Francis Ford Coppola Winery
300 Via Archimedes
Geyserville, Calif. 95441
Family Style Dining
5 to 8 p.m.
Adults $49, Children $15
[Photos courtesy of Francis Ford Coppola Winery.]
The heartbeat of Italian life occurs around the dinner table. And though Francis Ford Coppola was born in Detroit, Mich., his grandparents emigrated from Italy, and young Francis grew up with traditional values, which included Sunday night dinners with family. Coppola’s vision was to create a dining experience reminiscent of his childhood at the winery’s restaurant, Rustic. Every Tuesday night, Rustic offers a tavola (pronounced a TAH-voh-la), which means “to the table.”
When we booked the reservation, Alex and I were instructed to arrive promptly at 5 p.m., anticipating nothing more than a family-style meal for two. Moments after we arrived and checked in with the hostess, a woman appeared next to me wearing a floral green dress and pink curlers in her hair. She introduced herself as Aunt Cecily, and informed us that Mama was busy cooking in the kitchen. Holding a glass of vino, she seemed slightly sloshed. I wasn’t sure what to make of her, but then we heard someone shout something unintelligible from the dining room, and I knew this would be a unique dining experience.
Once seated, an older gentleman arrives tableside, wearing pajama bottoms and a bathrobe, with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. He introduces himself as Grandpa. “Everyone is lazy around here—especially the children,” he tells us. “They wake me up from my nap. Blame Francis. He puts the Moretti family in charge. He’s stubborn.”
He pours water into our glasses, and then saunters off to bring us the antipasti, which includes ceci beans, prosciutto cotto, broccoli raab and cauliflower agrodolce, a beautiful starter. Shortly after, he delivers a bottle of vino to the table, the Eleanor, a 2014 red wine blend made with fruit sourced near Coppola’s home. Grandpa pops the cork and pours the vino into my glass, all while complaining about the family and flicking pretend ashes into my wine glass. The wine is fruit forward and luscious, the perfect vino for an Italian dinner.
Dining at a tavola is entertaining and fun, with a loud and proud dysfunctional family—think My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Italian style. Grandpa grumbles a lot, Aunt Cecily works the dining room, clutching her wine glass, and cousin Puffy is gambling, hoping to rake in rent money. As we’re enjoying the wine and family dysfunction, platters of food arrive from the kitchen. There’s insalata with baby lettuces, candied persimmon, sliced Granny Smith apples and pickled red onion, a fresh tossed salad served family style. Pasta with red sauce and two types of pizza—a vegetarian option with calabrian chiles, mushroom, green garlic, crème fraiche and mozzarella, and a shaved coppa pizza pie with tomato sauce and wilted arugula. The crust is perfect—made in the authentic Italian style with a crispy, flaky crust.
Cecily’s lovely niece, Francesca, arrives soon after with a bowl, heaping with risotto, which is served piping hot from the kitchen. It’s so creamy and delicious, we were tempted to ask for seconds, but the platters continued to roll out of the kitchen—slabs of crispy pork belly, sous vide New York strip with salsa verde and pan-seared salmon.
The food is exceptional and Chef Mama is a wizard in the kitchen, but it’s not all about the cooking. A tavola is a dining adventure, perfect to share with family and friends. As we’re lingering over dinner and getting to know Aunt Cecily, Grandpa serenades guests with That’s Amore, and an accordion player accompanies him.
For dessert, we enjoyed apple upside down cake with a dollop of vanilla gelato and chocolate truffles. And I was feeling so at home, chatting with Aunt Cecily, that I dunked a forkful of cake into my coffee. When the song was over, Grandpa accused Cecily of stashing the silverware in her purse and, of course, she was outraged that he’d say such a thing.
If you’re looking for a great home-cooked meal, make a reservation for Rustic’s a tavola and give my best to Aunt Cecily and Grandpa. We’ll be back, but next time, we’re bringing family.
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