Sunday 21 February 2016

Casual culinary excellence at Solbar

755 Silverado Trail N, 
Calistoga, CA 94515
+1 707-226-0860

Tastiness Factor: 9.5/10

Atmosphere: 5/5

Service: 4/5

Locavore Approved?  YES- Brandon Sharp has worked as Chef de Partie at the French Laundry and has clearly learned a thing or two about being a locavore.  Out dishes were chock-full of winter veg from local farmers (as stated at the top of the menu) and the menu changes daily to reflect the freshest of ingredients.  I would love to return in the summer to see what Sharp has up his sleeve with a more bountiful crop.

Reservations required?  In high season, maybe so but when we were there in late December, there were tables to be had and we were able to change our reservation to a later time on the day of.  Seems like a place that welcomes walk-ins, and if you have to wait, there very cozy lounge, with spots at the bar and lots of comfy couches, is a great place to pass the time.

Solbar was a late addition to the restaurant roster for our New Year's Napa trip.  With French Laundry and Meadowood reserved, we were looking a third restaurant to sandwich between them that was more casual to give ourselves a chance to "recover" from one tasting menu and get ready for the next.  After some googling, I came across Solbar which seemed promising as a contrast to those two, with an eclectic menu and more chill, hip vibe and a Michelin Star to boot.

Solbar is located at the Solage Resort, a beautiful resort located in the up-and-coming Calistoga, located at the north end of Napa.  This little city has traditionally received much less press than other places in Napa but this is all changing with places like Solage and now the development of a Four Seasons resorts in the city of just over 5000.

Solbar is the restaurant at Solage, and is open for breakfast, lunch, Sunday brunch and dinner.  There is also a nice lounge area beside the restaurant to enjoy cocktails and a few munchies, or even dinner at the bar.

The room at Solbar is beautiful, with nice high ceilings and and large windows framing the space.
Although there was a definite elegance to the space, the decor was simple and there were some rustic elements including the beautiful wooden sphere light fixtures.  At the time of year we were visiting, there were tasteful Xmas decorations around the room including a spectacular plus-sized wreath on the window behind the bar. All in all, the vibe was much more laid back than many Michelin star joints.  For the most part, guests wore jeans and other casual clothing, especially in the lounge where it seemed like mostly hotel guests winding down after a long day of wine tastings.

This casual and relaxed vibe came through in the service as well.  We first sat at the bar, where a very gracious and hard-working bartender served up some nice cocktails.  In the dining room, our main server was excellent, taking time to explain the menu, providing us with excellent dish recommendations and checking up on us regularly.  Other servers arrived in a timely fashion to refill our water, serve our dishes and double check to make sure we were satisfied.

At the helm in the kitchen is Brandon Sharp who has a very impressive resume, having worked at some of the country's best restaurants (Chef de Partie at The French Laundry and Sous Chef at Gary Danko in San Francisco.  And it shows in his food.

His menu is quite succinct, with 8 appetizers and 8 mains.  Each course is then subdivided into 4 "higher, lighter dishes" in green, and 4 "hearty" dishes in red.  Despite the small menu, there is something for everyone with a nice mix of vegetarian, fish and meat dishes.  The menu changes daily, with tweaks to dishes based on what ingredients are available that day.

Here is a look at the dishes Hubby and I enjoyed:

Amuse bouche

Corn bread

Autumn chopped salad- Based on this title, the dish I was served was not at all what I was expecting.  Having said that, I would venture to say that this was one of my favourite dishes of my trip.  It was very simple, with little piles of quinoa, avocado, mango and pear, but the combination of textures and flavours came together to make a very well-composed dish.  It is the mark of a truly great chef to make something seemingly simple become unforgettable.

Gulf shrimp a la plancha- Hubby's appie was also quite memorable, with bold and spicy flavours from the patties bravas and chile hot sauce that was balanced by sweet kumquats.

Garnet yam and shiitake dumplings- Again, my vegetarian entree was a real winner of a dish.  The pan fried vegetable dumplings were served with pretty little pieces of winter squash and served with a generous portion of healthy greens with an Asian-inspired vinagrette and scallion-daikon garnish.  I really appreciated this very creative and thoughtful vegetarian dish.

Snake river farms flatiron steak- The steak, from a small family owned farm known for some of the best steaks in the country, was perfectly prepared (medium rare).  It was served with a generous portion of veggies, including the most succulent hen of the wood mushrooms and brocollini as well as decadent leek fritters.

Portions were very generous, so we decided to opt out of dessert but the menu looked equally creative and, based on our dishes, would be no doubt worth the splurge!

Overall Verdict?
As the "wild card" on our trip, we did not come in with super high expectations but we left with very high praise.  This is the perfect place for those who love excellent food but are in the mood for a more low-key and casual evening after a long day of wine tours or whatever brings you to beautiful Napa.  Chef Sharp has recently opened a second restaurant in Calistoga called Evangeline, specializing in Creole food, which will definitely be on the agenda during our next Napa trip after our excellent experience at Solbar.  Definitely worth a visit!

Solbar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saturday 13 February 2016

A Taste of Heaven on Earth at Meadowood Napa Valley Resort

900 Meadowood Ln, 
St Helena, CA 
1 707-531-4788

Tastiness Factor: 10/10

Atmosphere: 5/5

Service: 5/5

Locavore Approved?  YES- Chef Christopher Kostow is dedicated to using local ingredients in his avant-garde dishes.  I loved the story we were told by our server about his use of whelks.  Apparently Chef Kostow used to love using lobster at the restaurant.  When the local fishermen would catch the lobster, there were whelks caught in the nets that were typically just discarded.  Chef Kostow started experimenting with different ways of using them in his dishes and he now embraces them.

Reservations required? YES-Aalthough not as hard to get as French Laundry, you still need to book far in advance (up to 3 months, by phone or online on Opentable).  You may have a better shot at getting a reservation if you are a guest at the resort but this is certainly not a given, especially in high season.  To be safe, plan far in advance!

Hubby and I had the great pleasure of not only dining at Meadowood but also staying at the resort over New Years this year.  What an experience!

Before I get into details on the dining experience, it deserves mentioning how phenomenal the resort itself is.  The attention to detail here is unrivalled.  To start, the Concierge service is outstanding.  On arrival, the concierge asked if we needed anything, so I mentioned a bunch of different things we were considering (wineries, Oakville Grocery, Oxbow Market).  Within an hour of our arrival, we were hand-delivered a typed personal itinerary for our next 2 days, including winery tours that the concierge had booked for us.  Other notable luxuries include a 24-hour car service to drive you around the resort, a beautiful hike around the grounds (with little water stops at intervals along the way), a full gym with multiple fitness classes throughout the day, a brand new spa, and much, much more.  Prepare to be amazed!

Now to the restaurant itself which is equally spectacular.  The room is magical, bringing in elements of Mother Nature like magical "floating" branches high on the walls of the front room, and a phenomenal pillar in the middle of the main room covered in bark that looked just like a cedar tree growing out of the floor.  The front room where we waited for your table and enjoyed a pre-dinner cocktail was pretty chilly on the New Year's Eve night that we visited, but fortunately we were able to snuggle up near one of the massive fireplaces to stay toasty.  I loved my tequila based cocktail which had a great evolution of flavour from sweet to sour to spicy, while Hubby enjoyed the Butter Bourbon.

The service at in the Restaurant at Meadowood was some of the best we have ever experienced.  The servers were so genuine, so accommodating and so willing to entertain our questions.  We were introduced to our main server and sommelier right off the bat, and they made us feel as though we were the only ones in the dining room.  They seemed genuinely pleased to be spending their New Years Eve at work!  We particularly appreciated the free bottle of champagne given to each table to ring in the New Year.

The wine list at Meadowood is impressive, with glasses of wine starting at $30 and bottles averaging $300-500, with some more than $5000.  Although we stayed at the lower end of price range for wine, the very knowledgeable sommelier was very gracious in helping us make a choice that suited our tastes.  For those who are so inclined, there are also wine pairings available ($225).

Now to the star of the night- the multi-course dinner.  We had no idea what would be delivered to our table as we were not actually given the menu until the end of our meal (a beautiful keepsake, presented in a covering that looked cedar bark).  Our tasting menu had more "blow your mind" moments than any other I have had.  Chef Kostow threw in lots of surprises along the way (chicken cooked in sourdough, whelk that was transformed by combining it with scallop and butter, a whole pumpkin brought tableside and scooped out) without being overly theatrical.  There was just enough wow factor to make it fun and entertaining, but still classy and elegant.

The meal is very seafood-forward, and there were only 2 courses that needed to be altered from the Chef's Tasting Menu to accommodate on my pescatarian request.  Chef Kostow uses the best ingredients he can get his hands on, including produce from his garden (they use a greenhouse in the winter) and meat and fish sourced locally. Even their legumes were special, with heirloom beans brought in from Rancho Gordo which is renowned for bringing back extinct heirloom bean varieties.  One of my favourite treats of the evening was the matsumamaki mushrooms picked and delivered the day before.  Its not every day you have to eat those beauties!

All in all, there were 12 courses of deliciousness in total, starting with a few small bites and ending with cheese, sorbet and a small dessert plus a few chocolates as a farewell.  We left feeling perfectly satisfied, without being overly stuffed.

Overall Verdict?
Simply put, Meadowood is magical.  From the moment we drove through the tree-lines road leading into the resort, I knew I was headed somewhere very special.  And what I found was beyond anything I could have imagined.
Until we meet again, dear Meadowood!

The Restaurant at Meadowood Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato