Chef's Blog

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

March 25, 2010

Now that we’ve had it for a few weeks, the asparagus is finding its place(s) on the menu . . . we have a salad of seared asparagus stalks with raw asparagus strips and tempura asparagus, Zach put a great lunch salad on the menu of asparagus all’arrabiata (tr:ANGRY!) with arugula, pickled fennel, and some delicious coppa that he cured and slices very very thin. On fried chicken night (every Tuesday) we served an asparagus fricasee with pickled red onions and fines herbes as a side dish to the pollo frito (along with mustard-scallion potato salad and cavatappi mac and cheese).  We’re trying to resist the hollandaise, ham and cheese, and egg mimosa presentations that are part of our culinary past in other restaurants . . . those things are so delicious but they’re so heavy, and the flavor of the asparagus is a bit masked by all the fat involved. (more…)

In the days before solbar opened, we tried to figure out a great pizza dough recipe. We tested at least five, decided on one. Same thing with the tomato sauce recipe. Decided on a few toppings (less is more). Then it came to Shaping the Pizza.

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March 20, 2010

This past Thursday, we put on a wine pairing dinner with Bill and Dawn Williamson, two Australian expats who make their wine from mostly Sonoma fruit at Williamson Winery in Healdsburg.   Bill crafts a LOT of different varietals and labels, and for the dinner we chose a fairly conventional progression of chardonnay, sweet wine (with foie gras), followed by pinot noir, shiraz (which he does not label syrah), malbec, and cab (with pleasant ridge “reserve”). (more…)

March 17, 2010


Good news from Gardener Greg (he needs a better nickname, this one’s a little too wholesome)–the last few days of sun have dried out the soil enough that Jose, the vineyard manager, can till the back 40, which will be planted with a cover crop that then gets plowed in again as green manure before the vegetables go in. The back 40 looks out on the Napa River (click the link for the unvarnished truth), such as it is all the way up in Calistoga, and is surrounded by vines and a fields that have lain fallow for a few years.  The fava blossoms are going crazy and the first seedlings with be planted in the hoop house this week. (more…)

March 13, 2010

We’ve actually had two nights of frost, so the flowers aren’t as brilliant gold as they were earlier in the week, but you get the idea from the picture: mustard takes over the vineyards in the early spring. The vines have been pulled out of this field and piled up for burning once the rain stops for a few days (the picture is taken about 100 yd south of August Briggs Winery, right by the Calistoga city limit sign). We don’t use a lot of flowers at solbar–that is, we don’t fly in edible nasturtiums from Ohio or anything–but we use what we can pick; you can see a few on the carrot salad dish. Barney Welsh at Forni-Brown Gardens has great chive and garlic blossoms but they are STRONG and you only need a couple. We use our own lavender blossoms, usually for cocktails.

And yes, it’s been pointed out already that “an iphone doesn’t mean you’re a photographer all of a sudden.”

Another rainy day in Calistoga, but allegedly the sun’ll come out tomorrow and stay out for the week. We have rows and rows of the finest fava virtuosos pictured here, looking at the hoop house where gardener Greg Goodman will start the seedling for our tomatoes, and then in the other direction out across the vineyards toward the Mayacamas Mountains. We’ll use the fava beans and leaves in the restaurant, of course, but they are also planted to help fix nitrogen in the soil so we don’t deplete all the nutrients with one crop of tomatoes. Other plantings will include padron peppers, kale, spinach, kabocha squash, baby collard greens, and a top-secret plant that I haven’t seen, nor has any other farmer I’ve asked, since I was in the Hudson Valley ten years ago. Greg spent the last year gardening in Italy, and was in Maine for two years before that at a restaurant/garden operation whose name sounded v. difficult to spell when he told it to me. Juelle Fisher of Fisher Vineyards has been very generous with her time and space in this project, and we’ll be holding al fresco dinners (hoedowns?) at the barn on the property.

March 10, 2010

Not too often do carrots appear front and center, but two weeks ago I told Ryder that I wanted a solbar version of the old cafeteria carrot-raisin-and-mayonnaise salad. As we say, If we’re going to make it stupid, let’s make it STUPID. (Besh said it first.) What Ryder came back with is this killer plate of frenhc round, baby yellow, baby white, and pickled baby red carrots, all cooked differently–some in red wine vinegar and sugar, or with verus and xvoo, or with honey and pistachio, all accompanied by raitha foam (through the isi gun), red sumac, mustard flowers, raisin puree. Not as easy a sell as dungeness crab salad or pork cheek tacos but hey. The plate-up is long and so is the payoff. Nice to see carrots at the center of the plate, ain’t California grand?

March 9, 2010

Reading HF whittingstall late last night with a glass of Rutz 06 maison grand cru RRVPN . . . is there a more inspirational cookbook or a smarter one? My current top two are that one–The River Cottage Cookbook–and East of Paris by David Bouley, which has been #1 by itself for a long time but now has a serious contender. It’s four-star soul food and I love it even though Danube doesn’t exist anymore. Read that one and you can trace food from the country to the city to the modern kitchen. HFW keeps it in the country but cooks everything from bushberries to cuttlefish to his own cows. Doesn’t a life of early mornings, six hours of hard physical work, a long, leisurely lunch, a nap, and an afternoon spent reading and writing sound just about right? I’m not the first one to say so but MAN that’s gotta be the life. Does anyone get to do it? Unlikely. Anyway, it’s something to aspire to . . .

March 5, 2010

Can we get them out here?  The ones from belle river, a bayou in the north shore of lake ponchartrain used to be the biggest and sweetest when I worked at Rest. August; we’re looking for a replacement for dungeness crab now that it’s getting a little warm out.  Might have to call them crayfish on a California menu, we’ll see.  Good with our homemade andouille in a carolina gold rice salad?  With fresh chickpeas?  With cold beer?  With lady creamer peas?  Probably too early for the latter.  Soon we’ll have the first favas from out own garden.

March 3, 2010

First cones of stockton asparagus are here–working on toasted/ground nori as part of tempura dredge? with soy caramel and pickled shiitakes? If I’m going to steal ideas from other chefs I probably shouldn’t stop at just one per plate . . . there are solbar dishes hook line and sinker on other menus in Calistoga and Yountville . . . like omar says, “the game is the game.” You will not see asparagus and morels together on a solbar menu this spring; is there a more utterly exhausted combination? Those dishes need to be shelved for fifteen years, like the entire library of the Steve Miller Band, completely overplayed and ready for revival by my children someday . . .