Spaghetti with bottarga, the must-order at La Ciccia.
I’m going to say something daring, but here it goes: One of the most fun and creative and, yes, delicious Asian menus I’ve encountered in a while was at a restaurant lounge in—wait for it—Calistoga, that hopping center of urbanity out in the Wine Country. The one where people are generally wallowing in mud baths before they’re dining on sweet potato and hijiki salad.
But should you be in Calistoga for means of mud or otherwise, I recommend checking out Solbar, the restaurant at Solage, the gorgeous resort and spa owned by the same group behind Auberge du Soleil. Not surprisingly, Solbar is kind of fancy, and certainly not a place where any self-respecting Chowhounder would be caught sniffing around for a good dumpling. But self-respect is overrated.
While the restaurant serves more of what you might expect in wine country, Solbar chef Brandon Sharp has gone rogue with his new lounge menu. To anyone who follows restaurants trends, I’d say he’s been inspired by the likes of Momofuku. Which means there’s ramen on the menu. As well as a bowl of Cantonese double-boiled chicken and ginger soup afloat with shiitake-filled won tons which is served with broth poured tableside from a humble jam jar—the lid of the jar straining out aromatics—as well as a chicken foot, which the server was proud to point out to us. I’m not sure how this gesture would fly with your average resort dweller more interested in breast than foot, but foodies will love this. We also had a great savory little pancake topped with crabmeat, and steamed buns with brisket.
The real gem is on the menu described as “the I can’t believe I’ve been alive for __ years and have never eaten an egg like this” egg. What arrives is a soft-boiled egg wrapped in a thin layer of Chiang Mai sausage covered in toasted sesame seeds and served on a pile of sticky rice seasoned with their houserecipe for sushi vinegar and a drizzle of sweet soy sauce vinaigrette. Imagine a Scotch egg with a dash of Asia.
Sure we can scoff at resort restuarants like this as not having any city edge, but one thing you can't compete with is their luxurious weather. Though I was here on a chilly night, I imagine that Sharp's food would taste even better when you're seated outside with a view of the pool. And should you scrape together a bit of life-is-short funds, carpe diem and spend night at Solage so that you can have your fancy Marie Veronique Organics facial followed by a dip in the geo-thermal pool. That, and your fried long beans too.