I'm not one to give a 5 star review on my first visit somewhere but the Illy Bakery Cafe truly is worthy of the "as good as it gets" rating! How on Earth have I never heard about this magical place before? This is going to be in my permanent Napa rotation for all future visits. I don't want to write this review because I don't want the best-kept secret to get out!
The Bakery Cafe is run by the pastry and culinary students at the Culinary Institute of America (where this cafe is located). It's inside the giant Greystone building. Don't let the exterior scare you, the public is welcome. Simply waltz on in and take a left after the gift shop and you'll see the Cafe. The hours change frequently so make sure you call ahead or plan to be disappointed. Even when open, the Cafe has bizarre hours (like 1 pm to 3 pm or 11 am - 2 pm).
The Cafe is set up like a Panera -- you go up to the counter, place your order and pay, then sit down with a number and a server will bring your food out to you. The menu looks like it changes often depending on the seasons or what the students are learning to make. My eyes zeroed in on the fresh strawberry cake in the case and the shrimp, artichoke and grilled lemon salad caught my eye. I settled on the salad and the hubby got the Charcuterie plate and we split a bowl of the Tuscan bean and kale soup.
What amazed me is that while the stuff isn't cheap, you are getting FANCY RESTAURANT QUALITY FOOD prepared by real chefs-in-training for much less than the same dish would cost you down the street at a big name chef restaurant. My salad was freaking amazing and set me back $9. This same salad would've been at least twice the price if not more at most other establishments in Napa. My hubby enjoyed his charcuterie plate and was able to select which meats he wanted in the sampler, including wild boar (something we fell in love with on our last trip to Italy). The Tuscan bean and kale soup was yummy too; I ordered it because, well, I just cannot pass up a bowl of soup!
Water service is completely free and self-serve. I LOVED this because they had a counter with small glasses and larger glass bottles where you could fill up a bottle for your table with either filtered still or sparkling water! This worked out great for us since I love sparkling and hubby loves still. That had me won over immediately!
The students brought out the food and soon after, the culinary instructors / professors would come over to each table to inspect what they did. It was sort of like being in the classroom and was so cool! I saw this going on at every table so if you are weirded out about that sort of thing, just be aware that you are dining at a school where chefs are being trained right in front of you!
After we ate our lunch we HAD to go back for dessert and coffee. The Cafe serves Illy Italian coffee (one of the students told me that she is being trained by actual Illy folks from Italy). We got a slice of that amazing looking strawberry cake and I wanted to try a cookie so I asked the girl at the register to pick out her favorite of the day for me (she chose peanut butter). I had an espresso and hubby had a macchiato (in the traditional Italian style of course, NO Starbucks here).
The pastries were amazing. I honestly can say that peanut butter cookie was the best cookie I have ever had. You could really taste the butter, nuts, and hell, you could straight up just taste the amount of CARE that went into baking that cookie! The espresso was fine but the crema on mine has dissappated as soon as it was brought to the table. The student who brought it out noticed it right away and offered to pull another shot before I even could say anything about it but I declined. It's so difficult to learn to make the perfect espresso shot so I guess I should've had her redo it but I didn't want to look like a jerk.
The dining area is very small and tables are scarce. The small bistro tables are cute but not so much fun when you are attempting to juggle lots of plates and cups. We saw lots of students and instructors dining here between classes. The selection of sandwiches, salads, wraps, pastries and soup is limited but everything sounded so good. I don't believe there was anything over $15 on the entire menu.
I wasn't sure if we were supposed to tip here but we left a little cash. I didn't see anyone else tip, however. If anybody knows the proper protocol here, please let me know. And while we were eating, a chocolate making class started up in the open classroom right behind the cafe. How cool is that?
Own or manage this property? Claim your listing for free to respond to reviews, update your profile and much more.