Monday, August 2nd, 2010
The creative essence of Francis Ford Coppola swirls around his palatial Geyserville winery like a thick fog. Seeping into every detail, from menu to merchandising, there’s no question the Godfather director is a hands-on kind of guy, with his strong personal likes and dislikes informing into every detail of the massive remodel of the former Chateau Souverain.
That, of course, extends to his the winery’s new restaurant, Rustic, where staff repeatedly chant the mantra, “Francis feels that…” or “Francis wanted…” when asked about everything from ingredients to decor.
A personal project inspired by family recipes and his travels around the world, Coppola’s finally-completed winery restaurant has been well worth the wait. Putting his personal stamp of approval on all the menu items, the not so subtle sub-text of the menu is that these are Coppola’s favorite foods. That, and the fact the whole center of the menu says “Francis’s Favorites” as does the subtitle to the restaurant.
With that kind of personal investment, (staff say he’s been a near-constant presence while the restaurant revs up), you get a pretty healthy whiff of his passion for these dishes, along with personal anecdotes about each of the “favorites”. For example, the Chicken Mattone: “This dish, alternately called chicken under the stone or brick, has become popular lately, but often too tame compared to my favorite version. You have to drive out to a restaurant on the outskirts of Rome about 45 minutes, and call ahead because this is how long it takes to prepare authentically…” and it continues on for several more sentences. Call it food storytelling.
Quick Take: Destination-worthy Italian dishes emerge from cracker-crisp Neapolitan pizzas and simple pastas to hearty burgers, Argentine short-ribs (from a center-stage parrilla, or Argentinean grill), salads and the daily “Favorites” (Chicken Mattone, Mrs. Scorsese’s Lemon Chicken, goose-fat roasted potatoes, Marrakesh Lamb, rigatoni in meat ragu) that promise to be show-stoppers.
Best Bets: A flood of fans the first week surprised kitchen staff, so all of the “favorites” like the brick chicken Mattone, lemon chicken and short-ribs were long-gone by the time we arrived for a 1pm lunch. Some of the dishes are still in development, as well, like the lamb, which we were told Francis wasn’t quite happy with yet. But there’s still plenty to love on the menu. French fried zucchini ($7) are thin, salty sticks overflowing from the bowl, and fresh mozzarella arrives with several savory zeppole (fried Italian donuts). Pizza Sofia is a girlfriend’s delight, a light, crunchy pizza crust draped with peppery arugula, slices of prosciutto and shavings of fresh parmesan. Caesar salad is in the classic style, with fresh egg yolk, crunchy croutons and strips of anchovy. For dessert, Chocolate Mousse al “Francis Francis” is more of a dense pot de creme, served with a dollop of cream in a teacup ($6).
The drinks: Full wine list with most of Coppola’s wines (both from here and from his Napa Rubicon Estate) along with several other locals. Plus, a full bar with, well, everything else. Top bets include “Navy Grog”, a fruity tropical sipper (Francis’ favorite, natch) and the Dark and Stormy (rum and ginger beer).
The vibe: The space has been transformed from the drab leftovers of what once was Gary Danko’s home turf into a casually luxe Italian bistro. Waiters and floor staff wear Italian-inspired restaurant jackets that are a cross between band major and bellhop, but carry it off in style. A collection of historical Italian olive oil labels line the walls, but you’re here for the view, which inside or out is incredible, looking out for miles over northern Sonoma County vineyards.
Stay tuned for: It’s worth coming back in the fall for two major events. The outdoor pools are in their final stages of construction. The idea is to create a resort-like space (the chateau is an homage to the Godfather, with the exterior mimicking a retro 50’s pool) with private “cabines” for families. Staff tell BiteClub they’re already practicing their parts for the forthcoming a tavola dinners this fall. Meaning “at the table”, the concept is family style dining/dinner theater with staff playing the parts of Italian wives, local marketeers and mongers hawking their wares (in character and costume) through the restaurant serving the audience chef’s choice “small plates”.
At the helm: Chef de cuisine Nick Petrilli formerly of Bottega and Tra Vigne.
While you’re there: Oh yeah, Coppola is of course a working winery as well. The brands here are purposeful everyday sippers, especially when compared to his fancy-pants Napa Rubicon wines. Most familiar are the Diamond series (including the wildly popular claret). The “Sofia” label, named after his daughter are often slightly sweet, delicate and appealing, while the Director’s Cut reds (esp. the big bad zinfandel) are workhorse SoCo wines that rarely disappoint.
300 Via Archimedes
Geyserville, CA 95441