Ad Hoc by Thomas Keller – By Land or By Sea, Part III: The Verdict

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I’ve recently experienced Ad Hoc by Thomas Keller at both the land-based Yountville restaurant and on the luxury cruise line Seabourn.  The Ad Hoc concept has been a long-favorite of mine when visiting the Napa Valley but I wanted to understand how the current concepts stacked up against one another.

You can read Part I: By Land and Part II: By Sea to see how I felt about each dinner.  Now it is time for a cross-comparison in four key areas – food, service, concept execution, and overall value.

Food

For food overall, I looked at the quality of the meals, presentation of the dishes, and portion sizes.

Land-based Ad Hoc wins out for food.

Not only are menus rotated daily but they are built around fresh seasonal produce and locally sourced ingredients.  Central provisioned, corporate planned meals cannot hold a candle to this. which is unfortunately a necessity of sea-based meal planning.  Portion sizes were generous at both venues.  Its not that Seabourn did anything wrong here, but I just wasn’t wowed.

Service

For service overall, I considered the attentiveness of the staff, ability to adapt to special requests, and overall experience.

Seabourn wins out here.

The staff are all trained in fine-dining service so even when wearing dark denim jeans, they still are executing continental service.  My spotty service on the last visit not withstanding, the land-based Ad Hoc service has never wowed me.

Concept Execution

For concept execution, I weighed how well the farm-to-table concept was executed and how consistently the branding was applied.

Its hard to not award all the points here to the original.  The sea-babsed version tries too hard.  Many aspects were replicated with great detail – the uniforms, the menu design, the dinnerware – but without the day-to-day farm-to-table application, it comes across as about as authentic as an Outback Steakhouse does for Australian cuisine!

Another win for land-based.

Ambiance

For ambiance, I considered the overall pleasure of dining in the venue including lighting, music, and views.

Ocean views – enough said.  I’d give points to McDonalds served on the aft deck if it meant I could enjoy the sea air and stars.  That said, the land-based restaurant has a charm that is difficult replicate for a twice-weekly pop-up in a multipurpose venue that operates as a buffet 70% of the time.  Given that the tables on the aft deck are limited and eating inside could be a reality, I’m forced to award this one to the land-based Ad Hoc.

Value

For value, I considered the overall cost (including opportunity cost) of eating at each venue versus other options one might have.  For the land-based Ad Hoc, that would be other Yountville restaurants (including Keller’s own Bouchon and French Laundry) and for the sea-based Ad Hoc, that would be other dining facilities on board.

This is tough.  On land, many decisions are based on external factors (reservation availability, budget, etc.) whereas on Seabourn everything is included in the cruise price and one can dine almost anywhere on a particular evening.  A meal on land will average around $65/per person (including tax/gratuity, but without drinks or supplements).  A cruise on Seabourn will typically start  around $500/per person per day (including tax/gratuity, caviar on demand and unlimited premium bar).  Its hard to see Ad Hoc enhancing the value there so land wins again.

The Bottom Line

I applaud Seabourn for trying something different.  On a cruise that is longer (like the 16 night crossing I’m currently on) having fresh options helps to keep boredom at bay.  But if I were on one of the line’s 7 night cruises – and especially if trying Seabourn for the first time – I’d be hard pressed to want to use this as one of my dining options unless the menu truly trumped the other venues’ offerings that evening.

I’ll be back to visit Ad Hoc in Yountville again.  But if Seabourn sends this current Ad Hoc implementation to sleep with the fishes, there will be no crying from me.

 

About Jennifer Moody

Jennifer is a management consultant and avid volunteer. Her career and volunteer duty travels have helped her log top-tier airline and hotel status annually for the last eighteen years. In addition, she embraces the opportunity to maximize her vacation time by planning extracurricular trips that have taken her to over 60 countries and 47.5 US states. Although she averages 200 days a year on the road, she loves to return to “the homestead” in her native Fort Worth, Texas where she enjoys cooking, gardening, sewing, needlepoint, wine, and cocktail mixology.

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