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Nov 12, 2001 09:57 PM

Julia’s Kitchen @ Copia, Napa

  • m

Friday I was a guest for a pre-opening lunch in Napa with pal, Spencer, aka Noah Hoyt, at Copia’s restaurant. The setting is spare with an open kitchen, walls of wine chillers, good natural light. The hard surfaces in the dining room added to the din of happy diners that was punctuated occasionally by hammering and drilling of the on-going construction to finish up by next weekend.

The menu offered many choices with appetizers running $7 to $16 and entrees from $16 to $25. For lunch-size portions (i.e., you’ll need two courses to feel full) these prices seemed steep. But the food really delivers. The preparations were much more detailed and sculpted than I was expecting and the presentation of each dish was carefully arranged without extraneous garnishes. This will be a welcome new addition to the Wine Country dining scene.

Our table was set with an array of Riedel crystal glasses and soon the flutes were filled with J. Laurens Brut for an aperitif. S. Pellegrino and Panna were offered as bottled waters. The bread basket included sliced sweet baguettes and a mild flavored crisp sourdough.

For starters we had the foie gras and the grilled quail. The foie gras was accompanied by diced quince (pear-like in flavor and texture) and toasted nuts then sauced with a port wine reduction. This was very high grade, unctuous and buttery soft foie. The sauce was very mild and didn’t clash with the very aromatic 2000 Miner Vineyard Viognier than accompanied our appetizers. Spence begged for one more bite before passing it to me.

The grilled quail was carefully cut into fourths with most of the bones removed except for the drumstick and wing bone handles to create finger food. Moist and expertly marked on the grill, the tender quail was highlighted with a complex and vivid red wine reduction with foie gras. Chanterelles, toasted hazelnuts and frisée completed the presentation. None of these delicious sauces went to waste as we wiped our plates clean.

For our main course we chose the veal dish and the scallops. The braised veal rib was off the bone and accented by four pieces of deep-fried sweetbreads. A pool of deeply flavored demi-glace sauce contrasted with the lighter hues and taste of the brunoise of root vegetables. Spence felt the veal rib was too stringy. I rather liked the texture of the rib but found the sweetbreads not well-picked of veins and consequently too chewy. Despite the textural problems, this was still a sumptuous entrée.

The three fat grilled day boat scallops were wrapped in pink-striped pancetta and topped with crystalline piece of deep-fried spinach. Resting on a pedestal of sautéed and buttered fresh spinach, the trio of scallops were surrounded by a ring of rich potato purée and topped with a few pieces of chanterelles. A slightly sweet and glossy burgundy-colored Madeira reduction sauce filled the moat outside the potato ring. The scallops were barely cooked through, exactly as I prefer, and even though they were not warm when presented, this was my favorite dish.

Our server suggested the 1997 Ballentine Merlot or the 1998 Beringer Knight’s Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with the veal and we tasted some of both. The Ballentine was velvety and fat in the mouth with a well-integrated oak note and plenty of ripe fruit. The Beringer suffered from overoaking and a hole in the mid-palate. The scallops were accompanied by the light and fruity 2000 Blockheadia Ringnosii Zinfandel.

Our desserts were an apple tart with green apple sorbet and apple-caramel sauce and a lemon tart with lemon chiffon sauce and pomegranate seeds. These were beautifully presented too and provided a light touch of sweets to finish our meal.

The only real flaw we found was in the service which is to be expected in the pre-opening shake-down. We waited more than 15 minutes before our order was taken and later our server forgot to bring our dessert until we asked someone else to remind her. The pacing stretched out our lunch to more than two hours which will be too long for most customers. There was too much of a lag between serving our food and pouring the wines as these duties were split between two individuals and not well-coordinated. Our server referred to the aperitif sparkling wine as “champagne”. While French, this wine was not from the Champagne region of France and should not be presented as such. And, finally, the first glasses of the Zinfandel we were poured were from a TCA-infected (“corked”) bottle. More than half the bottle had been served and the server should have caught this before any had been poured for patrons. All of these were noted on the evaluation cards we filled-out and should be easy to remedy.

The food here was delicious and sophisticated and I’m looking forward to a return visit.

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  1. melanie,

    as always, such a joy to read one of your well thought out and minutely described reviews. my mouth is still watering.

    i look forward to the special tasting tour they'll offer as well as a two hour lunch, tho, as you said the prices do seem a little steep for 2 courses in the middle of the day.

    thanks so much for sharing your experience.


    1 Reply
    1. re: Rochelle

      Thanks, Rochelle.

      I'm going to Copia's opening day parade on Sunday. Anyone else?

    2. Great post Melanie!

      We are very excited about Copia . . . Julia's kitchen, Food & Wine Education. I know many wine friends volunteering their time to learn to be Docent's, something the valley as a whole surely needs (i.e. wait-staff).

      I am in awe of the quality, as well. Mondavi has a vision that most folks assume as business. This is from the heart and soul of a valley he calls home.

      I mentioned to Peg Loar (Board of Director) of your post, as she has become a friend through time. All and any feedback will benefit this venture. Bon Appetit!

      3 Replies
      1. re: Lucy Gore

        Are you taking part in the opening day festivities?

        I was expecting more of a California Cuisine spin on the food, you know, best seasonal ingredients arranged simply on a plate and not messed with much. Instead, the dishes we had were more transformative. The flavors were more complex and less direct/fresh. There was a certain sameness in that the two apps and two entrees had reduction sauces and two dishes had a pile of diced veggies/fruit. Each element/ingredient was cut just so and assembled carefully on the plate. Very sophisticated.

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          I think you should take Michael Bauer's job away from him, Melanie. Your food writing is great!

          I have a house full of guests so will be partaking in Parade seats this weekend, at best. Our member tickets are going to our kids who are young, serious foodies with much ambition to learn and share the Copia Lifestyle.

          I was happy to hear the food at Julia's Kitchen is so much more serious, over-all yet approachable. French Cuisine deserves an open-minded view. Many things we know as sophisticated Bistro fare is actually basic country fare for many regions. It soon will be broken down and made sense of by Copia standards/knowledge.

          We will be at the side lines watching the parade on Sunday. Hope to see you then!

          1. re: Lucy Gore

            Michael Bauer's job is in no danger from me, thank you! But my young friend Noah Hoyt (nom de plume) has aspirations along those lines and has started selling his first articles.

            See you on sunday!