Just a few weeks ago I had a phenomenal meal at Solbar, the premier restaurant at Solage Calistoga in Napa. Charles and I were staying on the other side of the Mayacamas in the charming Sonoma town of Glen Ellen. A bit less manicured than its neighbor to the east, we loved the vibe of Sonoma, but each of our inner gastronomes was craving a more elevated dining experience. Solbar offered the best of both worlds—an inventive menu paired with attentive, yet relaxed service in a beautiful setting.
After a serpentine drive over the Mayacamas, we arrived at Solbar for our evening reservation. We were given the option of dining inside or out. Inside looked really chic with soft blue over-sized banquets, Cherner walnut chairs, dark bleached wood accents, and a roaring open fire place. But it was one of those perfect California evenings, and so we chose to dine al fresco. Moments later, we were ushered to a table on the patio beneath a luminescent canopy of poplar trees. Our meal hadn’t even begun yet, and already we were both very pleased.
After a day filled with wine tasting, we chose not to order a bottle from the 22-page wine list and instead imbibed with a glass of crisp sparkling rosé from Anderson Valley’s Roederer Estate. Then we moved on to the dinner menu, which is set up in a very unique way—and which ultimately was what really drew me to Solbar in the first place. On the menu there are two columns: First Courses and Main Courses. Each course has eight offerings, further subdivided into two color-coded categories: green “healthy, lighter dishes” and orange “hearty cuisine”. Everything sounded so tantalizingly delicious that we literally wanted to order all 16 items. In the end, I ordered a green first course and an orange main; Charles ordered three first courses—one green and two orange.
To start, I had a plate of colorful heirloom tomatoes with ricotta, basil, peppery extra-virgin olive oil, and home-made bread crumbs—healthy, light, simple, but oh so memorable. Charles had a baby lettuce salad with watermelon, fennel, and shaved feta. Again, simple yet immaculate. Not surprisingly, all ingredients used by chef Brandon Sharp and team are organic, sustainably farmed, and curated based on seasonality.
For my main, I had pan-seared red snapper with potato gnocchi, fried baby bok choy, an herbaceous gremolata, and pureed squash. Two words to describe this dish—pure heaven. Never have I ever had red snapper prepared so perfectly. Needless to say, I was a member of the clean plate club that evening. For Charles’ main, he indulged himself with his two “hearty” first course selections—foie gras and soft-shell crab. The foie gras was served with short bread biscuits and a radish salad. The soft-shell crabbed was cornmeal crusted and pan-fried and came with a divine horseradish crème and a tomato and corn salad. Yum, yum, and yum!
Dessert was equally as impressive. We shared a concoction of fresh thyme ice cream, arctic sweet nectarines, and almond pound cake. Thyme ice cream quickly became my new obsession. This, for me, was by far the most memorable dessert on our trip.
As they say, all good things must come to an end. After dinner, we explored the grounds of the hotel, ran our fingers through the rosemary bushes lining the walkways, and eventually made our way back to the car for another adventurous ride over the Mayacamas. We were pleasantly sated, and both our inner gastronomic meters had been filled…for that evening, anyway.
(Last visited in July, 2015)