Chef's Blog

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

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.


May 3, 2010

It sounds terrible, because except for truffles and trumpet mushrooms, “black” normally means “burnt” in the kitchen. But black garlic, how could we not try it?

Six thorough minutes of internet research shows that it is whole-head garlic that is slowly fermented through the application of heat over time (so maybe there is something to edible black fungi–the aforementioned truffles and trumpets, huitlacoche, and now garlic). Most interestingly, it’s a new food, and not in the way the molecular gastronomists are finding applications for chemicals–black garlic has only been around since 2005.


April 29, 2010

On a few recent nights we have had mistakes–unforced errors–in the kitchen during relatively slow services, and it’s conventional culinary wisdom that a lot of cooks work better when their backs are against the wall.  When the intensity diminishes and the cook has plenty of time to plate a medium-rare steak and a shortrib, the mind wanders, the rhythm is lost, the steak is suddenly overcooked, and the guest has to wait an extra fifteen minutes in a half-full dining room.  The application of pressure can help everyone in the kitchen to maintain focus.

The literal translation of “sous vide”, UNDER PRESSURE means a lot of different things in the professional kitchen.  The first definition I could find is

“the force applied to a unit area of surface”

Okay, correct for scientific apps and for sous vide cooking, but I had to scroll down to definition #6 to find

“urgent claim or demand”


April 21, 2010

April has been a rainy month here in Calistoga, especially on the weekends; we had to perform an emergency weather intervention for a wedding of 160 guests two weeks ago.  The growth spurts of our plants and produce have therefore been stop-and-go, but in addition to the fava beans over at Fisher Vineyards, we have a little kitchen garden out back of solbar where we have just put in the next season’s herbs, as well as tomatoes and melons.


April 19, 2010

The culinary planets aligned tonight for me to make boules des viandes, and I use that phrase because it seems that the French have no fancy name for or tradition of meatballs, unlike the cultures that surround them (Spain, ItalyDenmark, Hungary).  Hrmph.  What do the French do with ground beef?  Saucissons, hachis parmentier, et crepinettes, I reckon.