Julia’s Kitchen, located in COPIA, is in an unpretentious residential neighborhood in Napa. The building itself is a huge complex that’s part museum, part classroom, part retail store. To get into COPIA, they charge admission but you can circumvent that by heading straight to the restaurant. The dining room, while large and airy, has somewhat of a corporate-feel to the space. However, it does boast an open kitchen and one wall of the restaurant features an impressive and top-notch wine storage vault. Yes, there are plenty of seminars and educational hoopla, but the food is what brings people here.
For lunch that day, Lynn started with a fresh beet salad with some chèvre. I tried the leek and new potato salad. He moved on to a salmon filet with rice and I had the sole with a butter and crème fraiche sauce with some pretty little orange slices thrown in. As I’m thinking back on our lunch, it actually sounds like a pretty boring, institutional type of meal. However, all the food was creatively and freshly prepared and tasted magnificent. Dessert was a classic: crêpes suzette with an orange granita parfait.
Return Visit to Julia’s Kitchen
We had just missed “crush” driving through Napa County, but the gardens of COPIA were still in full bloom with tomatoes and pomegranates dripping off their vines, and asparagus, eggplant and zucchini ready to be picked. Walking through such a bountiful and herbaceous smelling garden, your taste buds are definitely given a nudge to eat and eat well. That day, I started with the grilled sardines that had a tad too much olive oil on them that the accompanying lemon wedge couldn’t quite dispel. Since I remembered the simple sole dish I’d eaten the last time I was here, I couldn’t resist ordering it again. Lynn started with the veal sweetbreads then moved on to the lamb loin. We shared a dessert of three different yummy chocolate puddings with fried churros to dip in the puddings or eat separately. We were quite full but very happy.
Our third visit and this time Julia’s did disappoint. The dining room was the most crowded we had ever seen – it was summer and nearing the weekend. In fairness, we had also spent a weekend driving up the coast and eating, eating, eating. It was our last day in California and we still had two meals to go. Starting light, I ordered the ever-popular raw tuna with tiny Bibb lettuce leaves and equally adorable radishes. Lynn went with the sweetbreads (again) with a bean accompaniment. The daily special was fresh fettuccini with chanterelles with chicken and cream. Since I’m a sucker for pasta, mushrooms and anything with cream, the concept of eating “light” that day went out the window. Unfortunately, the chicken was tough enough for me to complain. Luckily, our waitress was honest; I wasn’t the first customer to say that the dish wasn’t “worthy.” She went back to the kitchen and they offered to make it for me again or bring me something else. At that point however, I decided I’d already eaten enough and they graciously took the charge off the bill.
*Unfortunately, both COPIA and Julia’s Kitchen ran into serious financial difficulties in late 2008 and as of this writing, remain closed.
Editors note: A description of our October 2006 visit appeared in the “Letters” section of Conde Nast Traveler (September 2008)