Tag: st. helena

Why we love the CIA? For the food!

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Maybe you thought we meant this “CIA”?

For most people, the letters “CIA” conjure up a plethora of images and ideas – clandestine meetings, skullduggery, espionage, exotic locations, and a fair amount of intrigue and danger.  What probably does not come to mind is food, and world-class food at that.  The reason for this is that our nation’s spy agency has co-opted those three letters:  C – I – A; for those of us that live in wine country, they are more appropriately associated with the Culinary institute of America.  And yes, we actually refer to the institute as the “CIA.”  Twice in the past month, we visited the CIA’s St. Helena campus to try out their new Gatehouse Restaurant.  Over the past 2-3 years, we have eaten several times at the CIA’s previous restaurant Greystone; like Greystone, at Gatehouse all of the restaurant “work” – cooking, food and wine service, hosting – is performed by students of the Culinary Institute.

There are a multitude of areas in life that we imagine being served by students or apprentices would not be ideal:  medical care and haircuts come to mind.  We can say with great enthusiasm, however, that fine cuisine made by the students at the CIA is top-notch and the equal of most restaurants in the Napa Valley. Indeed, many of the individuals that made or served our food, poured our wine, and removed our dishes after eating will some day soon be working in the Valley’s elite eateries.  We enjoyed both the food and the ambience so much that we went twice, first with our intrepid Napa Valley food and wine connoisseurs Inna and Igor, and the second time just us for Valentine’s Day.  We enjoyed both visits and were particularly impressed with the many new menu items the second time we visited.

Gatehouse serves a fixed-price menu with an option of three or four courses. For dinner, the cost of three courses is $39.00 and four courses is $49.00, while for lunch the courses are $32.00 and $42.00 for three and four courses, respectively.  While these are not fast food prices, they are very reasonable for the quality and quantity of food provided.  On our first visit, we opted for the three course tasting menu at $32.00 per person, an amount we easily could have exceeded most of the restaurants we tend to visit during a day of wine tasting.  For Valentine’s Day we opted for the more decadent four-course dinner for $49.00, a screaming bargain compared to the tasting menus at many of the restaurants we considered going to, which ranged from $100 to $150 per person.  In our humble opinions, Gatehouse delivers a superior overall culinary experience that will make us come back over and over again.

For our lunch visit, the four of us ordered a wide variety of options off of the menu to make sure that we were collectively able to evaluate the Gatehouse’s variety and range.  Even before our first selection was served, our server brought out a complimentary amuse bouche from the chef.

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A nice way to start

Our first courses included beef consommé, a roasted acorn squash with good cheese and eggplant purée, and cured salmon with shaved fennel and potato crêpe.

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Beef consomme with custard royale and vegetable pearls
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Cured salmon with shaved fennel, green apple, potato crepe, tarragon green sauce
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Roasted acorn squash with goat cheese, eggplant puree, lentil salad, maple-cider dressing

As you can see, the dishes at Gatehouse are presented as beautifully as they would be at any high-end establishment. In terms of taste and texture, we each loved our starters as well as the rest of our meal, which included a delicate and flaky skate…

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… braised short rib …

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Beautifully prepared in five spices

… pork tenderloin …

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Don’t you love that pork can be served “medium” these days?

Our final course was, of course, dessert.  We each ordered something different including a Moscato poached pear, Chai panna cotta, and a chocolate granache.

Our preferred version of the CIA makes a mean dessert as well – not surprising given that there is a pastry track that produces some very good pastry chefs as well.

When we returned for Valentine’s Day, the menu had almost all new items compared to just a couple of weeks before.  We opted for the 4-course dinner and again had some very sophisticated and tasty dishes.  One of our starters was Muscovy Duck Breast prosciutto, a definite first for us …

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Who knew you could make prosciutto from duck breast?

Our other starter was Pacific Rock Crab Risotto …

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Risotto al dente

Additional dishes included Pancetta Wrapped Quail …

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A great mix of flavors

…Rolled Pasta with black truffles …

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Pasta is not always boring

Dessert brought more decadence, including Warm Oatmeal Cake …

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Not your ordinary oatmeal

…and “White Chocolate-Peppermint “Cheesecake”

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Not your ordinary cheesecake

 

Of course this being Napa Valley, the restaurant has a very impressive list of premium wines.  We opted to bring our own bottles of wine and were very pleasantly surprised when no corkage fee was added to our bill!

We will be back to Gatehouse Restaurant again to try the items we missed the first two times.  If you are coming to Napa Valley, we strongly recommend you make the trip to St. Helena and check it out.  You can make reservations here: Gatehouse

The current menus are available here:  Gatehouse Menu

John & Irene Ingersoll

February 28, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

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Heart is Good for the Wine

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There is a heart inside the Ehlers logo

Over the past decade or more, numerous reports have suggested that red wine is good for the heart.  At one of our favorite wineries in Napa, the heart has been very good for the wine as well.  As the picture above shows, inside the “E” in the Ehlers logo there is a heart, an homage to the legacy of the founders and the cause that is a big part of the winery’s purpose today.  Many wineries in Napa Valley are owned by large beverage conglomerates or international wine enterprises.  Ehlers Estate is unique in that it is owned by a charitable foundation, the Leducq Foundation, which is dedicated to funding research in cardiovascular and neurovascular disease.  This foundation was formed in 1996 by the founders of Ehlers Estate and today proceeds from tasting fees and wine sales help fund the Leducq Foundation’s activities.  This is one winery where members and visitors can be confident that their money not only delivers high-quality wines but truly has a charitable purpose and impact.

We have been members of Ehlers since just after our move to Napa Valley and we visit as often as we can.  This past weekend, we took relatives visiting from Miami to Ehlers, their first ever visit to a winery.

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Feeling welcome

There are many things that we like about Ehlers, beyond the direct link between their wine business and their charitable operations.  One of our favorite aspects of Ehlers Estate is its location and story.  Although the Leducq family started producing wine in this century, the property was originally planted with vines and olives in the late 1800’s by Bernard Ehlers.  In 1886 Bernard finished construction of a stone barn on the property, a building that (with a bit of modern renovation) is still standing and serves today as Ehlers’ winery building and tasting room.

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Exterior of the Ehlers tasting room

Original beams of wood and stone walls are still visible from the original construction but the interior has been refreshed with colorful furniture and many paintings hanging on the walls.

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Interior of Ehlers Estate tasting room

Despite the ravages of  phylloxera, the long period of prohibition and ownership changes along the way, the property Ehlers sits on has been continuously producing wine for over 120 years. While there are no vines remaining from 1886, the original olive groves are still on the estate.

Another thing that we love about Ehlers is their commitment to sustainable farming.  Since 2008, they have been certified organic;  no chemical herbicides, pesticides, or synthetic fertilizers are used in their vineyards.

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Vines and mustard

The Ehlers wines – Sauvignon Blanc, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon – are produced in a style that is as much Bordeaux as it is Napa. The wine making team at Ehlers Estate firmly believes in making wines that reflect the unique terroir – the diverse soil types and the microclimate.  An important difference between Ehlers and most other Napa Valley wineries is that they do not employ seasonal vineyard labor or outsource to outside companies for their vineyard management.  They have a full-time team that handles all of the work in the vineyard:  planting, weed and pest control, pruning, canopy management, and harvesting.  Maintaining a full-time staff throughout the year ensures a consistency in the way the grapes are grown.

During our visit this past weekend we enjoyed four different Ehlers wines; as always, we started with the Sauvignon Blanc.

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Crisp Ehlers Sauvignon Blanc

Like all of the Ehlers wines, the Sauvignon Blanc – the only white wine they produce – is crisp, rich, and bone dry, with zero residual sugar.  There has been no malolactic fermentation and no new oak was used in the aging of the wine.  A perfect wine with food or to sip with friends or alone with a good book.

The remainder of our tasting consisted of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Ehlers’ luscious “1886” Cabernet Sauvignon.

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Ehlers Estate Merlot
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Ehlers Estate Cab Franc
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Ehlers Estate Cabernet Sauvignon “1886”

We enjoyed all three wines and have always been big fans of the Ehlers portfolio of red wines.  Certainly, the most impressive wine is the 1886 Cab, but the Cab Franc is also very structured with strong tannins and spicy aroma and flavor.  This visit, the Merlot really stood out for us and we all ordered an extra pour (or two) of the Merlot as part of our tasting.

So a winery with a great story, a beautiful location, and great wines.  What more could you ask?  How about great events? One of the reasons we have held onto our Ehlers membership while jettisoning most of our others are the fantastic events that occur throughout the year. When we visited this past weekend, there happened to be an open house with great food and an array of local artists and craft sellers in the tasting room.

There was quite a spread which we sampled along with our wine.  Our family from Miami had a great time and we didn’t have the heart to tell them that every tasting doesn’t have such a bountiful spread.  It’ll be difficult to take them to another tasting if there’s not an event going on – they may feel let down.

John & Irene Ingersoll

December 7, 2016