Chef's Blog

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

December 17, 2011

Sonoma Cty was once home to lots of Russian immigrants–Sebastopol is named after a Ukrainian city of the same name.  The ducks we’re using are from Grimaud Farms–they bring us everything but the feathers.

The name of the breed of duck is Muscovy, which sounds an awful like Muscovite, so perhaps the Ukrainians named the ducks after their waddly cousins in Moscow.  Here, I’m speculating irresponsibly and forgetting that I just read something completely different on Wikipedia.

Here, Zach goes for the cleaver, with predictable results.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaand sunset over Solage last night.  Haven’t seen one quite like that before.

Like how I managed to get the streetlamp into the picture?  I know, nice, right?

We also have rabbit from Anderson/Avilla Farms that Andrew put on the menu last night, and hopefully some Texas venison coming soon.

December 17, 2011

The restaurant and resort are both extremely busy through 1/1/12.  January in Napa Valley sees a lots of restaurant closures and vacations, so we are taking full advantage of NV Restaurant Month in January to blast off with a program called “Un-Wined”.

Each of the four weekends in January, we’ll do a small number of additional menu items around a certain theme (“Swineophilia”; “Oystermageddon”) and also bring in a local distiller or brewer to help us get out the word about hand-crafted beers, ciders, spirits, and other non-grape-based intoxicants.  We have a loyal local following in the bar, and I want them to be able to come in out of the cold and rain and have something at solbar they’ve never tasted before–then do it again the next week.

I know, I know, I can hear the violins playing too, but for the ravenous restaurantgoers up here who have eaten everything at every restaurant ten times already, change is welcome, especially at a time of year when most restaurants are stagnant at best, if not dormant altogether.

Details to follow.  Bradley Wasserman and Michael Pazdon will be leading the charge from the bar.

Mustard is blooming in the vineyards already?  And when I went back to NC for Thanksgiving, the Bradford pears were blossoming?  We’re into December, and it’s yet to feel like football weather here . . .

Ryder came up with the best crab salad I’ve ever had–flavors of the Levant on this one.  Lavash cracker with harissa, preserved lemon, green olive, pomegranate capsules, just bang-on.  Exciting flavors all over the menu right now.

For NV restaurant month in January, we’re going to do un-wined at solbar.  Over four weekends, we’ll do four different food themes–Oysters, Pork, Basque Tapas, and Home Cookin’–with an array of non-wine drinks.  Should be a good time, challenging, but our loyal locals who come to the lounge often will get a kick out of it, and everything will be available in the dining room too.

If you have a good white truffle source, let me know.  I can’t even get scrawny, wet ones for $3200/lb. this year.  And I’ve got the tagliatelle machine all cranked up and ready.

I need to write another whole post about Gustavo’s pasilla chile soup at lunch with the poached egg in it.  Just off the freaking chain, I could eat it three meals a day.

Unfortunately I have no pictures of food to show you at the moment so I’ll just leave you with this.  Man cannot live on bread alone.

November 21, 2011

My aunt, uncle, and cousin joined me at Angele for the perfect lunch on a cold, rainy day–French onion soup followed by boudin blanc with pommes puree, roasted apples and brussels sprouts, washed down with a glass of cotes-de-Rhone.  Tough to wish it were warm and sunny outside when there’s local French food like that to dig into.

November 5, 2011

We bought a whole 50# shoat, removed the legs, and ground them for the sausage filling.  I chopped through the spine at the neck, keeping the skin intact, and boned out the spine and ribcage in one huge piece.  We brined the loins, tenderloins, and top rounds overnight, then wrapped the sausage around them and tied the skin up.  Off the porchetta went into the smoker for a good 6 hours.

Smile! Say headcheese!

Last night we had Jayson Woodbridge here with his Layer Cake, Cherry Pie, and Hundred Acre wines.  We even tasted his Fortification, a fortified red wine (18.5%) made only from Cabernet grapes–he and Marko Karakasevic, of Charbay, made an alembic brandy from some of them, and used the brandy to stop the fermentation on another batch.  Special.

We went Paleolithic with the oak-roasted monster ribeyes . . .

My gratitude goes to the Chef de Cuisine, Ryder Zetts, who not only did all the hard work on this dinner but tasted the wines with me and collaborated on the menu items.  (I’ve thanked him in person, but he’s the type that can’t take a compliment.)

tarte tatin, during and after

in better light

the feeder fire.

the pledge

the turn

the prestige

It’s not magic, but it’s also not for kids.

October 26, 2011

I usually switch my office phone to silent because I’m seldom in there, but today I had the ringer on and my fingers and toes crossed . . . and sure enough the Michelin Angel called to grant my wish.  One Michelin star for solbar–are we the only starred restaurant at which you can have pancakes, pizza, or kobe beef at the exact same table, depending on the angle of the sun?  I certainly effing hope so, because I’ll tell you, our mountain climber breakfast dish may be the best thing we do.  Wait till I add Perigord black truffles to it in three weeks.


My friend John McClure, the chef proprietor of Starker’s in St. Louis, took his own life last week.  John and I attended CIA together and were contemporaries in New Orleans; he even visited solbar a couple of times.  My thoughts, prayers, and positive energy are with his family in this time of sorrow.  John was a good chef and a good man.

October 11, 2011

But for now, lots and lots of menu changes to lunch and dinner last week, and we were so busy I didn’t have time to snap a photo of every one of them with my HiPhone.

Here are a few that were captured–and the ones that got away are the Cuban sandwich (back for a limited time only), butternut squash veloute, escarole and treviso salad with sherry vinaigrette, flatiron steak of Kobe beef with olive oil fried potatoes and beurre colbert, chicken with pumpkin agnolotti and red grapes . . . last Wednesday night, we even put on a 22-oz ribeye of painted hills ranch beef with duck fat potatoes, charred onions and fresh thyme.


hearts of romaine with point reyes "original blue", grilled french butter pear, rose heart radish

not your mama's muffuletta with wild boar sausage, pate de campagne, fontina, crunchy pickled vegetables, and creole potato salad

pork chop with spaetzle, red wine braised cabbage, and granny smith apple salad; butternut squash farrotto with cavolo nero and roasted brussels sprouts; olive oil poached halibut with pear soubise, white beans all'arrabbiata, and seared escarole. You can see the change in the seasons just by the colors on the plates.

October 1, 2011

Had a regular call me on my day off to request a whole roasted pig for his wife’s birthday.  Mike Panza from Biagio came through with the guest of honor; Goose seasoned and smoked the pig, then we roasted ‘er off.  Even though I have an iPhone 5, the picture came out blurry.  Hm.

Those pomegranates and branches came from right outside our back door.  To get that shine, I brushed the skin with some rendered pancetta fat, left over from crisping up lardons of pancetta that Andrew cured a few weeks ago.  The fragrance coming off of that pig was unreal.

As I carved the pig, I anticipated tasting wines that the guests had brought with them . . . in this case, 1980 Zinfandel from a double magnum.  They moved from that one to younger zins in smaller bottles, which is really the only way they could’ve gone, right?

I served the pig over creamly anson mills polenta and rapini all’arrabiatta with shelling beans with a slightly sweet/sour pork jus.  They wiped it out and asked for more, but I had run out of the vegetables, so we made suckling pig sliders with house recipe barbecue sauce and peach coleslaw on griddled pain au lait buns.  Now THAT’s a good pairing with zin.

Thanks to all for our great showing in the 2012 Zagat.  Keep up the voting for solbar so we can make it to 27 next year.

Couldn’t believe the Braves fell apart like that, but at least I’m not a Red Sox fan.  Ouch.  Go Brewers?  Whatever.  31 days till Tarheel basketball.

September 13, 2011
Savory John was in town, hence no dessert. 

Wisconsin veal chops, seasoned 3 hours ahead of time.


. . . then seared and basted with butter, crushed garlic, and rosemary, now resting on the bone side to even out the cooking. We tore off pieces of baguette and dipped them in the brown butter you see in the pan there--better than the cheese I bought!

Monterey artichokes steaming away with thyme, rosemary, and lemon. We tore off the leaves and dipped them in mayo. I scooped out the chokes, diced the hearts, and put them in the vierge with about half a metric ton of genovese basil.

The vierge before I added the artichoke and basil--enough garlic in there to keep mosquitoes and probably even vampires away from my great-grandchildren.

Onions cut in half and baking in a two-inch layer of salt. They came out soft and sweet.


Tough to improve on these beauties. Olive oil and salt were enough.

Yellow corn farroto and anchored the meal. This is before I accidentally on purpose spilled about five ounces of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano into the pot.

GO HEELS!  Why was I in such a rush to get to basketball season?  When do Orange Bowl tickets go on sale?!?  COME ON!  I don’t even USE exclamation points! I can’t stand them!  Wouldn’t you think Giovani Bernard was my Maitre D’ and not a tailback?