07 October 2011

Lunch at the CIA

Yesterday we drove from San Francisco to Napa to have lunch with some friends. It was my first time in the Napa Valley, and it is gorgeous. The hills and fields are covered with vineyards--rows and rows of vines as far as the eye can see. These corduroy hills are the home of some famous American wine names, and as we drove we could see their names all around us. 
We got to our friends’ house and spent (not enough) time catching up and touring their wonderful garden. Then it was off to lunch. I was a little surprised when Jan told us that we’d be eating at the CIA. When you lived in DC for as long as we did, “lunch at the CIA” sounds a little ominous. I tend to start thinking of all the the things I’ve done wrong and wondering which one they’ll be wanting to ask me about--kind of like when that police car is following you for a while... 

But no, it wasn’t THAT CIA! (You knew that, didn’t you?) Langley is too far to go for lunch, after all. This one was the Culinary Institute of America. Oh, my. Another amazing foodie experience. 

The grounds are amazing. The buildings are date to the late 1800’s, and were built to house a wine co-operative. Later they were bought by the Christian Brothers as the headquarters for their winery. The terraced garden at the front was full of herbs and roses. In the distance were the golden hills of Northern California. 
Inside, the student chefs were busily preparing our lunch under the watchful eye of their head chef. On this phase of my diet I can have one three-course meal a week--anything I want, including dessert! I had been saving that meal this week for Napa. 

For the first course the others all had corn soup, which came from the kitchen looking like a painting:

I had a salad of roasted beets and kohlrabi with a sauce of goat’s cheese, creme fraiche and horseradish. It was one of those perfectly balanced combinations that make you want to jump up and shout “Halleluia!!” 

For the main course the others had vegetable and wild mushroom risotto served with fresh ricotta. YUM!

I had a whole grilled fish served with rucola and salsa verde. I love eating whole fish, don’t you? My favorite part is when the top half is eaten and you unzip  the backbone to get at the rest of the fish. 

Now you might think that after a meal like this we wouldn’t have any room for dessert. You’d be wrong, though. It turns out that our friend Jan knew the instructor in charge of the front-of-house, an he sent over dessert with his compliments. 

Creme brûlée and berries with a creme fraiche sorbet. Creme brûlée. What can I say? It was one of the best I’ve tasted. And I’ve tasted a lot--Dan and I once did a search in Paris for the perfect creme brûlée... As for the berries, they were perfect and the sorbet with them was another “Halleluia!” moment. 
Our server was accompanied by one of the student chefs. I asked him how they made the horseradish and goat cheese sauce with the beets and he told me that if I asked at the desk on the way out they’d give me the recipe. And they did! I’m thinking this will make a lovely little verrine. Stay tuned...
A word about the giveaway. This was not the lunch mentioned in that post. (I know. I’m veryvery lucky to have two such lunches in one trip. No, make that one lifetime.) There are still a few days for the giveaway to run, so it’s not too late to make your guess.  
And now a question for you: If you could go to any restaurant, anywhere, where would you go? What would make you jump up and shout "Halleluia!"? 


The Gypsy Chef said...

Hi Kate,
You had lunch at my Alma Mater. At least the western campus of my alma mater! Looks and sounds wonderful! I've yet to make it up to Greystone, Lucky you!Sounds like your having a wonderful vacation.
I would go to Alice Water's Chez Panisse, and the thing that makes me shout "Halleluia" is the Mission fig tart with the Homemade Meyer Lemon Ice cream. Or a charming resto a la mer in Cassis, slurping Bouillabaisse! Yum!
Happy Vacation!

Ciao Chow Linda said...

I also ate there and it was a fantastic dining experience - overlooking the beautiful landscape. Continue with the fun.

Mardi @eatlivetravelwrite said...

We had an exceptional meal last year at CIA Greystone, sadly the service was definitely lacklustre... Glad you were able to allow yourself this one meal on your eating plan.

Linda said...

Great pics! I miss the Bay Area!

Joan Corey said...

Kate, Hi! I love your descriptions; enjoyed CIA when I was back East at West Point. I'm happy you got to Chez Panise.

Anonymous said...

I am very appreciative of your photograph of the beet/kohlrabi salad. My wife and I had enjoyed it when we visited CIA last summer and were attempting to recreate it at home. We had managed to cobble together a recipe' based on the individual elements (not the CIA recipe', but close enough), but we realized we could not recall exactly how it was assembled. My wife expressed regret that we hadn't taken a picture, and the thought occurred to me that perhaps someone else had. Thanks so much for taking the time and posting it to your blog. Not only did it aid us, but it brought back happy memories as well.