A Beautiful Tropical Flower in Puerto Rico, A Gem of a Restaurant in Yountville
Protea, an exciting addition to the Yountville dining scene helmed by Chef Anita Cartagena, celebrates her favorite international influences. With a menu that’s refreshed daily, Cartagena honors her family experiences growing up in Puerto Rico, and also tips her hat to global Caribbean, Mexican, Italian and Asian cuisines.
“I grew up watching my mother cook with grace and love, creating traditional Puerto Rican dishes, stews and empanadas using the fruits and vegetables we picked from a family garden managed by my father and great grandmother, and that was the foundation of my culinary style,” she explained.
Her family eventually moved to the United States, where Cartagena began a successful modeling career, but it was an invitation to dine at the French Laundry in Yountville that completely changed her life.
“The very first bite there just changed everything,” Cartagena recalled. “It was a small button of puff pastry with smoked Gouda cheese piped into it, and I couldn’t believe how amazing it tasted. I had never tasted anything like that before.”
That culinary epiphany led to deep dive into the culinary world for Cartagena. “I wanted to know more. I watched all the videos on Thomas Keller I could find and read his cookbooks. I went all in and enrolled at Kendall College in Chicago.” After graduation, Cartagena honed her skills under several Michelin-starred chefs in Chicago, including Chef Carlos Gaytan of Mexique, the first Mexican chef to earn a Michelin star.
She then found her way to San Francisco and worked with Dominique Crenn at the Michelin-starred Atelier Crenn. “That rein- forced the use of formal techniques, but my ultimate goal was to go to Yountville and take the Keller influences and devise a personal style that was a little more rustic.”
An opportunity to move to Yountville came when she helped open Ciccio Restaurant in 2012. At Ciccio, Cartagena focused on classic Italian dishes and was inspired by Chef Polly Lapetito.
After three years at Ciccio, Chef Cartagena had the chance to combine her culinary knowledge and passion at her own restaurant. Protea opened in April 2016, with the added charm of a rooftop dining area and surrounding views, the only space of its kind in Yountville. “My menu con- sisted of global influences, but always with a Caribbean accent,” she said.
The menu at Protea features traditional empanadas, curried goat stews, and ramen stir-fries. “We also serve Nieman Ranch roasted pork tacos and a great bison burger, but our signature dish would have to be our Caribbean fish fry, with a whole red snapper marinated in garlic mojo served with rice, beans, plantains and avocado. That is the dish that takes people from the Caribbean back home.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
707-415-5035 // rooftop dining available
Article By: Michael Koehn