Is Tyler Florence’s Wayfare Tavern Worth the Hype?

Open kitchen at Wayfare Tavern
Open kitchen at Wayfare Tavern

Okay, I’ll admit it: I was never a big Tyler Florence fan. Sure, Forbes recently reported that he’s worth more than 50 million dollars, but I always saw him as more of a television personality than a chef. Before 2010, he never even ran his own restaurant and now he’s got THREE in less than two years! (Wayfare Tavern, Rotisserie and Wine, & El Paseo) He’s clearly cashing in on his television fame.

These days, he’s getting plenty of press attention, both good AND bad. And I haven’t taken the critic’s giddy reviews over his flagship restaurant, Wayfare Tavern, very seriously. He used to be a spokesperson for Applebee’s for goodness sake. It must be his over 290,000 fans on Twitter making a big deal about this new hotspot for local celebrity sightings. They’re the ones raving about how the Fried Chicken and Macaroni and Cheese are to die for.

Wait, did you say Fried Chicken and Macaroni and Cheese? Maybe I should check this place out.

The atmosphere of the restaurant is classic old world San Francisco with its golden eagle emblem, black and dark colored wood accents, brushed metal plates and cushy booths. The service is as welcoming as Tyler Florence’s television persona, itself. Our server was at once knowledgeable, warm and genuinely excited about the food coming out of the kitchen. All this positivity was starting to wear off on me.

The menu is a greatest hits compilation of sophisticated American comfort food with a slight French slant, ranging from Deviled Eggs to Steak Tartare to Pork Hash.

Avocado and Hearts of Palm Salad
Avocado and Hearts of Palm Salad

The meal started with a homemade popover that was light, tangy and just plain impressive. Then we ordered the Organic Butter Lettuce Salad with the Palace Hotel’s Green Goddess dressing, and the Avocado and Hearts of Palm Salad with shaved red onions, cucumbers and lime-cilantro dressing. The Green Goddess dressing and radishes were the perfect foil for the delicate butter lettuce. But it was the combination of the fresh, citrusy dressing and creamy, buttery avocado that really sang to me. It was a delightfully bright yet simple salad.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken
Buttermilk Fried Chicken

Then came the much hyped Buttermilk Brined Fried Chicken that came with a mound of fried herbs, including rosemary and sage, and a wedge of lemon. I’d seen Tyler Florence make fried sage on his show Tyler’s Ultimate, but never expected to enjoy the mellow almost nutty flavor to pair so well with the chicken’s perfectly thin, crisp crust. The flavorful chicken benefited from the buttermilk brine, creating a moist, tangy meat. I’ve tried a lot of fried chicken at various places around San Francisco, but this was clearly the best in my book.

Macaroni and Cheese
Macaroni and Cheese

We paired the chicken with an order of Macaroni and Cheese, made with jack cheese and perfectly toasted garlic breadcrumbs; and fresh local Grilled Asparagus with chive blossoms.

The Mac and Cheese was smooth and creamy, just the way I like it. I’m not a fan of baked, clumpy, greasy versions of the dish. And the mild yet distinct garlic flavor was prevalent in the breadcrumbs, which is a good thing. I wish, though, that the cheese had more kick and depth. The jack cheese didn’t give it enough flavor power like I’d hoped. Regardless, it was still a decadent pleasure.

Carrot Cake
Carrot Cake

Since we were clearly going for gluttony, we finished our meal off with three different desserts: the Key Steamed Lime Pudding Cake with Buttermilk Ice Cream, Gooseberry Goat Cheese Cheesecake, and Carrot Cake.

The goat cheese cheesecake was a bit intense for me, though it was lightened by the gooseberries. And though the buttermilk ice cream was absolutely delicious, the pudding cake was a little grainier than I’d expected. I wanted something smoother, though the flavor and creaminess was there.

The most impressive dessert was the Carrot Cake, not because of the cake itself, though it was rich and moist the way it should be, but because of the pool of carrot syrup that surrounded it. Everyone at the table wanted to drink it straight! It tasted like spiced cider, rich with cinnamon and cloves. It was sweet, spicy and heavenly.

I’d mentioned to our server in passing that one of my dining companions was celebrating a birthday, and she smiled and proceeded to bring over my friend’s dessert with the obligatory lit candle on it. But it was the accompanying notecard signed personally by Tyler Florence, that impressed us. He wasn’t even in town let alone in the restaurant at the time of our meal, but it’s these personal touches in the service, the food, and décor that make this restaurant standout.

notecard signed personally by Tyler Florence
Notecard signed personally by Tyler Florence

I didn’t want to prove myself wrong, but I have to say, I enjoyed every minute of it. And yes, I might just have become a fan of Chef Florence.

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Ad Hoc: Nobody Does It Better

I’ll spare you the repeat history lesson on Ad Hoc in Yountville, Thomas Keller’s accidental restaurant. I’ve written about it in a previous post. Only this restaurant would warrant a write-up from me each time I pay them a visit.

Yes, it is that good.

So let’s get straight to the food. My Husband and I had planned carefully a trip to this restaurant on their famous “Buttermilk Fried Chicken” night, which happens only every other Monday. After all the hype from every foodie who has experienced it, I knew we were in for a treat.

We started with a Baby Iceberg Lettuce Wedge Salad with marinated cucumbers, paper-thin baby radishes, pickled red onion, crumbled bacon and green goddess dressing.  Again, as with every other salad I’ve had here, I don’t know how the lettuce they serve can be so damn tender and sweet!  The tart and sweet onion was the perfect foil for this salad.  And the bacon adds heft.  The fact that I’d even refer to a salad as “amazing” is amazing in itself.

Then it was time for Buttermilk Fried Chicken.  Boy oh boy, this did NOT disappoint.  The skin was deep-fried (not pan-fried) to perfect golden crispness.  And the meat was oh so juicy, tender and moist.  Pure perfection.  And at the end of each bite was that little tang of buttermilk that’s so subtle yet so distinctive.  It was fantastic.

It was served with a phenomenal sautéed corn dish with onions, red peppers, corn milk from the husk of the cob, paprika and cayenne pepper for a real kick.  I loved it.  It was bold yet comforting at the same time and the perfect partner for the chicken.

The other side was a Rancho Gordo black bean and rice dish with veggies and oyster mushrooms.  I am not a huge beans and rice gal, but I could appreciate the dish.  My Husband loved this one.

And the cheese plate…Oh that cheese plate.  I would forgo all desserts for another one of these cheese plates.  It was a Redwood Hill Farm Cameo sheep’s milk cheese that had the texture of a super soft brie, all goey and creamy.  It was topped with red pepper berries and herbs, which gave it a soft kick.  Alongside it was some perfectly toasted Palladin bread and a Cherry and Red Onion Marmalade.  Oh…my…gawd.  Crazy good.  That’s all I can say…crazy good.  This course was absolute perfection.  Probably my favorite of the night.  (Yes, even more than the chicken!)

We finished with what was our least favorite course of the night.  I LOVE cupcakes, so I was a bit disappointed in how dry the Red Velvet with Cream Cheese Frosting was.  And the addition of Verona Chocolate Chips on top was just plain unnecessary.  It actually competed with the frosting’s flavor and texture.  The only highlight of it was the fresh strawberries that were baked right in.  That part of it was delicious.

The other cupcake was a Banana with Caramel Center and Rum Vanilla Frosting.  That one was better, but tasted more like bread than cupcake.  Not the best execution, but still good nonetheless.

The highlight of this dessert, however, was the accompanying Lemon Buttermilk Sorbet.  Again, oh…my…gawd.  It was like lemon cheesecake in ice cream form, but light, delicate and sophisticated.  I’d have that sorbet again in a heartbeat.

And once again, the staff is so professional they make it seem effortless. They aren’t stuffy or intimidating. I’ll admit, I was nervous about bringing the toddler to a Thomas Keller restaurant, but the staff couldn’t have been better. They were fun, didn’t take themselves too seriously, but took pride in their jobs and the food they were serving.

The best thing about Ad Hoc is that there is no element of the dinner that isn’t well thought out, executed to perfection, and given the highest quality ingredients. I love how the menu is so seemingly simple night after night, but so perfectly executed like a symphony. Each course adds something different and yet works with the other courses so perfectly to create a complete and perfect meal.

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