CIA Greystone: Wine Spectator Restaurant (St Helena)

When I was scouting out places to eat in the Napa and Sonoma valleys, I knew that one place I really wanted to get to was Culinary Institute of America (CIA) Greystone, at least for a cooking demonstration, if not for a meal.  I lucked out on both counts and our first night in Napa, we were lucky enough to dine at the Wine Spectator Restaurant.

The (CIA) at Greystone in St. Helena, is a branch campus of the CIA, Hyde Park, New York.   It is located in and around the Greystone Cellars building which  dates from 1888 – The Greystone Winery was originally founded in 1889, and was, at the time, the largest stone winery in the word.  This building is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Greystone Cellars was formerly owned by the Christian Brothers, who used the facility for wine, brandy and port production  between 1950 and 1989.

Today, the CIA teaching kitchens are considered amongst the finest professional education facilities in the world. Their programs take place in a demonstration theatre and around a series of cooking islands in the 15,000-square-foot teaching area.  Students at Greystone also benefit from their 15 acres of vineyards, the Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies, the Sutter Home Organic Garden, the Cannard Herb Garden, the Wine Spectator Restaurant, the DeBaun Theater, the Ken and Grace De Baun Café, and the Campus Store. Both the professional and “enthusiast” programs emphasize fresh, seasonal and local ingredients.  CIA at Greystone is responsible for continuing education and career development for professionals in the food, wine, and hospitality fields – it offers both degree and certificate programs as well as many options for food enthusiasts, none the least being the opportunity to dine in the teaching restaurant.

The night we were there, we booked early (5.45) as we knew none of us would have eaten lunch. This also allowed us to eat outside on the gorgeous terrace, looking at this view:

Bread and butter appeared as we perused the menu…

I ordered a thirst quenching pear cider ($4):

Lovely and crisp and actually fairly palate cleansing.

There was also wine…

For his starter, Neil could not go past the sardines (not something I serve at home, being a “learning to love fish” eater, it’s way too “fishy” for my liking):

Monterey Bay sardines served with Yukon Gold potatoes, mixed greens and herb salad, salsa verde and 2 ounces of Benessere Rosato, 2009, Napa Valley $10

This plate (and the glass of Rosato) were quickly gobbled up and gulped down. I think he liked it!

I ordered a little something for the rest of us to snack on. Actually it was a fairly big serve and would have been perfect even for four or five people to share as a little bite before the main event.

Fried green tomatoes and buratta with housemade chow chow $14

This was absolutely magical.  The buratta melted in your mouth which contrasted nicely against the crispy fried green tomatoes and the slightly piquant “chow chow” (peppers, corn, a little cabbage and vinegar – like a classier pickle!)

Neil’s mum, Rosemary, who had joined us from Vancouver that day spied these on the menu and even though they are a side dish, she ordered them as a starter (She’s 85 so I say she can pretty much do whatever she pleases!!!). My dad helped her out. Quite a bit.

Duck fat roasted fingerling potatoes  $5

I mean really – what can go wrong with this dish?

For our mains, mum couldn’t resist the scallops.

Pan seared day boat scallops with sweet white corn, mushrooms, sugar snap peas, basil pesto $30

This was a big serve – those four scallops are huge but my mum managed pretty well. They were perfectly cooked and the sweet white corn was a lovely bite of fresh crispness to contrast the tender scallops.

Neil surprised me by ordering something with the word “petite” in its title.

Petite hanger steak – A grilled 6 oz. Hanger with glazed yellow wax beans, Toybox cherry tomatoes, pancetta, watercress salad, crumbled Gorgonzola, Cabernet jus $29

With ingredients like this, it’s bound to be a winner and Neil thoroughly enjoyed it. I love that they paired with with yellow wax beans instead of fries. Though we did order some (more) or the aforementioned duck fat roasted fingerlings to share…

Rosemary (after the fingerlings..) just wanted a “little something” and found the perfect dish…

5 Dot Ranch steak tartare with toasted lavash, arugula and radish salad, super-premium olive oil  $12

Not one of my favourite dishes, tartare but Rosemary thoroughly enjoyed every bite. It was about the size of a small hamburger patty so really, a large-ish starter (it was off the first course menu) but a perfect size for someone with a belly full of duck fat roasted fingerlings…

Meanwhile, over the Michels side of the table, mum and I thought we had better order some veggies:

Sautéed spinach with pine nuts & golden raisins $5

This was very flavourful but watery (you can see the water in the bottom of the dish above).  Drain your spinach, people. And when you think you can’t drain it any more, drain it again!

I was intrigued by a meatball dish I spied right off the bat…

Dungeness crab and shrimp meatballs with spaghetti, heirloom tomatoes, super premium olive oil and toasted garlic  $24

This was, I thought, an odd combination on paper – the seafood sort of begged to be cooked with Asian, rather than Italian flavours, but it worked.  It was a light, fresh dish that I will consider making myself.

Continuing in the seafood theme, dad ordered more fish:

Pan seared halibut with tomatillo salsa verde, heirloom squash, red marble potato chips $25

“Perfectly cooked halibut” was the verdict. That and a clean plate. 😉

And then there were the desserts.  Whenever there’s crème brûlée ($8) on a menu, Neil, my mum and I can’t *not* order it.  We’re always on the quest for the perfect one.

Since it was just the three of us eating dessert (dad always says he won’t indulge and Rosemary had an Irish Coffee), it might be reasonable to expect that we would have stopped with the brûlée. I said *might*, remember? 😉

I had been eying the “Sweet Finale” tasting plate ($10) all evening as it swept past us destined for other tables.  Convincing myself that dad would surely help us out, I went ahead and ordered it. And was not sorry.

Chocolate mousse.

Vol au vent filled with lemon curd.

Some kind of pecan-chocolate toffee deliciousness. (At this point, I stopped taking notes. The food was simply too delicious to focus on anything but eating it!)

Pineapple upside-down mini cake.

Panna cotta.

Olive oil ice cream.

This was the best $10 I have spent in recent times. Whilst each serve was a tiny bite (really!), it was just the right amount to satisfy curious tastebuds. And every bite was incredible.

Overall, the food was outstanding. Unfortunately, the service was a little sub-par.  Our server was fairly relaxed and this translated into her service – she forgot which bottle of wine we ordered (I have no problem with servers actually writing it down, you know…) and 20 minutes into being seated, only 3 of us had a drink.  The wines all came out in the wrong order which is a fairly basic mistake to make.  Neil had his glass of red (for his main course) before his Rosato was served (for his starter) and my mum and dad didn’t have anything.  Not impressive.   Fortunately, the food made up for this bumpy start.

If you get a chance to eat here and it’s warm enough, try for outside.  Inside the restaurant, I imagine it’s very cosy in winter but it was noisy and a completely different vibe than out on the rather serene terrace.  Even though it was full most of the time we were there, the tables are fairly far apart so even noisy neighbours don’t intrude on your conversation.  Despite the rough start to service, this will remain a standout meal for me.

Stay tuned for another adventure at Greystone – this time in the demonstration kitchen!

Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant
2555 Main St
Saint Helena, CA 94574
(707) 967-1010

Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant on Urbanspoon

32 thoughts on “CIA Greystone: Wine Spectator Restaurant (St Helena)”

  1. I’d have to say Mardi’s review is spot-on.

    Service shocking at such a venue; I think American servers may have been surprised at our group’s willingness to be “un-American” on the trip, and strongly reflect any tip to service quality. None of this “automatic 15%” malarkey. (And don’t get me started on SFO restaurants automatically adding a “4% healthcare surcharge”.)

    And the patio is definitely the way to go. Just waiting for our table inside, was dismayed by the cheap saloon feel of the main restaurant with all the noise. But as we found, this seems to increasingly be the norm in America. You could be in a fine establishment, but have to shout across the table over the din. (Also less chance of being bothered by poorly-behaved children outside: again parents who feel their children can run roughshod wherever they please in public spaces to aid the child’s development an increasingly annoying trend.)

    Overall, we were fairly surprised by the good value. Not just that stunning dessert plate, but as you’d expect a voluminous wine list – with gems from the low end to high.

  2. Beautiful images and I’m drooling too. Loved the desert tasting plate…., they are almost always my choice.

  3. What a fantastic experience, the view, the company, and the meal it self. I have yet to make my way up to Napa… but when I do you’ll know where I’ll be stopping by for a meal. I especially loved the dessert sampling, and can’t wait to hear about the Graystone kitchen demonstration!

  4. I have always heard that food is good but you have to remember that the valley is still just farms that grow grapes and you dont always have the same trained waitstaff as the big city, but there is still some very good service in the many restaurants, the french laundry is one at the top of the scale.

    • Thanks for your comment, I am well aware of the French Laundry but with five of us (and one person who eats like a bird) it just was not do-able. Also we couldn’t get a reservation. The CIA is hardly a “farm” with untrained waitstaff either. We actually had excellent service most everywhere we ate in Napa/Sonoma – my problem with the poor service here is that the CIA is a teaching restaurant and if service like this is acceptable then it’s a bit of a worry.

  5. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who had the same experience! food was great but the service….MEH. We were pretty disappointed seeing as how the meal wasn’t exactly IHOP pricing. It did take a little away from the specialness of the food for us but to be fair to them, I was very tired from all the wine tasting I had done that day so was a lot less tolerant.

    • LOL tired from all the wine tasting!!! Glad it wasn’t just us. We’re a pretty tough crowd so thought at one point that maybe we were expecting too much. But it is a bot of a worry that mistakes like this are being made – too basic for this level of food.

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  7. Great review, Mardi. The food looks outstanding. I’m sorry to hear about the service experience, though. I guess at a teaching restaurant, there are bound to be mistakes. Hopefully they’ll get corrected before graduation. 🙂

    • True but I would expect someone to be looking out for the servers and any problems. There may have been but I didn’t see anyone. Also, our server seemed in no way bothered with the mixups and misunderstandings – I would have been profusely apologising.

  8. I am drooling on this post. I wish you did not have to tease with these pics – lol. I need to visit my nearest CIA for some tasty treats.

  9. Hi, We ate at the CIA last Saturday night and had excellent service inside the restaurant, it was really busy but we had a wonderful server who was very attentive. Also, shared some of the same desserts you photographed.

  10. Thanks so much for the review. I, too, have enjoyed a wonderful meal at the CIA Greystone. My interest…I’ve applied to the school and am waiting with great anticipation to see if I’ve been accepted into their culinary arts program this next year! Perhaps I’ll be preparing your meal on your next visit?!

  11. As you know, I am a total seafood fiend so there is a lot that I am absolutely loving about this meal. What I’m loving even more though is the thought of a duck fat roasted fingerling starter, and this in turn is making me love Neil’s Mum.

  12. The food looks very cool. As someone doing a similar course here in New Zealand I am always interested to see what my contemporaries are producing! That dessert plate looks particularly fantastic.

    Although we too have similar issues with front of house staff in our restaurant. Ours is staffed entirely by trainee waiters, which would explain the odd error, but does not explain their complete disinterest in the food being served, or the people they are serving!


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