After some wine tasting around the town of Sonoma, we took the narrow Trinity Road to Napa Valley for an early 5:15 reservation at the Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone Restaurant in St. Helena.
Stephanie and I have driven by several times now and have been meaning to check it out. Given that Jackie and Ryan are such foodies, it seemed an appropriate coda to their time in Northern California.
Our timing was impeccable, we were seated shortly after arrival, and were immediately confronted by three different menus, the wine
menu book, the cocktail menu, and the first course and entree menu.
We all agreed on “Today’s Temptations”, which is an all-or-nothing, surprise hors d’oeuvre platter for everyone at the table. Tonight we enjoyed salmon tartar with salmon roe, garlic soup “shooters” with truffle oil, fried green tomatoes, and foie gras pate on toast.
For the first course, I had a “Gorgonzola Pithivier.” The pithivier was a pastry stuffed with cheese, alongside an endive, frisse, and heirloom tomato salad. Oh yeah, it also came with a long strip of “carmelized” bacon. Which is pretty much the reason I ordered it. I had a flight of “hot climate, cool whites,” consisting of a riseling, a pinot gris, and a pinot noir vin blanc (I think).
Together we shared a foie gras terrine with caramelized mango. To myself I was thinking, “Why share? The portions should be small, so we should all get a first course.” By the end, I was very glad we shared.
Thankfully there was a gap of time between our first courses and entrees. I ordered a roasted rack of pork, mostly because it came with an avocado relish. I’m a sucker for dishes paired with interesting sides. Ryan had the clover-fed veal loin. That’s right kids, grass-fed beef is no longer cool enough. Stephanie had the angus hanger steak, partly for its Point Reyes blue cheese-potato tart, and partly for its roasted grapes. And last but not least, Jackie had the basil and prosciutto wrapped salmon fillet.
I can’t speak for everyone, but my enormous chop of pork was cooked perfectly. I say enormous because compared to Jackie’s salmon, my dish could have fed three hungry souls. Oh no, but it didn’t stop there. Not by a long shot.
Earlier in the evening, as we were contemplating the temptations, our waiter let us know about a special chocolate souffle dessert fit for 3-4 people which required ordering in advance. Any special that requires ordering in advance is a sure way to snag my interest. So we got it, and… just in case that wasn’t enough—you wouldn’t want anyone to go hungry dining at the Culinary Institute—we also ordered a Bananas Foster. I was hoping they’d set it ablaze tableside.
Well, the bananas foster did not get flambed before our very eyes, but the chocolate souffle turned out big enough to feed 4 or 5 people, especially with a healthy pour of creme anglaise down into the center. Oh, was it ever good. Oh, was I full. Two and a half hours later, we sauntered out into the still warm evening air and explored the grounds before driving back to Santa Rosa and wishing Jackie and Ryan luck on the rest of their journey.
All photos courtesy of Ryan Michael.