Chef's Blog

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

The first english peas are already here from Santa Cruz as are the first favas.  Goose made a new chicken dish with meyer lemon, peas, rhubarb, spring onions, a crispy egg yolk, and a chicken skin wafer.  The chicken itself is the breast filleted open the wrapped around the leg meat and cooked a la plancha.  Seared, hot, moist, on the money.

Starting tomorrow, we’ll be serving a brunch menu from 10am-3pm on weekends and holiday Mondays (just in time).  Andrew and Joe have masterminded this update so that we can serve the best of both worlds.

I had a generous taste of the 1999 “microclimate 2″ of the Volcanic Hill vineyard from Diamond Creek.  Unbelievable–12.5% alcohol, deep and dusty and dark yet still bright and alive and vibrant.  Bradley tells me that Diamond Creek only makes it every 5-10 years or so.  Happy Birthday, Boots!

There’s a lot more going on but it’s late and I’m tired and the cooks and I still have yet to press the duck confit, portion the brisket, and tie the veal shank . . . very exciting menu possibility with the veal.  More soon.

February 8, 2012

All’s I’m saying is, you must go.  It was packed on a rainy Tuesday in February, which in Napa Valley is normally true only of the DMV.  Good luck getting a seat at the bar, though.  Big menu, amazing design, good beers, reasonable cocktails, NV cognoscenti in attendance.  There’s not another room like it.

February 7, 2012

sans sores thank goodness even after a lot of plane rides.  After my extensive tour of North Carolina, New York City, and the subcontinent, I say you must go and try the burnt miso ramen at Ippudo on the lower East side.

Other than that bowl of noodles, this trip to Manhattan was a culinary disappointment compared to my last one, but I wasn’t 100% any of the time and would rather have just gone back to my room and slept.  I hit a bunch of the new places but they were ho-hum.  Barrel of laughs, huh?

Happy to be back in the kitchen today.  I’m buried alive in paperwork.  More to come.


Apparently he is the patron saint of athletes.  That has nothing whatsoever to do with our special menu tonight.  The tapas we are serving in the bar this weekend were inspired by old-town San Sebastian, the Parte Vieja, in the Basque region of Spain.

spanish tortilla with pimenton de la vera and piparra peppers

duck liver mousse with house recipe membrillo

hard-cooked quail egg with boquerones and capers

crispy-creamy chicken croquette with pepperonata

wild gulf shrimp a la plancha with trumpet mushroom and garlic

fried russet potato with romesco sauce

seared pork belly with whie beans and salsa verde


Credit for the photos goes to Roland.  His smartphone has a flash.

January 12, 2012

This weekend we’re doing seven different tapas, each served individually, in the bar.  I gave Gustavo free rein on this theme and he’s got some cool stuff in the works, from duck liver mousse with membrillo to octopus to traditional Spanish tortilla.

Elizabeth and I ate our way through old town San Sebastian on that cuisine, and those narrow little streets were RAGING that summer when Greece came out of nowhere to win the European Cup.  It was hot, crowded, the eating stared late and ended late, and the city’s crazy natural geography meant that there was always a beach in each direction.

Spanish bartenders are, I’m just now learning from Michael Pazdon, the gin impresarios of the world, so we have 209 Distillery coming this weekend to show off their gin.  It’s delicious.

We didn’t sell all the gumbo, so I ate a big hot bowl of it for breakfast yesterday morning when it was 28 outside with a warm fluffy buttermilk biscuit and an over-oversize mug of strong coffee.  YAHTZEE!


January 5, 2012

To invoke one of my favorite phrases from Chef Devin Knell, the chicken and sausage gumbo that I made today came out T!TS.  That’s right, Devin, I’ve got a firm grasp of this gumbo.

Did you really click on that link?  Serves you right.  At least you won’t receive any embarrassing cookies, not like last time.

20# andouille

20# chicken thighs

5-6# dark brown roux

The rest is details, but I like a fistful of toasted paprika in there; the holy trinity of course (I always use green bell peppers because reds are too sweet); I left out the tomato in this batch because we don’t keep or use tomato paste in this kitchen; I always microplane the garlic that I add with the paprika and cayenne.

No alcohol in there, it can give the impression of acidity.  The dark roux makes it a gumbo (I don’t like the mucillagenous texture that file powder and okra would impart, so I leave them out), but one thing I never hear cooks mention is how much of an impact the stock or broth you use will have on your finished product.

I used a double-strength roasted chicken stock as the base for this batch of gumbo, so it tasted like a finished soup before I even started–I even had to add two quarts of water to mellow it out a little.

Don Barkley from Napa Smith will be at solbar tonight pouring his seasonal brews, and in addition to the gumbo, we have a ____-_____-good beef stroganov made from Painted Hills Ranch beef, and a cassoulet that will make you _____ in ______, maybe several times.  C’mon over to the  solbar lounge and fill in those blanks for yourself.  (Or someone else!).




January 3, 2012

You’re getting three or four blogs for the price of one today because we were so busy for the past few weeks that I barely sat down at the computer.  Let’s see if I can pull some stuff up on the iphone camera . . .


AAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand I only found two:

I don't know People, or Wine, but my friends sure do, and they're generous friends..

My favorite menu for Fried Chicken Night in a long time--Black bean soup to start; cheese grits with chanterelles, hot and cold endive with grapefruit and tarragon, and butternut squash panzanella to accomapny the chicken; coffee pot de creme for dessert. I know, Roland could have done a better job with this photo, right?

This weekend in the lounge, Napa Smith will be here pouring  and chatting up their seasonal brews; I’m going to work on chicken and sausage gumbo, heritage pork cassoulet, and beef stroganov to accompany them.  All of which are perfect for a cold, rainy January night!  But of course we have the climate of San Diego this winter.  Glad I’m not a skier.

Am I up to three blogs yet?  A re-read says No.  I should write this stuff down as I go, but it just fades away after a day or two, especially at my advanced age.  The New Year’s Eve dinner was a success.  Interestingly, the dishes were “fancier” than our normal ones because we were using luxury ingredients–caviar, truffles, foie gras.  On the other hand, they lacked the level of composition that is found on our normal menu items.

Chefs spend money on those luxury ingredients because they are amazing natural products, and I believe that the best chefs manipulate those items the least–you’re paying top dollar to bring this foie gras in the door, why handle it and change it to the point that it’s unrecognizable?

Ryder chopped the black Perigord truffles and stirred them into a simple vinaigrette to accompany his rabbit terrine.  Zach cut some of the foie gras into batons that filled his squab roulade, and then seared a second piece of foie to serve next to the squab breast and confit leg.  Ryder used osetra caviar on top of his egg-yolk-filled cauliflower sformata (grazie M. Vetri).

SO why don’t we use caviar and truffles and foie gras all the time?

–Their carbon footprint is very large and doesn’t mesh well with our local approach to sourcing.

–The cost for them is so high that our menu prices would skyrocket and turn away hotel and guests and locals who depend on us for high quality at prices that have risen over the past five years, but not sharply.  Additionally, their cost and availability can fluctuate wildly.

–The novelty wears off.  If we cook with luxury ingredients once a year, cooks and diners are thrilled on that one day.  If we cooked with them 365 days a year, everyone would think, Ho-hum.

–After years of cooking in Fine Dining before Solbar opened, I no longer have a great deal of interest in utilizing luxury ingredients.  I’ve said from Day One at this job that I’d rather blow someone’s mind with green salad and roast chicken than truffles and foie gras–the former feat proves that you can cook; the latter, that you can shop.

I’m up to three or four blogs now, and the prep cooks are glaring at me through the wall, I can feel it.  Back to the stoves.