You know how you can get really excited for a restaurant and then it doesn’t live up to expectations? This was, unfortunately, the case at Ad Hoc, a well-reviewed venue in Rome. As we had first time tasting menu diners in our group, I felt especially disappointed by the experience (though they were perfectly happy with the meal, I know it could’ve gone a lot better).
So, where was my disconnect? Well, it certainly wasn’t with the setting. Located in a rather intimate venue (of course, given this is Rome, I could be describing any number of restaurants because no one has a lot of extra square footage), we were escorted to the center room, which was surrounded by floor to ceiling bottles of wine (my kind of place). However, if you’re dining with your partner, try and snag one of the front tables by the window for some prime people watching.
After a review of the menu (and walking 23,000 steps across the city during the day), I was more than ready to try one of the tasting options. In fact, I was rather impressed, as there were four selections to choose from (sea, land, Roman, and truffle). With the majority of the table determined to try the ‘land’ version, I decided on the ‘sea,’ while another of our party ordered the Roman. I think this moment is where I first went wrong. Certainly, Italians have been cooking seafood for generations, but something sincerely didn’t add up in my menu. Literally, a week later, even looking at my photos, I cannot recall a single ‘stand out’ course in any of the menus (except for the ravioli on the land tasting menu, which was absolutely divine).
Of course, my issues didn’t stop there. In no particular order, here are a list of my should-probably-be-addressed-immediately problems:
- New plates // better plating. I can’t recall any time in the recent past where I was so distracted by how ugly a dish was and how much it did a disservice to the food. In fact, the plates for our appetizers were so bad that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find a good angle for the food (not that it looked or tasted particularly amazing). If indeed we eat first with our eyes, then one might go hungry at Ad Hoc.
- Pour wine at the table. To me, there are some tropes in fine dining that I absolutely love. One of those is the flourish of the wine pour — the small sip and nod to let your server or Somm know that they are okay to continue serving the rest of the table. In our instance, we got a super rushed version of what was poured as the waitress hurriedly dispersed our pre-poured glasses during each course. Also, I would consider cutting down the relatively lengthy spiel that went with each bottle of wine.
- Balance the menu. In my case, I had repeat proteins — something I don’t think I’ve ever experienced before (literally I twice ate smoked salmon and sea bass in the span of four courses). Additionally, while enjoyable, on the Roman menu, in the pasta course there was three forms of carbonara, which I sincerely didn’t understand. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lovely pasta, but I thought it was a bit odd to only include one pasta instead of one of the many (many!) that could be found in Italian cuisine.
- Throw out the seafood menu and start over. The more I think about it, the more I don’t think there was anything salvageable. Also, toss the amuse bouche which lacked any form of texture or acidity.
- Attention to detail. We wanted to try an a la carte dish off the truffle menu and requested it at the start of the meal and it was never served.
It wasn’t all bad. I mean, all those positive reviews on TripAdvisor and Yelp can’t be that wrong. After all…
- The pricing is outstanding (EUR65 for the courses and EUR79 with wine pairing — a bit more if you tried the truffle menu).
- The unexpected extras were lovely. A glass of prosecco on arrival? Yay! A take-home bottle of olive oil? Fantastico!
- The sense of humor of the wait staff. I do appreciate waiters and waitresses who don’t take things too seriously. We had some good back and forth moments with our waitress and smiles all around.
- The professionalism of the front of house was above average. As Uber was a giant pain in the ass throughout our visit (get it together, Rome!), the manager was kind enough to call us not one, but two taxis and literally waited until both vehicles arrived to ensure we were safely on our way home.