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

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