The Lemon Ricotta Pancakes @ Solbar, Calistoga

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The Lemon Ricotta Pancakes @ Solbar, Calistoga. Served with huckleberry sauce and pine nuts.

In my experience, people from Napa tend to discuss Calistoga with an air of levity. Is this fair? I’m not sure, but there may be a few reasons for this attitude. Perhaps it’s mainly because Calistoga has remained somewhat rustic, despite the tourism boom that seems to have affected the rest of the valley. Or maybe it’s because Calistoga is the very last stop to the north before you cross from Napa County over into Sonoma County (surprisingly enough, Calistoga is actually two miles closer to Healdsburg than it is to the City of Napa, which says quite a bit about our geography).

As the culinary centerpiece of Solage Resort & Spa, Calistoga’s Solbar is easily the town’s finest restaurant, having maintained its Michelin star since 2009. Though Solbar can easily be overlooked because [… read more …]

Double Cheeseburger @ Solbar, Calistoga

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The Double Cheeseburger @ Solbar, Calistoga. The fried pickles are an indulgent touch.

There’s a lot to like about Solbar’s double cheeseburger, including the signature fried pickles that send this dish over the top. All of the other elements hold their own nicely: The cheddar cheese is sharp and beautifully melted, the Bibb lettuce is impeccable, and the patties always arrive in pairs (the option for a single cheeseburger, or even a simple hamburger, is not featured on the Solbar menu). I appreciate the fact that Solbar offers a double cheeseburger as its default burger option, though. There’s no half-stepping with this decision. If you feel like having a burger for lunch, then be prepared to fully conquer your craving. Of course, the two planks of fried pickles will play a strong supporting role in this endeavor.

Wine Tasting Notes, 2013: Chateau Montelena and Summers Estate, Calistoga

Although the Napa Valley has now become synonymous with wine, history shows that this area can sustain a wide array of crops. In the previous century, the Napa Valley was once home to vast orchards of walnuts, prunes, and pears. These crops became especially dominant during the 1920s and 1930s, with Prohibition mitigating the grape-growing industry (because home wine-making remained legal under the Volstead Act, plenty of wine grapes still existed in Napa during Prohibition — the only difference was that the emphasis shifted to lesser-quality grapes that could survive a cross-country trip by rail car).

If we turn back the clock 150 years and revisit the Napa Valley on the heels of the California Gold Rush, the original crop here was actually wheat, planted heavily throughout the mid-1800s, before the first wave of wine production began at the end of the century (the Bale Grist Mill in Calistoga, [… read more …]

Revisiting the Lucky Pig @ Solbar, Calistoga

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The Lucky Pig @ Solbar, Calistoga. Serves two.

When I launched this blog back in 2008, I didn’t have a camera, a fact that seems positively foolhardy to me now. A food blog without photos? What’s the point of that? Surely I had given myself far too much credit as a writer in those early days. After a year of blogging, however, I finally realized that photos were essential to this medium (duh), and I invested in a decent DSLR.

Five years later, I wouldn’t dream of posting a restaurant review without photos. To that end, I’ve been spending the last few weeks at the Accidental Wino cleaning house, deleting those half-formed posts that either don’t contribute much or that have become irrelevant over the years. But I’ve also come across several early posts that were pretty well written, but which lacked the artwork to make [… read more …]

The Torta Cubano @ Solbar, Calistoga

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The Torta Cubano @ Solbar, Calistoga: Roasted pork loin, Black Forest ham, Swiss cheese, pickles. Salt and vinegar potato chips on the side.

The torta cubano at Solbar reminds me of two things: (1) the Monday-only banh mi at Auberge su Soleil, for being another Michelin-star take on an otherwise blue-collar sandwich, and (2) the infamous torta cubana at That’s It Market, which sets a certain everything-but-the-kitchen-sink gold standard for all other cubanas. Of course, Solage isn’t going to serve anything as wonderfully gauche as That’s It Market, but that’s not to say that the Solbar torta doesn’t have its own merits. The bread, for instance, is superior. It complements the sandwich perfectly. Beyond that, you have two kinds of pork, melted Swiss, and pickles. How could you go [… read more …]

Silverado Brewing Company to Shutter in November

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Get it while you can: The Fish and Chips @ Silverado Brewing Company, St. Helena.

If I could just editorialize on this latest bit of news, I think it’s shameful that the Silverado Brewing Company has to close its doors at the end of November, since Kendall Jackson has decided to cancel the restaurant’s lease. According to what I’ve heard around the valley, one possible reason for this decision is to give Freemark Abbey, which is owned by Kendall Jackson, more of a presence on Highway 29. Although unfortunate, this explanation does make some sense, since SBC certainly enjoys the best location on the lot (SBC is well-positioned along Highway 29, while Freemark Abbey is tucked into the back corner of their own property). However, this is a terrible trade-off for the Napa Valley, which will lose one of its key up-valley restaurants in favor of a very [… read more …]

Slow Food Napa Valley: The 6th Annual Bale Mill Harvest Dinner

6th Annual Bale MIll Dinner

Good Times: The 6th Annual Bale Grist Mill Harvest Dinner.

The Napa Valley State Parks Association and Slow Food Napa Valley hosted the 6th Annual Bale Grist Mill Harvest Dinner on Saturday at Bale Mill State Historic Park. The event featured a silent auction, live bluegrass, whiskey, wine and beer, and of course, plenty of locally-produced food. About 160 guests enjoyed dinner and wine under clear Calistoga skies. Here are a few snapshots from the evening. Click any image for the full-screen view.

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The menu.

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At the trail head.

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Mingling around the silent auction, and enjoying whiskey, wine and beer.

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The Pickle Creek String Band.

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Wine dominated, but honey was also a hot item at the silent auction.

[… read more …]

Where Does Great Bacon Come From?

For me,

It begins with a gunshot, point blank just behind the ear. The targeted Mulefoot Hog remains blissfully unaware, even until the very end. Once the pig is down, its throat is slit to let the blood. Meanwhile, the other hogs react only briefly to the sound of the gunshot, looking up for just a moment, vaguely curious, and then continuing to feed on delicious fallen fruit. As their former sibling is dragged from the pen with the aid of a wench, life goes on without incident or trauma.

I don’t like to shill too often. However, Slow Food Napa Valley is co-hosting a benefit dinner at the Bale Grist Mill this Saturday evening, in which two Mulefoot Hogs will be prepared and enjoyed in myriad fashions. As a local board member of SFNV (as well as the webmaster), I’ll be there to help out and to [… read more …]

The Tri-Tip Sandwich @ Buster’s Southern BBQ & Bakery, Calistoga

Buster's tri-tip sandwich with macaroni salad and the best cornbread muffin.

Buster’s tri-tip sandwich with macaroni salad and the best cornbread muffin.

Although the Napa Valley certainly offers plenty of great restaurants, many of these same places aren’t really great options for lunch. At least not for those who have a true wine-tasting agenda. For the wine enthusiast who only gets to Napa once or twice a year (or maybe only once every couple years), time can be precious, especially during tasting room hours. On average, Napa tasting rooms begin to shut down at about 4:30pm, which gives visitors about a six- or seven-hour window of wine tasting each day. Granted, proper planning will ensure that one can swirl plenty of wine in that time, but a quick, yet filling lunch can also help to restore order along the way.

Fancy, crowded, sit-down restaurants tend to chew up a lot of clock, although I do [… read more …]

The Back Rib Sandwich @ Solbar, Calistoga

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I’ve cooked plenty of baby back ribs in my day. When I worked at Houston’s Santa Monica (many moons ago), I prepped the restaurant’s pork ribs on a nightly basis. It went something like this: At the end of the night, the ribs were rubbed down with a mixture of sugar, Kosher salt, and spices, before spending about eight or 10 hours in a 250°F Alto-Shaam. In the morning, the now-tender ribs would be carefully dipped in bacon fat and wrapped in plastic. At this point, the back ribs could be chilled until needed. At service, the ribs were unwrapped and re-heated on the wood-fired grill, where they would be mopped with barbecue sauce. People really loved those ribs, and they continued to sell even after they were removed from the menu (a by-request item only, but insanely popular). I’m not exactly sure how Solbar prepares its ribs [… read more …]