with the preparation. Josh liked the dishes that I didn’t enjoy, and I absolutely loved the beef hearts while he couldn’t take the texture. We both thought the service was very efficient. In fact, our dishes arrived so quickly that we wondered if they had everything already lined up to go in the kitchen sitting under heat lamps. I don’t think that was the case though, because everything was sizzling hot and not overcooked or dried out. Our three dishes, plus a few beers, came out to S/82, or about US$30. Not bad. It’s definitely a place that I would recommend for some local Arequipan cuisine in a nice atmosphere.

Chi Cha
Santa Catalina, 210 Int. 105
Arequipa, Peru

CSA Week #12

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010 by virginia

After a hectic day at work, I was excited to come home to our CSA share. We got a long message from the farm today that made me feel bad about what the farmers are dealing with this summer, in addition to the extreme heat. Also, we learned that heirloom tomatoes should be picked ripe, which means they’ll often be soft and split. That’s a hard thing for me to reconcile because it makes me feel like I’ll have to eat them right away, but now I understand why so many of the tomatoes are in that particular state.

This week our share contents included:

Mini Bell Peppers – 5 each
Watermelon – 2 small or 1 large
Tomatoes – 4 lbs
Cabbage – 1/2 head
Squash – 2 1/3 lbs
Mixed Greens – 3/4 lb

Ruby chard, heirloom tomatoes, watermelon, cabbage, squash, mini bell peppers in front

The mini bell peppers are super cute, and I think we might just eat these whole since they’re basically bite sized. The watermelons were pretty small so Josh picked out one of the larger ones, which is just enough for 2 people to share. We have lots of heirloom tomatoes now, some of which are really soft and some which are slightly firmer. I foresee lots of caprese salads in our future, which is just fine by me. For the mixed greens, Josh got swiss chard with huge leaves and thick ruby red stems. Gorgeous!

Our fruit share is starting to overwhelm us but James just sent us a delicious-looking peach pie recipe that will help me get through our rapidly ripening peach bounty. This week our fruit share contents included:

Italian Plums – 2 lbs
Peaches – 3 lbs
Nectarines – 2 2/5 lbs

Peaches, Italian plums, nectarines

I have absolutely no complaints about the fruit this week. The peaches are large, ripe, and picture perfect. It took lots of willpower not to dig in before I snapped my photos!

In addition, today is Market Day for our CSA. That means in addition to our regular shares, we had the opportunity to order some extra goodies, such as cheese, yogurt, eggs, organic meats, spices, and more. When Josh and I first decided to purchase a CSA share, we debated whether to get an additional egg or dairy share but decided that we wouldn’t use up those items fast enough. Market Day gives us the opportunity to try out some of these item on a one-off basis (you pay per item you choose). We put in our order a few weeks ago and today we received our goods.

This is what we decided to order from Market Day:

Organic Eggs – 1 dozen
Yogurt – 5 containers (6 oz each)
Cheese – 2 packages (8 oz each)
Honey – 16 oz organic wildflower

Organic eggs, assorted yogurt, horseradish cheddar, wildflower honey, garlic and dill cheddar

For the yogurt, there were four different flavors available, so Josh picked out one of each – blackberry, orange, strawberry, and he doubled up on raspberry. For the cheese, he picked horseradish and garlic/dill flavored cheddars (other options included mild cheddar and smoked cheddar). We’re excited to see if organic eggs taste different from regular supermarket eggs, since we debated for a while whether to get a half dozen weekly egg share. If we like these eggs enough, maybe next year we’ll go for the weekly option. Yes, we love our CSA enough that we’re already thinking about next year!

Foodie Futbol

Thursday, July 15th, 2010 by virginia

Josh and I hosted a World Cup party at our apartment to watch the final between Spain and the Netherlands. We had decided long ago to cook foods from the competing nations, not knowing who would be in the championship match. We were rooting for Spain from the beginning so we hoped they would be one of the teams, and luckily they didn’t disappoint, but the other side of the bracket was a complete toss up. When the Netherlands prevailed, we were at a loss as to what to make to represent Dutch cuisine.

Planning the Spanish side of the menu was easy, as Josh and I both love Spanish food and he had done a semester in Barcelona during college. For the Dutch side of the menu, I ended up doing a few google searches, and although we couldn’t exactly pronounce the names of any dishes, we got some good recipes of stuff to make.

While Josh and I both like to entertain, we don’t exactly know how to do it without going overboard. We both love to cook and to share our cooking with other people, so when we have parties, we tend to make a million things. Most of the time we end up missing out on most of the party because we’re in the kitchen still cooking. We didn’t want to miss the soccer game though, since this was the whole point of our party, so we made sure to plan dishes that can be cooked ahead of time and easily reheated.

We had our planning done ahead of time, complete with detailed shopping lists and who would make what, but I think we were a bit overly ambitious and wound up pulling an all nighter – cooking, that is. We did all of our shopping on Saturday morning/afternoon in NJ, got back to the city around 7 pm, and promptly started prepping and cooking. 11 hours later, at 6 am, after the sun had set and risen, we finally went to bed. We got up three hours later and finished cooking, then set everything up for our party, which started at 1:30. It was a hectic and tiring process, but we did get everything done, we didn’t miss the game (hooray for Spain!), and everything turned out better than we hoped.

Since the theme of the party was the World Cup final, we kind of planned our menu to pair Spanish and Dutch dishes head to head. First up was our cheese board, which featured Spanish manchego cheese versus Dutch gouda. We paired the gouda with apple slices, and the manchego with membrillo, which is quince paste. The gouda was declared the winner, though the membrillo turned out to be a surprise hit. Silva and Felipe also brought a different kind of Spanish cheese that was milder than the manchego but still quite tasty.

Gouda/apples vs. Manchego/membrillo

Next was the battle of the breads. On the Dutch side, we made Boerenkaas Puffs, which were cheese puffs made with gouda. The recipe we followed came from here. They were pretty similar to gougeres, very easy to make, and really delicious. On the Spanish side, we made pan con tomate, which is simply tomato bread. All you need to do is take a baguette, slice it in half length-wise, rub a clove of garlic on each side, and sprinkle each side with some salt and olive oil. Then you take some ripe tomatoes, cut them in half, and rub the juicy pulp all over the bread. Easy and really tasty. Both breads were a hit, so I think this may have been a toss up.

Boorenakas puffs (cheese puffs with gouda)

Pan con tomate (tomato bread)

For the potato dishes, we had tortilla espanola on the Spanish side. The tortilla is basically a giant frittata with layers of potato, onion, and egg. To make the tortilla, we gently roasted potatoes and onions in the oven, layered it in deep dutch oven, and covered the layers with lots of scrambled eggs. We baked the tortilla in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes, until it was cooked through and had set. For the Dutch potato dish, we made Boerenkool Stamppot, which is a hodgepodge with mashed potatoes, onions, kale, and smoked sausage. This was the recipe we followed. The potato/kale mixture turned out to be a surprise hit, helped mostly by the smoked sausage we spread around it.

Tortilla espanola

Boerenkool Stamppot (kale hash with sausage)

For the main courses, this was where we showed our true colors. Since we were rooting for Spain, we made two Spanish entrees and only one Dutch entree. In actuality, we couldn’t decide on which Spanish dish to make so we made both. First was pollo ajillo, or chicken in garlic sauce. To make the chicken, we first brined it in salt water for a few hours. In the meantime, we gently cooked a whole head of minced garlic in olive oil to make a super flavorful garlic oil. Then we seared the chicken (we used bone-in thighs) in that garlic oil and placed them into a dutch oven with minced onions that had been carmelized in garlic oil. We deglazed the pan with white wine, poured that off into the dutch oven, and tossed in the garlic from the garlic oil into the mixture as well. To add even more garlic punch, we added slivers of garlic from an entire additional head of garlic. Then we added the zest of three lemons and enough chicken stock to cover the chicken. We cooked the chicken in the dutch oven, in the oven, at 350 degrees for several hours. Right before serving, we added the juice of the three lemons to brighten up the flavor. By the time we served the chicken, it was super tender and falling off the bone.

Pollo ajillo (chicken in garlic sauce)

Our other spanish entree was albondigas, or meatballs. To make the meatballs, we mixed together ground beef, a puree of onions and garlic, and fresh pieces of diced onion. We used salt, pepper, cumin, and paprika to season the meat. We rolled and shaped the mixture into bite sized meatballs, then seared them off in a large pan. In a large pot, we sauteed some onions in garlic oil and added a big can of crushed tomatoes. When the meatballs were all seared, we added them to the pot of sauce and gently simmered them for a few hours. They were also super tender by the time we served them, and the flavor of the spices really shined through.

Albondigas (meatballs)

Our Dutch entree was Gestoofde runderlappen (try pronouncing THAT!), or braised steak. It was essentially a beef stew cooked entirely in beer. Simple, yet deeply flavorful. The recipe we followed came from here. The beef fell apart with a touch of a fork, and the carrots and onions added a nice heartiness to the dish.

Gestoofde runderlappen (braised steak)

We didn’t forget about dessert! For the Dutch side, we tried to be a bit playful and decided to make herb brownies. The herb? Mint, of course. Josh and I had an argument about the brownies because I just wanted to use ones from a box, but he insisted on making them from scratch. He won out in the end by convincing me that it would be embarrassing to say on the blog that we made brownies from mix. It was kind of a victory for both of us, as he ended up being the one to make them at 5 am while I sulked on the couch nursing my aching knife arm. He used the cocoa brownie recipe from Alton Brown’s Good Eats: The Early Years, which is similar to the recipe posted here. The mint was our own addition (add a handful of fresh leaves to the butter as it’s melting, then strain). The brownies were intensely chocolatey, had a fudgey texture, and just a hint of mint in the background. They were super rich but I thought they were really good, so kudos to Josh.

"Herb" brownies (with mint)

Beauty shot of the rich, chocolately, minty deliciousness

The Spanish dessert was all Josh as well (he’s the real baker in the family). Using another Alton Brown recipe, but substituting real vanilla bean instead of vanilla extract, the flan was a risky endeavor but a huge success. He also made his own caramel sauce, courtesy of Mr. Brown as well. The flan had the perfect texture, creamy and smooth, and the caramel sauce was thick and rich.

Flan with caramel sauce

Beauty shot

So the verdict? I think based on the entrees, Spain had the narrow victory. And not because we’re biased or anything. But the Dutch food was surprisingly really good, and I’m eager to try it for real next year when we head to Amsterdam in honor of Josh’s 30th birthday. Aside from the food, the game was really exciting as well. La Furia Roja eeked out the win in extra time, and we’re glad it didn’t end up going to penalty kicks. All in all it was a successful day, and totally worth the lack of sleep we endured. Plus we have oodles of leftovers to feast on for the rest of the week!