Chef's Blog

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

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?

September 8, 2011

DAMN I wish I had taken pictures, but Ryder and I didn’t allow ourselves a lot of extra time or bring a commis with us when we cooked at Fisher Vineyards’ Napa property for their Cellar Selection dinner last Sunday night.  Ryder snapped a few of the canapes, I’ll post them if they came out looking good.

The setting was ur-wine country–an old plank barn on the valley floor, doors thrown open to view the vineyards as the sun set over the Mayacamas range, a string and flute trio barely covering the droning of the short-track racecars over at the fairgrounds in Calistoga.  We were a good country mile away, they’re just that loud.  Everyone sat at a king’s table right in the barn, on the gravel floor.  By the NY strip course, we were cooking in the dark . . . Most of the menu is Ryder’s inspiration:



September 4, 2011

BARBECUED KUSSHI OYSTERS With Sweet Corn and Fresno Chile Butter

FORNI-BROWN GARDENS PADRON PEPPERS Ambrosia Melon and Prosciutto San Daniele

GOLDEN TOMATO GASPATXO with Garlic Blossoms and Gremolata

Schramsberg, Blanc de Blanc, Sparkling



Horseradish, Rye, Pink Pearls Apples, Armenian Cucumber, Dill

1999 Whitney’s Vineyard, Chardonnay, Sonoma County

2009 Whitney’s Vineyard, Chardonnay, Sonoma County



Poached Farm Egg, Black-eyed Peas, Tomato Jam, Marjoram

2005 Wedding Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County



Salt-baked Onion, Parisienne Gnocchi, Broccoli Rabe, Sauce Bordelaise

2008 Coach Insignia, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

2007 Lamb Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley



Black Mission Fig, Pepperonata, Pain de Campagne, Sunflower Seed

1998 Coach Insignia, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

1994 Lamb Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley



1977 Fonseca

August 26, 2011

I banished tomatoes form my thinking and lo and behold, Barney Welsh called to say that he could have them by Wednesday last.  Allelu.

They’re on our BLT served on house-made basil bread, on our cheeseburger, and today on an heirloom tomato salad with crispy house-made mozzarella, balsamico spheres, fino verde basil and extra virgin olive oil:

When we were deciding how to serve the tomatoes this year, Goose (or Ryder, I can no longer recall) said, “Everyone does homemade mozzarella, but how come no one does FRIED homemade mozzarella?”  Well, now we do.  And it’s as good as you’d expect.  There’s a fine line, isn’t there, between clever and stupid.

If you want to know all the varietals we serve, call Barney, he’ll get a good laugh out of it.  At you, not me.

August 13, 2011

We’re only going to put them on the menu when Barney over at Forni-Borwn Gardens has them ready, and he’s still more than a week out . . . a lot of cool, foggy mornings here in the valley this summer.  The rains better hold off till Halloween or we’re going a lot of despondent vintners.  Cooks can always move on to hard squash and turnips.

While tomatoes aren’t ready, it IS prime time for summer squash and eggplant, and Ryder, our Chef de Cuisine, came up with a killer riff on ratatouille and rice that is the only vegan and gluten-free option on our menu: eggplant involtini with saffron-tomato arancini, red pepper glaze, and squash ciambotta.

The preparation is so intricate that it would take 1K words to explain, but the natural sweetness of the vegetables, the creamy-crunchy of the arancini, and the perfect acid-sugar balance of the peeled sun gold tomatoes (which ARE ready) makes for a satisfying meal.

A few other mentions:

–Can’t wait to eat at La Condesa in St Helena when it opens, same goes for R Reddington’s pizza place in Yountville.  And French Blue (SH).

–Why the heck don’t the 49ers appease their fan base and acquire Tebow from Denver?  He’s obviously not wanted there, and I don’t think even Harbaugh can convince Alex Smith that he’s a winner again.  I’m not even a 49er fan and I think this should happen.  Coupla the A Smith games last year were flat-out unwatchable.

–Let’s just say my expectations for the UNC football season are low.  Let’s skip right on over to bball season where we’re preseason #1 with good reason(s).