After years of vacancy, the Copia building in downtown Napa will finally see some action, as the Culinary Institute of America prepares to open its new facilities. The revamped center will offer cooking and wine classes, a lifestyle store, and a restaurant,
Previously home to Julia’s Kitchen, The Restaurant at CIA Copia aims to offer something valuable to Napa locals (who are in need of more approachable restaurants) and visitors alike. It’s gotten a redo in terms of decor, and a complete reimagining in terms of concept at the hands of Waldy Malouf, the CIA’s senior director of food and beverage operations, and chef de cuisine Chris Aken (AKA Bistro, La Folie). (The restaurant is currently looking for an executive chef to replace chef Victor Scargle who parted ways with the project in early fall; incidentally, Scargle was also the chef at Julia’s Kitchen.)
The big idea for the restaurant is a familiar one: A series of rolling carts in the dining room, offering tableside service and rotating choices for diners. While it’s definitely inspired by State Bird’s style, it is also a throwback to the old-school carts that rolled through traditional dining rooms offering caesar salad and crepes suzette, which have also been in use at the CIA’s Bocuse restaurant in Hyde Park. Malouf says its a way for diners to interact with the people who make and serve the restaurant’s food, with chefs coming to the dining room with dishes frequently. “We want to create this conversation between diners and cooks,” said Malouf. “As a culinary school we want diners to be able to have conversations with the cooks and see how it’s done.” It’s also a way for the back of the house to participate in the tip pool, an issue that many restaurants are struggling with.
The food itself is market-driven California fare, taking cues from Mediterranean regions as well. A woodburning oven will serve as a centerpiece for the menu, with dishes like a pumpkin roasted in the hearth, then filled with lobster ragu and topped with toasted pumpkin seeds. Carts will be filled with items like crudo, wines, cocktails, and a spit-roasted pineapples glazed with rum and green peppercorns, served with toasted coconut ice cream and carved tableside.
It’s the tenth restaurant for the CIA, which has dining rooms at each of its campuses, but the only one that is not a teaching kitchen (though it will certainly hire a bevy of CIA students to fill the staffing gap that most Bay Area kitchens are experiencing).The remodeled restaurant features 100 seats, an outdoor bar with woodburning oven for casual bar dining in the “olive grove” outside.
The opening is currently set for mid-November; dinner will be available at opening, with lunch set for December.