Chef's Blog

Solage Calistoga's Executive Chef Brandon Sharp shares his passion for cooking, life and all things Napa Valley.

Lentils skip all over the globe.  France, India, America, you name it.  Zach made a great green lentil soup the other day that we served with homemade apple-caraway sausage, then when that ran out, we added some crisped-up duck confit.  It’s going to rain for the next seven straight days in Napa Valley, and few things are more comforting than lentil soup in these conditions.  To that end, I made some at home the other day.

I often exhort our cooks, when something they’ve made is lacking flavor or seasoning or cheese or OOMPH, “Make it like you would at home!”  That is, make it delicious, be excited to eat it, cook it like you would for yourself or your grandmother or your girlfriend.  If you wouldn’t be excited to eat it, what the hell are you doing serving it?  And so naturally when I made lentil soup at home, rain falling outside the kitchen window, I started with about a third of a pound of bacon.  Once that was crispy, I added diced carrots, then onions, then a little fuji apple, then minced garlic:

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A dish that will not come to fruition, though fully realized on the white board and between Ryder and me, is Roasted Rack and Cranberry Sausage of Millbrook Venison with Buckwheat Spaetzle, Red Wine Braised Cabbage, Parsnip Puree, and Juniper Sauce.  For various and banal reasons, we aren’t going to be buying venison next week, but we didn’t grasp that fact until after we’d talked it out and tasted the whole dish with our mental palate.

Game is strong in flavor but very lean; bloody, often.  It pairs with powerful but athletic red wines–for me, chinon, malbec, syrah, petite sirah.  It cannot always handle the tannins of cab, and is often too wild for cab’s gentility.  It begs for fat (hence the sausage), sweetness (parsnip puree), and full-flavored, burly accompaniments (buckwheat spaetzle) with a good dose of agrodolce (red wine braised cabbage).

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December 11, 2010

We shrink our menu a little in the winter, and it gives us room to add items for the weekends.  Ryder is working on a country ham first course with matsutake and chestnut; hopefully we’ll get that one on tonight.

Last night, the pork triptych appeared–tenderloin, belly, and caraway-apple sausage of duroc pork, with whipped potatoes, winter spiced jus, house-cured sauerkraut, chanterelles, pickled mustard seed, and poached prunes.  BANG.  We lit the swineophile beacon, they arrived drooling, and we wheeled them back out afterwards.

For next weekend we’re already working up a venison dish; the one after that, some form of Christmas goose.

If you haven’t seen it already, check out our “Best Breakfasts” write-up along with the full-page shot of our Brioche French Toast with Pistachios and Strawberries in the latest NAPA/SONOMA Magazine.

We’ll be closed for dinner for a private function this coming Monday the 13th.

December 4, 2010

The Accidental Wino

“Hands down, the Maitake mushroom pizza at Solbar is the Napa Valley’s best up-valley option for great pizza, and it’s the only pizza available on the Silverado Trail, as far as I know. The dough at Solbar is based upon a biga-style starter, which cultivates and propagates the yeasts, developing a more complex flavor within the crust. Traditionally, Italian bakers use a biga starter for making ciabatta bread, and Solbar’s pizza crust definitely features some ciabatta-like characteristics within the crumb. The pizza dough is made without sugar, ensuring a relatively light color, even after the dough has finished cooking. In terms of the pizza toppings, I also admire the simplicity of the maitake mushrooms and the cave-aged gruyere, which both lend an earthy-nutty component to the pie.”

“I love meat. I fantasize about ribeye. I would live inside of one of Momofuku’s pork belly buns if I could. But I have to say the meal that’s seared in my memory after a recent trip to California is the plate of perfectly cooked, delicately dressed vegetables I had at Solbar in Calistoga. A lovely arrangement of carrots, beets, parsley root and Tokyo turnips, this was a shockingly flavorful dish that made me rethink my carnivorous ways—at least for a night.”

Read the full article on Inc.com

December 2, 2010

We have a lot of favas going as ground cover in the garden.  The black tuscan kale is ready, and we dug up about thirty pounds of beets today, and tracked about fifty of mud into Ryder’s truck.

Sous chefs antagonizing the kale and clipping each other, or the other way around.  If those plants respond to the timbre of the human voice, we’ll have an old-growth rainforest by tomorrow morning.

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November 30, 2010

These past three weeks alone we’ve been through squab rossini, miso-mushroom soup, a new Dungeness crab salad by Andrew, a killer foie mousse and crispy squab leg first course, Ryder’s seared foie gras with cornmeal griddle cakes and huckleberry jus, smoked shortrib chili (on the bar menu) . . . . this time of year, our cover volume diminishes and the sous chefs and I get more time to work on changing up the food–it keeps the guests, the servers, and us interested.  Here are a few photos:

Seared blue-nose bass with pear-sage puree, roasted cauliflower, preserved chanterelles, and bacon.

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The Star.com – Jim Byers’ Travel Blog

“Solbar at the Solage Restaurant was particularly outstanding, with an elegantly casual decor and monstrously good local food; ranging from perfectly seared bass to local lamb. The salad was quite inventive: escarole and red endive with pears, prosciutto, caramelized honey and a pear-verjus dressing. And there’s an outstanding wine list, not surprisingly.”

November 28, 2010

Well, the piece on restaurant Thanksgivings that ran in the Chronicle the other day was . . . hmm.  I’m glad it appeared, because it showed that there’s not a lot of glamour to what we do in this industry.  Maybe .01% of cooks get to enjoy the glamour of cooking, and then, probably only 1-5% of their time, making for a massive .0001% of our long hours that are celebrated.  The rest is a GRIND, and sometimes it’s best not to ask oneself why one does it . . . but anyway:

What I want to get across is what a pleasure–once the personal resignation has fully set in–it is to welcome our guests into solbar and cook for them on Thanksgiving.  On New Year’s Eve we complement champagne with caviar.  On New Year’s Day we cure hangovers with fried chicken and waffles.  But on Thanksgiving, we cook with our restaurant family, for other families.  It’s gratifying in a vicarious way, and delicious, and just right.

(And don’t you, at times, wish you could hire and fire members of your own family?  I’m just saying.)