Chef's Blog

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

August 30, 2012

That’s how much this–

aforkandaknife fries

–will cost when white truffle season rolls around in six to eight weeks.  Right now it’s a big plate of crispy fries showered with 24-month-old Parmigiano-Reggiano, seasoned with Yakima applewood smoked seat salt, and topped with a soft egg.  Which is nothing to sneeze at.

And which paralyzes me with confusion over whether to pair vintage Champagne or Barolo with this dish.  White truffles won’t make that choice easier, they’ll just up the risk/reward quotient by about TEN MILLION.

But we always have cold beer with



our Big Island Pizza–grilled pineapple, bacon, no spam, chili flakes.  Implicilty approved by everyone from Duke to Dave Scott to, well, probably not this guy.

August 9, 2012

There is plenty of granola to go around.  Bluefin tuna is almost gone.  How much longer can beef last?  The way we’re raising cattle these days can’t last, though it won’t be the first thing to go.  All this sunny info brought on by cooking a REALLY BIG COWBOY STEAK or three the other day.    I stared with the last three ribs of a whole 109 export, which is a bone-in ribeye with sawed-down bones.

The iphone can’t do time lapse, but if you scroll down real fast, maybe you’ll get the effect.

The loin end of the rib has the steaks with the largest eye, hence the best for serving rare to medium rare. Ribeye steaks from the shoulder need to be cooked to medium to break down the knot of fat in the middle.


Primped, puffed, and ready for the prom.

Still life with purple drank. Actually agua fresca de sandia.

A common mistake in searing protein is to not add enough fat to the pan. When you grill a steak, the grill rods are the cooking medium, but when you pan-sear a steak, the FAT needs to be the cooking medium. If you don't have enough fat in the pan, your PAN will be the cooking medium, and youwill have a spotty, burned piece of meat. I heated a quarter-inch of vegetable oil to a pretty good white smoke before I added the steaks. Also, a larger amount of hot oil is able to recover its heat faster than a small amount, which helps prevent sticking.

Seared Cowboy Steak With Pickled Chanterelles and Roasted Thyme. I served giant yukon gold duck fat fries on the side for this event in a pool of chimichurri. The pairing was a 2009 Fantesca Cabernet Sauvignon. It SCREAMED for this piece of meat. Great bottle of wine.

I just figured out why I’m so tired.  It’s not the high-season business levels, it’s the d*&n prime-time coverage of the Olympics by Costas & Co.–yes I am apparently on the NBC bashwagon.  Don’t they know that one of the benefits of west-coast life is that SPORTS ARE EARLY?  10AM kickoff for NFC East football coverage?  I didn’t even make it to the prelims of the men’s 200m last night before I crashed.  Where is the Sports Czar on this one?

A few stages left, and the most boring TdF I can remember watching is winding down, fitting that the Brits have got it salted away in first and second place.  I miss the days of the Postal Express freight train, and the Wild West years that followed . . . .  Maybe next year Tejay will take on Froome and we’ll have an American on the podium again.


As for food . . . we’re ripping through the summer cornucopia, stonefruit in every direction, grouper, wild shrimp, coon stripe shrimp, sand dabs, cranberry bean agnolotti, bumblebee bean ragout, melon with nam pla and coconut clouds, on and on.  I’m not saying it’s Steve Jobs’ parents’ garage circa 1975 but there are some very cool ideas and flavors bouncing around in our kitchen.  And I bet you ten large ones it smells better than Jobs and Woz did in that garage.


Chef D_____ was in for dinner last night on a big table.  Ryder worked up a mozzarella panna cotta to line the bottom of this big wild glass bowls that look like Snoddys and garnished it with four types of basil flower (opal, lime, fino verde, genovese) and some charred and peeled sun sugar tomatoes that grow next to the basils in our garden.  The server drizzled gaspatxo de catalunya over it all tableside.


Bartender says, “Where’d you get that?”

Parrot says, “France.  They got millions of ‘em.”


That’s called in media res.  I think.  Vergil used it.  Better than I did.  Less name-droppy, too.


June 9, 2012

Such is the state of things during a busy summer, though.  We put on a great wine dinner with Charnu Winery and Dancing Hares Winery; the theme was surf and turf because I was cooking for six different Napa Cabs, all fairly young, and I couldn’t think of what other concept could match that weight course after course and still proceed in a manner that made sense on the palate.

Long sentences are a fact of life when I just cooked for 166 lunch guests in a 94 degree kitchen.  I don’t know if it’s the oxygen supply that’s missing necessarily but something has me dizzy.  And adverbs are firing repeatedly, unwantedly, and uncontrollably.  Anyway here goes

Zach tying beef tenderloins with El Gigante coffee

Pan-roasting veal tenderloins with thyme and butter

Yellowfin tuna BLT with tomato compote

A messy classic--Veal Oskar with dungeness crab, pommes puree, bearnaise mousseline, and toasted brioche

Beef tenderloin with Maine lobster and lobster risotto. This one knocked people out but it was perfect with the wine . . . lookit the size of those lobster paws!

My working prep list

The full (backstage version of the) menu with wine pairings. I forgot to take a photo of the scallops--the most photogenic dish, natch.

May 17, 2012

In the time since I last posted, melting icebergs have caused eastern Canadian sea levels to rise 4.875 feet; my good old state of NC, former home of southern Democrats, has voted to invest its remaining budget surplus in paper drachmas (turns out I might not be as ironic as I thought . . . ) and Manny Pacquiao’s next fight; better just post the pictures, actually.


When I was 17, I worked at Chi-Chi's as a busboy. When the kitchen was too busy, the manager, Wally, made me fry the chips. Upon opening the grill kitchen at the Solage pool this week, there I was frying chips. I didn't feel 17 again.

The West Texas pizza with barbecue sauce, smoked brisket, grilled onions, and jack.

The buffalo-basted grilled chicken sandwich. Crispy buttermilk-fried onions in there somewhere . . . the roll we are using for this is actually the English muffin from Costeaux Bakery and it's perfect here. Closest thing I've seen to a roll called PIEGA or some such from an old Portuguese baker on Nantucket.

The cellar at Aruajo Estates, set for dinner. Zach and I cooked there the other night, absolutely gorgeous setting and wine.

The Dungeness crab salad for that dinner with chiogga beets, pickled orange, puffed rice and avocado was paired with the 2008 Altagracia Sauvignon Blanc.

For the CIA Flavor Summit, we prepared breakfast canapes that were served out at the pool, including these crab and avocado on toast.

shrimp and grits comin up, pawpaw

sausage, egg, and cheese torta ready to slice

On the left, buckwheat blini that we topped with rum-cured smoked salmon and creme fraiche. On the right, silver dollar lemon-ricotta pancakes with huckleberry syrup.

Maple and bacon custards baked in the eggshell. Nice one, Ryder.

SHOTS SHOTS SHOTS--Pineapple, grapefruit, strawberry, and smoothies.

Steaming pork buns on my stove. Yeah yeah, electric coils. The oven doesn't work either. And I still use my brother-in-law's college microwave (class of '73). So, we use the bamboo, the iron skillet, the slow-cooker, and the Weber. But my days of testing bread at home are over till GE sends the guy over to replace the thermocouple in the oven.

April 11, 2012

We have a new first course on the menu–wild texas shrimp wrapped in our house recipe pancetta, seared on the plancha and served with a deconstructed romesco sauce, baby leeks, and potato-roasted garlic mousseline out of the thermal isi gun.

Needless to say–flying off the line.  Wash it down with cava or a cold beer, better yet some Basquaise hard cider.

And then there are the sardines . . . I swear it’s such a good feeling to have every dish we put on the menu be my new favorite.  When that goes away, time to hang up the apron.  Better be a while yet.

Those are involtini of Monterey Bay sardines with an olive farce, sitting on a swipe of saffron rouille and garnished with baby fennel, dried olive, and a calasparra rice fritter.  Get on the fast boat around the Med . . .

March 29, 2012

Banh mi never sells when it’s on our menu, winter or summer, but it’s one of my favorites whether it’s at Saigon Sandwich or Solbar.  Today we have a roasted duck banh mi on the menu with a duck pate:

Ooo.  Good and livery, just the right amount of quatre-epices, pistachio, and chunks of duck breast.  Plenty of pork fat in there too.

Finished product:  crusty baguette, spicy mayo, cilantro, pickled carrots, shredded romaine, sliced and seared duck breast seasoned with plenty of nam pla.  Served next to a pile of crispy sweet potato chips.

I like sandwiches.  A LOT.  I realize that’s not a terribly incisive or original observation, but realize that I’m a chef because I love food.  And sandwiches have a special place in my belly’s heart.  They are the sine qua non of restaurant work because they’re hand-held whole meals that I can eat standing up.  Empires have been built on less.

some standouts:

  • chicken flyer at Ham’s in Chapel Hill, NC
  • cheeseburger at Gott’s in St Helena
  • chopped pork barbecue at Allen & Sons off Highway 86 outside of Durham, NC
  • pulled pork barbecue at the Ugly Dog Saloon in New Orleans
  • pork banh mi at Saigon Sandwich, Larkin & Eddy, SF
  • roast beef po’boy at Zara’s, Garden District, New Orleans
  • muffaletta, Frankie and Johnny’s, uptown just off Tchopitoulas, New Orleans
  • hot dog all the way, Yum Yum Better Ice Cream, Greensboro, NC
  • french dip with horseradish (and a Ketel One bloody mary), Rutherford Grill, NV
  • cheeseburger at Red Rock Cafe in Napa
  • santa fe turkey and jarlsberg swiss with the works at Giugni’s in St Helena
  • grilled cheese at Sutton’s in Chapel Hill
  • my grandmother’s tomato and cucumber sandwiches in the summertime
  • the #18 (fishy slaw) at Palisades Deli in Calistoga

ADD THIS BANH MI TO THE LIST!!!  It is freaking stunning–crunchy, spicy, rich, meaty, tender, acid/sweet pop, just . . . ah.

March 18, 2012

new items this weekend


–hot and sour sweetbreads with orange-peanut hoisin, puffed rice, pickled orange, and kimchi puree

–little gem salad with creamy lemon vinaigrette, sugar snaps, and fines herbes

–pastrami-cured hamachi with fresh horseradish, heirloom beets, rye crouton, and dill creme fraiche

–confit lamb shoulder with mustard butter, turnip puree, baby turnip greens, and pearl onions

–carrot salad with a melange of baby carrots, garam masala, carrot paper, lime froyo, date-pistachio truffles

–sweet onion and sunchoke soup with grapes, cracked almonds, and marjoram

–green asparagus salad with mache, grain mustard, and a crispy poached lily’s egg (lunch)

–green asparagus salad with shiitake puree, fresh water chestnuts, pickled daikon, and cashews (dinner)

–handmade mozzarella and roasted portobello on solbar lavash bread with spinach, all’arrabiatta, white bean spread, and fried spring onions (lunch)


March 14, 2012

Staring up at seven straight days of rain forecasted for all of NV . . . at least the sweet peas will be happy, and the cows.  The sunny February was great for business on our patio but if the plants and animals don’t have any nourishment, we’ll run out of local food by Memorial Day.

The uproar–or tempest in a teacup, depending on your perspective–among West Coast food writers at the moment is whether or not they should assign stars (or, in the case of the Times-Picayune, beans) to accompany their reviews.  Two weeks ago, it was the backlash of chefs against no-account Yelpers, who can trash a restaurant, for any reason, and never have to answer for it.

A critique of my food will never be something I can accept in an objective, cold-blooded, detached frame of mind.  You are judging my worth, my essence, my career, the reason I put on these clogs and jacket every day, my ability to feed my kids.  It’s the application of heat, it’s dexterity with a knife.  It’s performance-driven, it’s immediately obvious, it’s instantly gratifying or repulsive.  And I asked for all of that.

And you know what else?  When you tell me it’s great, it’s amazing, it’s unique, it’s the best you’ve ever had, I’m such a wrinkled, leathery cuss that I can’t quite believe you . . . and when you don’t, I’m convinced you’re a fool.  Makes perfect sense, right?

Early spring steak salad–it was 74 degrees on the patio today, PACKED, and we had a one-day-only special on this entree.  Sold out by 130 pm.

Roasted fingerling potatoes, chilled beef tenderloin, green garlic-meyer lemon vinaigrette, spicy deviled egg, topped with delta asparagus (roasted a la minute, nice and hot) with a few watercress leaves on top.  Mm hmm.