I recently decided to join Copia, which is another whole long story in itself, for another time. My co-worker is also a member, and we decided to dine at Julias Kitchen in light of the following facts:
a.) neither of us had yet eaten there
b.) we had received two bottles of Virginia wine as a gift from a customer
c.) free corkage at JK is a Copia membership perk
d.) a $29 3-course meal any night of the week is another membership perk
We opened the two bottles of Virginia wine and another bottle of local Napa Valley wine. Yes, thats three open bottles among the two of us, much to the amusement of the few other people in the restaurant on a Thursday evening. After tasting all three, we found them interesting, but not interesting enough to drink with dinner.
As I discovered later, the 3-course meal for members is actually quite the deal. Choose 3 courses from the ala-carte menu and no matter the price listed, the charge is $29.
We started with oysters, my co-worker the oyster-lover enjoying a sampler while I stuck to a single Oyster Margarita, which was an oyster with a tiny spoonful of frozen margarita.
To start I had the Seared Foie with Huckleberry Compote and Warm Brioche. The foie as odd as this seems wasnt tender enough and I have no idea why that would be. The compote was more like a sauce with a few whole huckleberries and the buttery, toasty brioche was still a bit gooey in the middle. Overall, the flavors worked, but the execution on the foie and the brioche was off.
I went on to the Don Watson Milk Fed Lamb, which consisted of rack, loin and crispy sweetbreads. The lamb rack was a couple of lollipop style chops; the loin was a few small slices. The lamb itself was velvety soft, rosy in the middle, and flavorful without being overly gamey. Perhaps the best lamb Ive ever had in my life, and I greedily wished for a larger portion. The sweetbreads were a bit heavy, as I expected softer little nuggets. A medley of colorful vegetables from the Copia gardens accompanied this dish and I have to say the vegetables were flavorful, beautiful and perfectly cooked. However, the accompanying rosemary polenta, while soft as whipped potatoes, had too much rosemary and was slightly jarring.
My co-worker ordered the Olive Oil Poached Salmon. Her accompanying vegetables were delicious, but the fish lacked the pristine freshness of flavor required for such a simple, delicate preparation. She felt the dish was a bit boring.
We split the Peanut Giandujia for dessert, which was beautifully presented. The pastry chef does several trio desserts, with three separate desserts on one plate coordinated by a single theme. Our dessert had chocolate sorbet, peanut-honey parfait, and the peanut giandujia. My favorite was the parfait, served in a shot glass. Honeyed whipped cream layered with crunchy bits of peanut honeycomb candy, salted chopped peanuts and swirls of chocolate. The theme of salty nuts and sweet comes up in several of the desserts, and happens to be a big hit for me. My co-worker was much enamored of the giandujia, which was shaped like a small candy bar, and layered chocolate and peanut flavors in crispy and smooth textures.
After the meal, we were presented with a plate of small treats and servings of malted milkshakes. The three treats were a chocolate covered salted, roasted cashew, a lavender-scented bite of something like a chewy, nutty oatmeal cookie, and an orange scented truffle.
Overall, we felt that the food was very good, the aspirations & inspirations were high. In light of the restaurants namesake and association with Copia, we felt the execution lacked the total excellence that should be occurring at this restaurant. Our server lacked the total polish we observed in the servers waiting on other tables, and at times seemed distracted or unfocused. In contrast, the sommelier and the bussers were very professional, focused and gracious. The restaurant was not crowded, and we went on a Thursday, which is locals night, offering a special 3-course $29 locals menu in addition to the regular menu, and free corkage.
I wondered if the slightly off quality of my visit was an anomaly, so I revisited with my husband over the weekend.
Soon after ordering, the amuse arrived, which was a baguette slice with squash puree, port reduction and a few slivers of Capricious cheese. An interesting small bite of sweet, salty and yeasty.
My husband could not resist the Hobbs Ham Hock Risotto as a starter, which was rich, with cheese and pearl onions, and reminded me of the savory Southern way of cooking with ham hocks or shanks.
I had the Seared Bay Scallops. This was three juicy, fresh scallops each perched atop a small golden fried cake of potato and some other root vegetable I believe, with a spoonful of tiny shreds of sautéed or braised cabbage tucked underneath. Slices of blood orange, pink grapefruit and clementine graced the plate as well, and added a needed acidity to the richness of each bite. Could have used a bit of salt as well, and perhaps even a bit more citric acidity to brighten the rich flavors.
We both had the Maine Lobster, which was out of its shell, intact and over a mound of small pellets of pasta in a creamy sauce with saffron and vanilla. A rich dish, deserving of an aromatic Viognier or a Chardonnay with tropical notes. We havent had lobster in ages and while the dish was well prepared, it was a bit too fussy for our preferences.
Whether it was due to our member status or the fact my husband chatted her up I dont know but the pastry chef sent over complimentary Strawberry-Rhubarb Ice Cream Sodas in small shot glasses with small straws. I dont remember whether it was the soda or the ice cream with the rhubarb flavor, but whatever, it was wonderful and in summertime Id be happy to drink these frequently.
My husband ordered the special dessert of the evening, which included house-made Churros with Chocolate Fondue, Cinnamon Pain Perdu, and something akin to a strawberry tapioca parfait. The churro dipped in chocolate was very addictive and far superior to the churros I bought at my high school snack bar years ago. I know Pain means bread, but Im clueless as to the meaning of Perdu. This was a small glass with cinnamon flavored chunks of bread or brioche layered with a creamy, almost custardy stuff. Very much like a deconstructed, unbaked bread pudding. The strawberry tapioca thing had bright strawberry flavors and made me like tapioca for a change.
We thought that was the end, but then we got the plate of treats and the malted milkshake.
Our server this time was excellent, polished, professional, patient in answering our many questions, gracious but not too intrusive. Again, the bussers and hostesses were very gracious and eager to please. The kitchen is open so you can watch the action, and theres even a half-table right against the kitchen, which allows for the best view in the house. The bar is just opposite the hostess station, a few steps away from the action of the kitchen, and I would bet its one of the least busy bars in town. Portions are moderately sized and sometimes lack for my tastes salt and a bit of acidity. I think the desserts are perhaps a bit stronger than the savory side of the meal, and I say that as someone who is not a huge dessert person. While there are small misses in the food here and there, we will continue to return and explore the menu.