This is how an interview with chef Polly Lappetito goes:
Polly: “Hello! Sit down and I’ll bring you something to eat.”
Reporter: “But —”
Before this reporter can explain that she has just finished lunch, the chef has danced off into the kitchen of the CIA at Copia where Lappetito has become executive chef and director of restaurants. Minutes later she reappears with a plate of deep-fried sage leaves and a garbanzo bean pancake garnished with olives.
Polly: “Try this.”
Reporter: “But —”
She’s gone again and returns with a platter of blistered padrone peppers, sprinkled with manchego cheese and Marcona almonds. Before the reporter can say “But —” Lappetito has disappeared again; this time she returns with chilled gazpacho and boquerones, fresh tomatoes on toast garnished with anchovies.
Finally, she sits down with a glass of water.
“Well?” she asks. “Anything else?”
The reporter, eating everything, has forgotten that she’d just eaten lunch.
“You know,” Lapetito adds, “how I communicate is with food.”
For Lappetito, who opened and spent the last five years at the immensely popular Ciccio restaurant in Yountville, the new job at Copia is coming home.
“The CIA gave me my start,” she said. “I didn’t know anything when I started.”
She is dismissing here a formative experience cooking on a commercial fishing boat in Alaska, which she did before going to work at the Wine Spectator Restaurant at the CIA at Greystone in St. Helena. She cooked and worked at the front of the house for 11 years, before leaving to open Ciccio. Under her leadership, Ciccio was named one of the San Francisco Chronicle’s “Top 100 Bay Area Restaurants.”
Those who have waited for a table at Ciccio will be happy to know there are more tables at the CIA Copia restaurant, inside and outside under the olive trees. And she is bringing her signature style to the menu she and the staff are creating.
“It’s my food,” she said. “It’s the stuff that I cook. Anybody who knows me knows that I’m not fancy.”
At The Restaurant, where she is working with chef de cuisine Chris Kennedy Aken, creating a seasonal menu, inspired by the CIA gardens at Copia and the farm in St. Helena.
The Lappetito touch is easily observable in the new menu they’re serving at The Restaurant, now open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Visitors can now drop by through the day for a snack or a full meal.
On the lighter side, dishes include the Fire-Roasted Tomato Toast ($8), Blistered Padrone Peppers ($9), Eggplant Involtini (with goat cheese and smoked tomato jus) ($9), Local Halibut Crudo with nectarine, ponzu cilantro and coriander ($13).
Heirloom tomatoes turn up in with burrata, olive oil and basil ($12) and in the Chilled Gazpacho ($10). She’s also serving a Grilled Stone Fruit Salad ($11) as well as a Chopped Salad ($11).
Signature Lappetito dishes like Vitello Tonnato (chilled roasted veal with tuna conservat aioli) ($14) and Spicy Mussels with Calabrian chili and grilled bread ($16) and House-made Handkerchief Pasta with fresh tomato ($17) are also on the menu.
For heartier fare right now there’s a Brick Roasted Game Hen with panzanella ($24), Tandoori Spiced Trout ($26), Grilled Hanger Steak ($16), Basil-Crusted Lamb Chops “Scottadito” ($28) and a Pork Shoulder Chop with a potato and summer bean salad and pickled nectarines ($25).
“I like food to be approachable,” Lappetito said.
She also noted that, unlike some of the other CIA restaurants, The Restaurant at CIA Copia is professionally run, not student run. The CIA also offers daily lunch specials for purchase at the box office, as well as cooking and beverage classes and wine tastings.
“I am excited to see her put her style and creativity to work in introducing to The Restaurant at CIA Copia the wonderful, delicious dishes for which she is known,” said Chef Waldy Malouf, CIA senior director of food and beverage operations.
“I’m happy to be back,” Lappetito said.