About 60 people, three times what was expected, recently showed up for opening night of the new Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant in St. Helena. Restaurant manager Lindsay Borenstein said the first night was “very exciting” and added, “We’ve really been looking forward to it.”
The revamped restaurant is in the same but smaller space at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone campus. “Our concept is very comfortable, like a modern farmhouse,” Borenstein said. “We’re taking recipes that we hope people feel good about and are comfortable when they’re eating.” On opening night the menu included eight appetizers, including a summer vegetable soup, lettuces with warm mushrooms, pork belly and clams and an heirloom tomato salad.
All of the appetizers and entrees are locally sourced and dependent on what is growing in Farm Manager Matt Gunn’s gardens, either across Highway 29 at the Charles Krug Winery or on Deer Park Road. The five entrees included a house-made fettuccine with farm vegetables, a buttermilk fried half Mary’s Chicken with tomato jam and zucchini almond slaw; seared Arctic Char with summer beans and a fennel puree; The Greystone burger, with a fried egg and crisp onions; and a grilled Five Dot Ranch beef, either an 8-ounce flat iron cut or 12-ounce rib-eye. Both beef dishes came with cream-less corn and sauteed mushrooms.
Wait a minute. Hasn’t the Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant (WSGR) been serving dinners for about 20 years, since the CIA at Greystone opened? Yes. At first it was a professionally run restaurant and then it was 100 percent student run. But, according to Borenstein, “We felt like we were leaving out our locals by not being able to take care of them and show them what we have to offer.”
So this is a new concept that reflects what once was. The restaurant is in a smaller space with high standards and CIA graduates running it. (Borenstein graduated from the CIA at Hyde Park and moved to the St. Helena campus about 18 months ago.) Besides the smaller space, with a bar in the back of the house serving the same farm-to-table menu, in the evening the new restaurant has professional staff as servers, cooks and managers.
It is open for dinner from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and in the future, the staff may open on Sunday, for a late brunch and a family-style dinner. Additionally, Borenstein said she hopes to open the terrace sometime this month.
During midday, from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., the restaurant is open for lunch and staffed by CIA students. It is a research and development kitchen that serves the public.
Among those dining on opening night were Bob Bath and Christie Dufault, two CIA instructors for the school’s Advanced Wine and Beverage Program. Bath said he had a delicious steak. The diners at the table, who included his wife, Julie, tried a variety of appetizers and small plates.
“I think the consensus is that everything tasted really good,” he said. “It was a nice first night. A perfect debut.”
Dufault added, “I would say that visiting the Greystone Restaurant in its reincarnation is a wonderful thing. The establishment is beautiful, the service staff was excited. The food was tremendous, everything was fresh, bright, balanced, harmonious. And absolutely delicious.”
She said, “It was a delight to be here, a delight to see a lot of locals and friends in the restaurant. We just want Greystone restaurant to excel and take on its next life after 20 years.”
The extensive wine list includes eight categories, ranging from sparkling and aromatic whites, sauvignon blancs and chardonnay to pinot noir and gamay to zinfandel, Rhone reds and Bordeaux varieties. Borenstein said Bath created the wine list, which is about 80 percent California and local, Napa Valley and St. Helena wines. Wines are sold by the glass, on tap, in two flights (bubbles and cabernet sauvignon) and by the bottle.
Beyond that, there are imaginative cocktails, created by CIA Hyde Park students, four draft beers, including The Fox and the Stork from St. Helena’s Mad Fritz Brewing Co., and a Sonoma cider.
Dinner on opening night was fantastic as Dufault said, although the restaurant was probably staffed for the expected 20 people, rather than the 60 who turned out for the evening. Borenstein said the staff included four servers, two server assistants, four cooks and two managers. It is likely the opening night jitters have been solved.
After dinner, there were desserts to share — or not — including apple crisp, coffee cardamon Panna Cotta and a California cheese plate. To go with dessert were a number of dessert wines, including late harvest, botrytis and an ice wine and fortified spirits, including 10-year-old Maderias and Tawny Portos.
Thursday at the CIA
Richard “Dick” Peterson will be signing copies of his new autobiography, “The Winemaker,” at the Spice Islands Marketplace at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone from 6:45 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 1. “The Winemaker” tells of Peterson’s youth and growing up on an Iowa farm during the Depression and his school experiences.
Peterson also tells the story of the California wine industry through his work experiences, including at E&J Gallo Winery, Beaulieu Vineyards, Monterey Vineyard and Sterling Vineyards. He is well-known as a winemaker, educator, international wine judge, viticulture/enology consultant and expert witness in legal cases. He is a former president of The American Society for Enology & Viticulture, director of the Wine Institute and founding member of the Society of Wine Educators and the American Institute for Wine and Food.