While in town for a week in Saint Helena a friend invited five of us for the soft opening of Gatehouse Restaurant at CIA Greystone
The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone just outside of Saint Helena in Napa Valley has been lately going through many changes. The Wine Spectator at Greystone has been closed indefinitely and the CIA has acquired the long since vacant Copia in downtown Napa and added a restaurant at the property. Another significant change is the revamping of the student-run restaurant formerly known as The Conservatory at CIA Greystone, now called the Gatehouse Restaurant. It will now be the only full-service restaurant at the CIA Greystone facility.
I had been to the Conservatory many times prior to the launch of the new Gatehouse Restaurant and enjoyed it immensely. Also student-run, it featured a four-course set menu with optional wine pairing. I felt the Conservatory was one of the best values in the Napa Valley and was a little shocked that they changed up the format. However, I was excited to see the direction for the new Gatehouse Restaurant and was pleasantly surprised to learn the new format offered course options.
Earlier in the day, I had gone out with some friends to Duckhorn Winery and then to one of my favorite stops for lunch, Bistro Jeanty. While having a nice meal of Soupe l’Ognion and Salad Lyonnaise with a crisp Vouvray, my friend received a text asking if we would be interested in going to the soft opening of the Gatehouse Restaurant. We all thought sure we could fit that in after the next wine tasting (this is how a Saturday with friends usually plays out in Napa Valley). I was thinking okay; maybe I should write a blog on this place since I’m returning to Lake Tahoe in a few days and blog material is few and far between.
After a lengthy stop at Saintsbury for some Pinot Noir tasting, we all made it to the restaurant with a magnum in hand from our cellar. Since it was a soft opening food was complementary, and so was the corkage. I am fairly certain we didn’t need the magnum of Pinot Noir but we were all feeling pretty good at this point, and it was, after all, a Saturday night. Our seating was at 5 p.m., so it was still fairly early and we were some of the first to arrive.
Steve Mercer, “front of house” instructor at the CIA Greystone, came over and explained how the restaurant worked. Students that have 13 weeks left to graduate are given a chance to step away from the teaching kitchen with the chefs and instruction mostly focused on the back of the house and engage with guests in service. They have lectures each morning about reservation systems, history of coffee and tea, apéritifs, etc. Then they work the front of the house as a server, bartender, food runner or floater. They work in service for about three weeks, and then the “front of house” goes to “back of house,” or kitchen and vice versa for another three weeks.
Since it is all culinary students running the restaurant, there can be hiccups, and we had a few. However, it’s interesting to be a part of the culinary education experience even if we are just the customers enjoying a nice dinner.
Our dinner was broken down into four courses, beginnings, delicate, robust and sweets. We each ordered a beverage while waiting for the magnum to decant, a Lageder Pinot Grigio, a Trefethen Reisling, a Charles Krug Sauvignon Blanc and two Chimays. I tried my best to get everyone to order a different dish for each course and did fairly well but as the amuse-bouche of lemongrass parsnip pureé, Granny Smith apple and maché arrived, I could already tell this was going to be a challenging blog to write.
Our amuse-bouche or bite-sized appetizer selected by the chef and served gratis was not only presented well but the creamy, citrus-flavored parsnip contrasted nicely with the green apple. Others described it as surprisingly unexpected. I enjoyed it with my 2015 Charles Krug Sauvignon Blanc.
Up next was our first course or ‘beginnings’ and our menu options were dishes like Millet & Winter Pumpkin Salad, Duroc Pork Rillettes, and Endive & Apple Salad. I chose the Muscovy Duck Breast Prosciutto, roasted seckel pear, maché, and charred Meyer lemon dressing as my appetizer. My prosciutto was served warm, and the pears had a delightful buttery quality. The dish wasn’t too heavy, and the charred Meyer lemon gave the dish cohesiveness and delightful citrus notes.
The other winning appetizer of the night was the Shaved Endive and Apple Salad. The Skyhill goat cheese was some of the best I’ve had, and its creaminess complemented the distinct flavor of the endive, while the apples added sweetness. The colors were visually stunning as well. It was a delicate yet complex dish.
Our second course aka ‘delicate’ had three dishes to choose from; Warm Butternut Squash Soup, Pacific Rock Crab Risotto, and Pancetta Wrapped Tolenas Ranch Quail. Mostly everyone went for the crab risotto which consisted of horseradish, pearl onions, and a lemongrass broth. The flavors of the dish were a nine out of ten. Unfortunately, two of the three risottos came out too Al Dente and had to be re-fired.
However, that is okay because we are dining at a culinary school in a learning environment, so we had no problem mentioning the cook on the risotto, as we thought it was right to point out any discrepancies. When they came back, the risotto was perfect, and everyone was happy.
My dish, however, came out splendid the first time. I chose the Pancetta-Wrapped Quail with pickled lentils and a quail gastrique. I loved the presentation, the cook was perfect, and the seasoning and diverse flavors made this a sensational dish. I paired it with the 2011 Belle Glos Pinot Noir Clark & Telephone that we brought with us, and it worked out nicely. I enjoyed the heavier Pinot with the savory quail because of the wine’s dark fruit, smoke, and leather notes.
With the large magnum of Pinot flowing, things began to get a little crazy. I was trying my hardest to stay organized and focus on the food and dining experience. Our third course or ‘robust’ course offered Seared Five Dot Ranch Strip Loin, Crispy Skin Mount Lassen Trout, Rolled Pasta and Olive Oil Poached Lamb Tenderloin.
We tried all the third-course dishes, but my favorite was the Rolled Pasta with black truffle, root vegetables, and a roasted parsnip alfredo cream. Parsnip seemed to be a favorite item on this menu and the parsnip incorporated as an alfredo sauce was excellent. My pasta was cooked to point, and the flavors were hearty and paired well with the Belle Glos Pinot as well.
The Crispy Skin Mount Lassen Trout with Pacific bay shrimp, cranberry bean relish, and a champagne sauce was another favorite. This dish was served warm and had a plethora of flavors and presented beautifully on the plate. The trout was delicate in the center with a flavorful skin, and a hint of spice in the relish. The center was an outstanding creamy cheese-like filling with shrimp.
The only problem we had with the trout was one was colder in the center than it should have been. Like before, our courteous and professional server Loreen gladly returned it to the kitchen where we received a new one very promptly.
Dessert arrived, and I was getting pretty full at this point as well as a little tipsy, and I am sure my lunch at the French restaurant a few hours before wasn’t helping either but that’s the way it is in the Napa Valley; eat, drink, and be merry.
With that said, I chose the lightest dessert on the menu, a Red Wine Poached Pear with crème Fraiche Sorbet. It also came originally with candied hazelnuts which I am not allowed to eat. The pears were fantastic and the word that came to mind while I ate it was that it tasted like Christmas.
Another hit was the Warm Oatmeal Cake with basil-orange ice cream which was apparently amazing. The Espresso Crème Brûlée with sesame cookies was also ordered and executed perfectly.
All in all, we had a surprising impromptu meal, and the students did a superb job at the front of the house and the food was delicious. I am sure serving us could have been a little more enjoyable had we not been out all day, but hey, it’s the Napa Valley!
Enjoy… Wine Ho
Gatehouse Restaurant is open Tuesday-Saturday for lunch 11:30-1pm and dinner 5:30-8pm