Chef Chris Cosentino cooks up the quintessential Wine Country dining experience
The fantasy of the Napa Valley good life may actually come true, if only for a few hours, at Acacia House, chef Chris Cosentino’s new restaurant at Las Alcobas resort in St. Helena. The experience begins by pausing on the wide veranda—the restaurant is housed in a 1907 Victorian overlooking the vineyards—then stepping into the elegantly rustic dining room and bar. Order one of the carefully made cocktails as the tawny daylight fades—perhaps a Bee Balm, with gin, dolin blanc, Saint-Germain and dill, or a Margarita Las Alcobas, topped with a froth of “salt air.” Then pair your beverage with what Cosentino calls “chips & dip,” a tumble of golden gaufrettes with creamy, lemon-tinged lebneh and dollops of caviar. This is just the beginning.
The delicate luxury is seductive and surprising. At his San Francisco restaurant, Cockscomb, Cosentino is famous for developing bold flavors and a menu that doesn’t shy away from offcuts; his new cookbook, written with Michael Harlan Turkell, is called Offal Good (Clarkson Potter, $40). But the chef bristles at the idea that he’s gilded the menu here. “An onion can be a luxury ingredient, if it’s treated properly,” he says, citing as evidence the Acacia House corn risotto, made with popcorn-infused butter, dried corn, fresh kernels and even cornstalks.
The schnitzel also ups the ante with a thick, juicy slice of Spanish Iberico pork embellished with a rich beurre blanc and a little salad tossed with ranch dressing and caviar. His “surf & turf” combines crunchy sweetbreads with tender chunks of lobster over a gutsy ravigote sauce, and a vegetarian entrée of whole roasted eggplant is given the Sicilian treatment with blistered tomatoes, capers, chili and pistachios.
The Napa neighbors are front and center on the wine list, with prestige cabernet sauvignon from big names such as Beringer Vineyards and Dominus Estate, as well as limited-production bottlings usually available only at the wineries, including Corison’s Corazón cabernet rosé and Grace Family Estate cabernet sauvignon. Sometimes, the neighbors themselves are front and center too: Yes, that was Grace Family proprietor Richard Grace dining out on the veranda. 1915 Main St., St. Helena, 707-963-9004; lasalcobas.com.
Written by MICHALENE BUSICO.