Chef's Blog

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

I used to be such a sweet sweet thing
till they got ahold of me

The kitchen of The Tonic, a well-conceived and -funded but relatively-short-lived-then-reconceived restaurant on 17th between 6th and 7th in 1999, was the first place and time I was ever yelled at, and by “yelled” I mean a full-throated, profane scream–along with coaching, suggestions, insults, encouragement, discouragement, a dare from the executive chef to punch him in the face (glad I didn’t try), blistering sarcasm, and flat-out laughter and dismissal in French, pidgin French, Spanish, Farsi, and Canadian.


June 4, 2010

The two zins were giants, and we thought lamb was the meat to stand up to them–game would’ve also worked but is generally a little more lean, and we used lamb saddle and a red wine-garlic lamb sausage to give real power to the dish.  To contrast, rather than compement, the spice and fruit in the two wines, we served the lamb with socca nicoise (a chickpea crepe), salsa verde (full of herbs and  olive oil), and a ragout of yellow wax and blue lake beans with tomato confit.

Above is the saddle, all bone and sinew removed, and with the loin and tenderloin muscles seasoned and rolled inside the cleaned and pounded fat cap.  And here is the finished dish:



June 3, 2010

The pinot noir from Oak Cliff was huge, juicy, cherry-y, just LARGE.  A broad canvas for medium-weight savory foods–the sous chefs and I threw poached eggs, softshell crab, scallops, pork, mushrooms, cold duck breast, and ricotta agnolotti at it before we decided to contrast its fruitiness, and to evoke the understated earthiness in its depths:  we went with a ragout of santa cruz morels and hen-of-the-woods mushrooms accompanied by seared scallops, pork belly lardons, and english peas.


May 28, 2010

Last night we put on a winemaker dinner with Bruce Regalia and JR Richardson of Oak Cliff Cellars.  The menu read as follows:

flash-grilled hawaiian hamachi with compressed pineapple,
serrano chiles, vanilla oil and puffed rice
2009 napa valley sauvignon blanc


seared diver scallops with santa cruz morels,
hen-of-the-woods, crispy pork belly and sweet peas
2007 mendocino county pinot noir


roasted saddle and sausage of pozzi farms lamb
socca nicoise, tomato confit and a pole bean-marjoram ragout
2008 curtis ranch vineyard zinfandel
2008 firebrick hill vineyard reserve zinfandel


uplands “pleasant ridge reserve”
rogue creamery “smokey blue”
toasted brioche, candied walnuts, huckleberry mostarda
2008 lake county petite sirah


During a day of what seemed like endless 5-yards sprints, overripe plaintains that turned to mush when I fried them, and a freak May hailstorm that nearly ruined two wedding ceremonies, we decided to update the lounge menu to the tune of SIX new items. Changing that many dishes on Saturday afternoon: gonzo cooking, another instance of learning to fly while falling, just like John Besh pulled almost every weekend and I swore I’d never inflict on my own kitchen.  (But I have a short and selective memory, as anyone to whom I’ve promised a free meal or a raise will tell you.)

So here’s the lineup:


May 21, 2010

This time last year, we served a lunch entree that has become, along with our steamed pork buns, the most requested “dish gone by”–our smoked brisket served on Texas toast with our house recipe barbecue sauce (one of two recipes I won’t give away), bacon baked beans, creamy coleslaw, and fried onion rings.

It was everything you want to eat with smoked brisket, but it ran its course on the lunch menu and we replaced it, striving, like always, to change things often. But the same lip-smacking combination of those ingredients and flavors may soon resurface in a new set for our braised beef shortribs.


Jerry & co had an unintentionally lucid insight into Saturday night in a restaurant:

everybody’s dancin at the local armory
with a basement full of dynamite and live artiller

and Saturday nights like this one, when the whole shebang doesn’t blow up, are good ones. The following characters, #$*(^%!, represent about 400 words detailing the difficulties with equipment, product, and personnel that we experienced today, and that I typed out and since deleted.

To publish them would be not a little irresponsible, so suffice to say that we had our share of challenges today, and one of the privations and private satisfactions of restaurant work is that you are working while everyone else plays, and vice versa.

And here is a very talented writer at play–serious play.  Be sure to click on the links to the right of the text for more of his opinions on Bay area restaurants.

The first cherries landed this week, and for Brooks cherries (which are the pollinators for and the precursors to the more flavorful Bings) they’re very good, especially after a rainy April. Like tomatoes and grapes, stonefruit can get washed out and bland if too much groundwater enters the plant’s root system when the fruit is near maturity.

The first thing we did was pit and pickle some cherries with sugar, red wine vinegar, and a chunk of fresh ginger. They’re crunchy, bright, and sweet, with a little ginger burn at the end. We added them to the chilled foie gras confit composition along with gingersnaps and arugula.


May 13, 2010

ABC Channel 27 WKOW – Madison, WI

Dinner at Solage

“Solbar received a one Michelin star in October of 2009. I can see why. The atmosphere is modern but cozy. The fire place is a beautiful centerpiece of the dining room with the bar on the opposite end of the room.”

Just kidding.  They’re all brilliant of course.

I’d rather use this space instead to talk about the beef we serve at solbar.   Yesterday, a guest asked me about our (double) cheeseburger, which I described in mouthwatering (for me and, I hope, for her) detail, from the pain au lait buns we bake fresh in the morning to the well-raised beef that we grind ourselves.  We melt sharp Tillamook cheddar over both 4-oz patties and add bibb lettuce, pickled red onion, a slice of heirloom tomato (in season only),  and the best fried pickles west of Shreveport.