Chef Christopher Kostow is best known for his Michelin three-star-rated The Restaurant at Meadowood. But soon he’ll be opening a new restaurant, The Charter Oak, a less formal dining establishment, in what was the old Tra Vigne in St. Helena. But he’s not doing this new venture alone. He’s joined by his family and friends.
“We want to create a casual place where locals, visitors and even our own families can come and enjoy any occasion,” said Kostow. “And although The Charter Oak is a completely separate entity from Meadowood, both restaurants will remain tethered culturally.”
Part of that tethering includes his partner in the project, Meadowood’s front-of-the-house director, Nathaniel Dorn, and they are also bringing with them Meadowood’s chef de cuisine, Katianna Hong.
“Nathaniel is both my friend and a true visionary when it comes to design and service,” said Kostow. “And Kat will be the chef at The Charter Oak, while her husband, John, will take her place as chef de cuisine at Meadowood.”
Hong has been with Kostow for more than five years at Meadowood and has worked her way up through the kitchen, last year earning the coveted title of chef de cuisine, making her the only female to hold such a title at the time at any of the 12 Michelin three-star restaurants in America.
“It’s been a real experience working with Christopher,” said Hong. “He is intense and fast. And the new restaurant is exciting because it is totally different and we’re starting from the ground up.”
The food will have local ties.
“The bone-in local-beef short ribs are smoked over cabernet barrels, glazed in Saba and served with beets that have been roasted and dried over the fire,” Kostow said. “We also will be including a bunch of other vegetable-centric dishes, many that will be sourced from our large garden that we will continue to operate for both restaurants.”
The garden is extensive and full of freshly grown vegetables, but it also is a farm with goats, chickens and a resident llama that helps keep the coyotes away. The entire 2-acre garden and farm are located directly behind the St. Helena Montessori school.
The wine program will focus on wines of the Napa Valley.
“The foundation of the wine program will comprise both up-and-coming and established vintners in the valley,” explained Dorn. “Our goal is to highlight the true DNA of what the Napa Valley is – those key vineyards you drive past every day, the workers in those vineyards, the people that we’ve garnered relationships with over the years and the talented young winemakers who are paving the way for the next generation. There will be no corkage fee for bottles from the Napa Valley.”
Kostow said, “This will not be just a diluted Meadowood experience, but, instead we wanted to do something different. We want to respect the space, understand what it means to the community. Building trust and celebrating with our friends and neighbors what this place has to offer. This place will be for everybody.”
“Service will be attentive but certainly not overly intrusive with a lot of interruptions,” said Dorn. “We want to reinvent what casual dining means, and we want to do it right.”
In terms of what a new restaurant might mean to the broader valley, Kostow paused for a long while before answering.
“We are at a crossroads,” he said finally. “Every time someone builds a new winery, opens a restaurant or shop, that person is helping define the future of the valley. For us, we want to fight the good fight. We want to empower people. That’s what we’re doing. And we’re doing it together.”
The Charter Oak is currently being remodeled and is scheduled to open later this year.