CIA at Copia
500 First St.
Napa, Calif. 94559
Le Petite Chef—3D Dining Experience
Open for dinner Thursday-Saturday
$190/per person with wine pairings
(Includes tax and gratuity)
[Photos courtesy of CIA Copia]
The Culinary Institute of America, founded in 1946, has gained a reputation as the world’s premier culinary college. And the Restaurant at CIA Copia, which opened in the Oxbow District in 2016, offers a distinctive dining experience with seasonal dishes inspired by the bounty of the Napa Valley. This spring, the restaurant ventured into new territory, introducing the first 3D dining experience to the West Coast, created by Skullmapping and Tablemation.
Hosted by Le Petite Chef, this 3D adventure entails a six-course meal, prepared by a creative team led by executive chef Todd Meyerhofer, and paired with a curated selection of wines. During the journey, diners are transported to the Silk Road, traveled by the legendary Marco Polo, an Italian merchant and explorer, who was one of the first and most famous Europeans to travel to Asia during the Middle Ages, where no doubt he explored the flavors and aromas of the region. “We really want guests to experience the breadth of global flavors found along the Silk Road. So we used the native cuisines and spices of France, Arabia, India, and China as inspiration for the menu,” says Meyerhofer.
Alex and I arrive on a Saturday evening, and the experience begins in the bar with cocktails. We’re seated promptly at 6:30 p.m. at a long dining table with a gold-embossed bound book at each place setting. The lights are dimmed, we’re instructed to open our books and the journey begins with an appearance by Le Petite Chef. Looking up from the pages of the book, this miniature chef introduces himself, and moves across the book as the pages turn. Soon after, we embark on our journey, and the room is filled with the sights and sounds of the ocean as we traverse the Arabian Sea.
For the first course, we begin with a “little lunch,” packed in a miniature leather box, which we enjoy in Marseille, a city and port along the French coast. It includes a tuna niçoise tart, and a duck liver, apple butter brioche, two delectable small bites. Each course is served with a black leather-bound journal to share your thoughts, and it’s great fun to read what other guests have to say about the food and the experience. As one guest noted in a journal, “Drifting away in the ocean was captivating, soothing and so relaxing.”
Next stop on the itinerary is Arabia, where we experience the exotic flavors and spices of the peninsula in southwestern Asia, which is largely a desert. We’re served candied pistachios, which I couldn’t stop eating, a creamy hummus with naan, stuffed dates, and delicate falafel balls served with raita, a yogurt, which includes cucumber and an infusion of spices.
Our third stop along the journey is in India, where we’re served coconut curry shrimp with vegetable noodles. This is an extraordinary dish and my personal favorite—the shrimp is succulent and perfectly spiced with a touch of heat. Presentation is a major part of the experience, and in between courses, we had the opportunity to get acquainted with the other guests on our adventure. The young couple seated next to us were celebrating their first wedding anniversary, and we toasted them at our table.
The fourth course is a palate cleanser from Himalaya—a citrus sorbet, served with a mint leaf and a luscious, creamy yogurt surprise at the end. The presentation is spectacular and the other guests we were dining with on our voyage were raving about it. The fifth course is served in China—duck, served two ways—roasted breast and braised thighs in a red bean paste with Maitake mushrooms, and greens with garlic. This is a beautiful course with earthy, succulent flavors.
Dining with Le Petite Chef is a two-hour adventure, but historical accounts note that Polo’s adventure was a 24-year journey, a story told in Il Milione (The Million). As the voyage comes to an end, we’re served vanilla crème brulée with a cardamom twist, an exquisite dessert to conclude an extraordinary dining adventure. Next time you’re in Napa Valley, make reservations at the Restaurant at CIA Copia for Le Petite Chef’s 3D dining adventure, and enjoy the vibrant sights, sounds and tastes inspired by the travels of Marco Polo.
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