Chef's Blog

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

January 16, 2011

So the soup that went on the menu tonight, replacing the lentil soup at dinner (though we’ll still serve it at lunch for a while), is basically a Southern winter minestrone.  On the menu, it reads smoked ham shank broth, which says a lot but kind of understates the case.

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Are finally uploaded, and I will post them soon.  This message will serve as a teaser.  Delayment of gratification is a good thing, no?  Yes.

January 9, 2011

That phrase means something dramatic in Bridge, but I always forget what; I don’t play often.  ”Jump shift” doesn’t sound as smart as “paradigm shift”, another phrase I don’t understand (which has never stopped me from using it, whether the conversation centers on Lindsey Lohan and Bruce Pearl going to jail or just some famous chef’s next great idea.  Wait, neither LL nor Coach Pearl went to actual jail?  Be patient).  No visuals here, the Google Chrome search for “jump bridge photo” didn’t go as planned.  Victuals instead of visuals:

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(David Foster Wallace said it first).

The Blanc de Blancs probably wasn’t cold enough, and when I sabered it (outdoors with only me in the blast radius, thank goodness) it popped like a .357 and sent green shrapnel in every direction.  The flat strained remnants of the wine are in the margarita pitcher in the background.  No more sabering without a kevlar vest, a welder’s mask, and a call to Lloyd’s of London.

There were technical difficulties.  So here’s the beef tenderloin, roasted with garlic, thyme, and butter:

The tech difficulties continue, I can’t upload the shot of rosemary-roasted Brussels sprouts.  Here is the potato gratin with roasted garlic, somewhat blurred but not without its rustic charm:

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January 1, 2011

the pledge:the turn (tilt your head to the left . . .):

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the prestige:

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.”