Artistic culinary fare on display at some of California’s museums. . – On Food – Julia’s Kitchen – Brief Article – restaurant review
Naming a restaurant Julia’s Kitchen sets a high standard before one even lights the stove. And that was exactly the mission of the dining room at Copia, the Center for Wine, Food and the Arts, which opened eight months ago in Napa, Calif.
The organizers of the new, multimillion-dollar, multifaceted facility consider it to be the cornerstone of the center. Copia, which grew out of a concept envisioned by Robert Mondavi and nurtured by him, has had Julia Child as an adviser since 1996. She is a trustee and has donated her collection of copper cookware to the center, where it is on display.
The comfortable, yet no-frills modern dining room, which seats 75 and focuses on a big, open kitchen, is a far cry from the kitchen in Cambridge where Child used to cook. The dining room’s culinary style and attention to seasonal ingredients on a French-California menu are certainly in tune with her cooking and tastes. It is a tribute to her, her career and her influence.
The chef, Mark Dommen, a graduate of the California Culinary Academy who worked with chefs Hubert Keller, Christian Delouvrier, Gray Kunz and Jean-Louis Palladin, said he was somewhat “humbled by the task of living up to Julia’s standards.” Having well-tended gardens on the premises to supply the kitchen makes it easier to achieve.
The menu changes regularly, but among the dishes that have become such favorites that the chef cannot remove them are a lush risotto of sunchokes with hazelnuts, garlic chives and Parmesan cheese and a main dish of seared scallops with pancetta, potato puree and Port reduction. Some recent items included a salad of raw and lightly poached vegetables with fresh herbs in a Banyuls vinaigrette and a poached, free-range chicken breast with black trumpet mushrooms, endives and crispy capers in a venus vinaigrette. Main courses are $18.50 to $24.
One can comprehend the restaurant’s culinary style without dining there. Visitors to the center can sample and compare coffees and wines at free tastings, attend lecture-tastings about sugars and other ingredients, or vicariously indulge in a series of interactive displays that are part of Forks in the Road: Food, Wine and the American Table. That exhibition surveys the history of food in America and its influence on our culture.
The center also has a cafe and a market shop where prepared light foods and some of the best packaged American products are sold.
I expected a delicious meal at Copia. However, I did not know what to expect at another California cultural institution, the Getty Center in Los Angeles. It is a measure of how important food has become in every facet of the American experience that the Getty boasts a stunning dining room with food to match. Architect Richard Meier designed a soaring space, airy and sunlit by day with views of gardens and distant hillsides, that is impressive yet joyous.
Plush upholstery and dark wood floors add a touch of luxury and modulate the noise levels. Some whimsical touches, like a giant spoon on one wall, leaven the look.
Here the food is more Californian than French, changing daily, with a bright freshness. The dishes include a tempura of soft-shell crab with a daikon salad, Alaskan white salmon with basil tapenade and fennel puree, and at lunch, a main dish of warm marinated steak salad with shredded romaine in a Caesar dressing. A few items are designed to reflect exhibitions, like the romagnola pasta with grilled asparagus and sun-dried tomatoes, which complement a showing called Tour of Italy. Main courses at dinner are $20 to $32; luncheon dishes are $8 to $18.
Like Dommen at Copia, the chef at the Getty, Terri Buzzard, emphasizes organic ingredients. It’s not surprising at Copia. But it is in the dining room at an institution with room after room of Renaissance paintings, not racks of wine and displays of teapots and old menus.
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