The Restaurant at CIA Copia
We have been connected for a long time to Copia and its relationship to Napa County’s now global reputation for great wine, food, solid local and state leadership, community inspired conservation and its living river restoration. Our involvement began in the early 1990s and included leading roles in the now infamous 1994 Napa River boat trip that featured a Napa River history lesson, told via a campy boat ride play that was accompanied by great wine and food.
Among the invited guests that day were Bob and Margrit Mondavi and key state legislators and local leaders such as Joe Vallerga, then State Senator Mike Thompson, John Salmon representing Governor Pete Wilson and David Wolper, just to name a few.
David Wolper helped with the history lesson by supplying a replica of an early Native American canoe created for his film “Last of the Mohicans.” There was even a Native American Princess following the three party boats up the Napa River. The goal was to make the Napa River’s history come alive; to inspire our leaders to make the dream of the Living River Flood Management Plan come true; and to bring about a renaissance in downtown Napa.
As the three party boats made their final stop near Veterans Park, Bob and Margrit Mondavi announced that they would build The American Center for Wine Food and the Arts in downtown Napa on the Vallerga’s Family Property at the Oxbow. This decision, probably as much as any other, ignited support and funding for what became the Measure A Flood Control program that has forever changed Napa County’s flooding risks.
The American Center for Wine Food and the Arts became known as Copia and, after an unfortunate bankruptcy and eight years of being shuttered, has reopened as The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) at Copia. In large measure, the CIA’s involvement now is a testament to the creativity, tenacity and community spirit of Copia’s roots.
The Trinchero Family was an important supporter of the Flood Control Measure, as the family, the winery and many of its employees had suffered losses from flooding over the years. We were thrilled recently to share a delightful dinner with Bob and Evalyn Trinchero at The Restaurant at CIA Copia to recall memories of wonderful happenings in our valley over the years.
Bob and Evalyn are not only visionary wine industry leaders, they are also a humble, kind and very down-to-earth couple and most generous community philanthropists.
We see each other often at local fundraising events that allow little time for us to talk, so we decided to schedule this dinner to catch up with each other’s lives, to laugh over stories of 30 years of history and to perform a review of a meal at The Restaurant at CIA at Copia. Every time we drive by Copia, it’s a trip down memory lane, but this dinner was very special.
The CIA has been the training ground for countless great chefs. Both the campus at Greystone in St. Helena, and the CIA at Copia in Napa, are a paradise for food lovers. If you are thinking about perfecting your baking and cooking skills, the CIA at Copia offers the class that you need. On the way through the building to the restaurant, we stopped by to take a look inside their lifestyle retail shop. We noticed on the wall that the CIA features plaques honoring its Wine Hall of Fame. As we looked through the honorees, we were not at all surprised to see our dinner partners deservedly honored along with so many other familiar Napa Valley dignitaries.
Enough about Napa history. This is a restaurant review and The Restaurant at CIA at Copia is lovely, open, offers both indoor and outdoor seating by the gardens, its staff is very seasoned and knowledgeable and, most of all, the food is great. Our server that evening was Lillian Wiggins, who locals have loved for three decades at restaurants and establishments such as Bistro Jeanty, Meadowood, Cole’s Chop House, Panchas and PJ’s Steak House. Lillian has been around for almost as long as we have, and took great care of us.
As you would expect, we each brought some wine to share. Bob and Evalyn brought a bottle of 2012 Mario’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Grown, which is dedicated to Bob’s father, Mario. We brought a 2015 Lloyd Chardonnay and 2014 Lloyd Pinot Noir from our winemaker son Rob. We should quickly add that this was more wine than we actually needed for dinner! Each wine triggered our recall of wonderful life stories including the various nonprofits we have supported, our children who grew up in the wine industry and are now an important part of its future, and some really funny grandkid stories. It was very special for us to catch up with Bob and Evalyn, who are not only lots of fun, ageless and down to earth, but wonderful people who have made the Napa Valley great.
Corkage for each our three bottles of wine was $20, which is not a bad deal in the Napa Valley. Wonderful Lillian suggested that we start with the Blistered Padron Peppers with lime and sea salt ($11). They were terrific, some hot, some not so much, but a perfect summer treat. She also suggested that we order the Peel and Eat Fava Beans ($5) which were unusual, tasty and fun to peel and eat just like they were advertised.
Evalyn ordered the Garden Greens with preserved meyer lemon vinaigrette ($9) and the House made Handkerchief Pasta with corn, fromage blanc and chanterelle ($21), which she declared were both wonderful. Bob enjoyed the Local Halibut Crudo made with nectarine, ponzu, cilantro and coriander ($15) and the Lamb Shoulder Chop “Scottadito” with a Mediterranean salad ($31), both of which were perfect. John tried the Garden Greens with preserved meyer lemon vinaigrette ($9) and the Grilled Prime Hanger Steak-Frites with chimichurri and garlic confit ($32). The salad was wonderful and the hanger steak was cooked to perfection and a perfect match to the Mario’s Vineyard Cabernet! Dorothy started with the Fried Green Tomatoes with summer “chow chow” and burrata ($14) and dined on the Wild King Pacific Salmon with green bean salad and citrus vinaigrette ($29).
After traveling down memory lane and talking about how lucky and grateful we are to live in the Napa Valley and be part of this amazing community, we felt obliged, to at the very least, try some desserts. So, we shared three of the four desserts offered including the Vanilla Meringue strawberry compote ($9), the Chocolate Chip Trifle, with burnt caramel ($9) and the Peach Sorbet ($9). As you might expect, we polished them off with little difficulty! We closed out the evening with Bob and Evalyn ordering cappuccinos ($6) and Dorothy a delightful latte ($6).
As we left The Restaurant at CIA Copia, we committed to getting together for dinner more often and we drove away happy to be part of the Napa Valley, its history and its future.
500 First Street, Napa | (707) 967-2555 | therestaurantatciacopia.com
Open Seven Days a Week | Sunday–Thursday: 11:30am–9pm | Friday and Saturday: 11:30am–10pm
From the kitchen of The Restaurant at CIA Copia
Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho
2 cups Cubed day old bread (not soughdough)
2 cloves Garlic, chopped
1/8 tsp. Cumin seeds
3lbs. Vine-ripened tomatoes (heirlooms best) 1 English cucumber, seeds removed, chopped
1 Poblano pepper, cored, seeded, chopped.
1 Med-sized red bell pepper cored, seeded, chopped
3 Tbsp.Chopped red onion
1/2 cup Extra-virgin olive oil (preferably Spanish)
1/2 cup Cold water 3 Tbsp Sherry vinegar Salt to taste
1. Place the bread in a bowl, add cold water to cover, and let soak for 5-10 minutes. Drain the bread and squeeze out the excess liquid.
2. Place the garlic, cumin, and ½ teaspoon salt in a mortar, and using the pestle, mash them to a paste.
3. Place the tomatoes, cucumbers, poblano and red pepper, soaked bread, and garlic paste in a large bowl and toss to mix. Let stand for 15 minutes.
4. Working in batches, if necessary, place the vegetable mixture in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth, adding half the olive oil to each batch. Once each batch is finished, puree it finely in a blender, then transfer it to a large mixing bowl.
5. When all the gazpacho has been pureed, whisk in the cold water and vinegar. It should have the consistency of a thick soup. Taste for seasoning adding more salt or vinegar as necessary. Refrigerate the gazpacho until chilled.