C.I.A.: The Only Intelligent Choice for Dinner in Napa Valley

(Author’s Note: This post will complete my account of our recent trip to Napa Valley. Look for my next post some time in the coming week or two discussing the wines we sampled in New Zealand that are distributed in the United States. I will write the final installment of the Wine with Dinner Honeymoon Series with an in depth account of a couple of the boutique wineries that we found that make it worth flying to the other side of the planet.

One other thing. A friend of mine recently commented that I need to write more about the wines and restaurants that I have not enjoyed. He may be right, and there will be some critical notes in my upcoming New Zealand reviews. That being said, you won’t find a lot of criticism about our experience at the C.I.A.)

A friend of mine living in Boston (whose father makes his own wine, by the way) graduated from the Culinary Institute of America a few years back. We were talking about wine a couple of months ago and he mentioned that the next time I was in Napa Valley I had to eat dinner at the CIA’s Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant. Who am I to ignore the advice of a trained chef?

CIA by Night
The Holiday Lights of the CIA’s Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant by Night

We were lucky to get a reservation for four people on short notice. After arriving a bit early, we were directed to a sitting area with a roaring fire and stepped over to the bar to get the CIA’s California-heavy (not surprising) wine list. We selected the Trefethen Vineyards 2005 Estate Dry Riesling from Napa Valley. It was a nice wine to drink by the fire with aromas of apple and ginger and a palate of ginger and unripe peach. While all enjoyed it, I did get a little hint of rubbery/latex that I could have done without. 3 Stars, $20 per bottle.

After being escorted to our table, we were handed a glorious menu complete with that day’s Chef’s Temptations, First Courses, and Main Courses. The Temptations menu was too good to pass up, offering delicious bites of fried tofu, crostini & foie gras, beef empanadas, cauliflower soup shots, and potato croquettes. Every bite was prepared to perfection and elegantly presented. While I am not one for oysters and caviar, our friends Mike and Betsy could not praise the CIA’s American Caviar and Oyster tasting enough. Passing on the seafood, Mrs. Wine with Dinner and I opted for the French Onion Soup. While you can get French Onion Soup just about anywhere, there are few places where it makes you lose the power of speech. I believe Mrs. Wine with Dinner’s exact words were, “Salty, brothy, cheesy . . . yummmm . . . .” The only scary part of the meal was that we had not gotten to the main course yet.

CIA French Onion Soup
“Salty, brothy, cheesy . . . yummmm . . . .”

The CIA’s menu changes on a regular basis, so there is no point in describing each dish in too much detail, as you will not find it the same on your trip. I will note, however, that everyone loved their entree. Among the standouts were the Hanger Steak and the Pomegranate-glazed Chicken. No matter what main course you choose, however, be sure to order a side of the New York Style Risotto for the table. This is one of the only risotto dishes that I have encountered that rivals the specialties at Dupont Circle’s Al Tirimasu. After tasting this dish I joined my wife in her regression back to a fourth grade vocabulary, my notes reading, “YUM — creamy yum!”

After finishing this remarkable meal, the end to a perfect day of wine tasting, we realized that they were bringing around the deserts for us to view. Again, no lemons among these offerings, though my love of cheesecake and cranberries leads me to recommend the CIA’s Cranberry Cheesecake, which beautifully combines the tartness of the cranberry with a wonderfully rich cheesecake and chocolate crust.

One final note: the CIA’s wine list was truly awesome. With our table ordering such varied dishes, it was left to me to select a wine to compliment them all. As steak was at the table, a light red seemed the best compromise. As I perused the pinot noir list, the only name that I saw that was familiar was Hendry. I have had and very much enjoyed their 2003 Block 7 Zinfandel, but I had never tried their Pinot Noir. I was hesitant, as it was the second most inexpensive pinot on the list and I did not want to appear cheap in front of my wife and our friends. Nonetheless, I went with the trusted winery and ordered their 2004 Blocks 4&5 Pinot Noir.

I was not disappointed. The Hendry presented a cherry, strawberry and cedar nose with a light, fruity flavor bolstered by a hint of spice and a gorgeous light purple color. The selection was perfect to complement the varied dishes at the table. I was very gratified to find a winery whose name you can count on regardless of the price. I only wish that we had made it to Hendry during the day. I guess that is just another excuse to go to back to Napa Valley, and to the CIA’s Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant…

Hendry 2004 Blocks 4&5 Pinot Noir: 5 Stars, $36 per bottle at restaurant.
CIA Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant: 5 Stars, Main entree appx. $25 per person.

Published in: on January 29, 2007 at 12:05 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. FERNANDO M. SALGADOEn temas de gestión sanitaria estamos cayendo sistemáticamente en demagogia, la oposición critica lo que luego hace y el gobierno hace lo que antes criticaba. Los ciudadanos estamos más que hartos de que jueguen con nosotros ofreciéndonos informaciones absurdas en cuanto a tiempos medios de espera que desde luego no se cumplen; señores/as, no nos hagan idiotas haciéndonos creer que en 40 días se hace una resonancia en los hospitales gallegos, o que no hay casi nadie que lleve esperando más de 180 días por una intervención quirúrgica; revisen las listas del Chuvi.

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