There’s nothing like watching thin, rich, tan people frolicking poolside from your dinner table to inspire a little caloric restraint.
Then again, if you’re anything like me, the sight of all that taut skin inspires an order of beef short ribs with polenta, a peach tart, some flatbread and a strawberry mojito. Oh, and uh, how is that potato gnocchi, anyway?
But SolBar isn’t here to be judgmental about your food choices. Tucked inside the new Solage spa compound in Calistoga, this ultra-trendy, ultra-minimalist (think Press, FARM and pretty much anything built in Napa in the last three years) restaurant features a menu politely divided into two parts: A Continental Divide, so to speak, of healthy, calorie-conscious spa food on the left and the hearty, carb and fat-loaded stuff on the right. You know, your choice.
Hey wait a minute. I feel so judged right now.
Best bet is to wander back and forth over the chasm. Though the menu changes up according to season and availability, a summer favorite is the chilled carrot ginger soup with radish, avocado and spearmint ($7), which despite its glow is a cold snap of refreshing, sweet carrots and crunchy radishes from the healthy left side of the menu. If you’re in a sharing mood, the hearth-baked sea salt flat bread served with three dips: Tzatziki (yogurt and cucumber sauce), a pesto-like salsa verde (lemon, basil, cilantro) and a brilliant red olive tapenade ($8, sorry not from the healthy side though I’ll give you a pass on this. Come on its yogurt.). Also worth a peek are the char sui bao, barbequed pork buns ($10, nope fattening).
Entrees range from shrimp and vegetable salad with water chestnuts, fennel and orange ginger vinaigrette to chicken breast with brown rice, ajo blanco and red grapes (yes, you’re so good!) to Petrale sole with lemon garlic risotto, a double cheeseburger with fried pickles (what’s with fried pickles all the sudden?) and beef short ribs with organic polenta, watercress and thyme-roasted onions (from the husky side of the menu). Yeah. Live a little and experience what may be some of the best polenta I’ve ever had. In other words, it actually had flavor–and lots of it. The ribs are marinated for two days and fall apart at the sight of a fork. I could have done without the goofy green watercress, however. Leave it for the salad eaters.
For dessert, the Frog Hollow Farms peach galette with sour cherries and lavender honey mascarpone ($8) was a warm after dinner hug (though the heavy-handed crust was left behind.) Valrhona chocolate pudding with toasted marshmallows and graham crackers is a cute nod to s’mores–best enjoyed by the open fireplace or flaming fountain outside.
Trying to manage the ying-yang desires of the spa-set is a tall order for Chef Brandon Sharp, a former sous chef at SF’s Gary Danko and French Laundry alum. And aside from some lackluster plating and distracted service Sharp’s clearly working hard to attain a sense of inner balance and harmony on both sides of the menu. It’s up to you to decide where your true bliss lies.
If you go: Don’t miss a poolside seat with exotic signature cocktails like the Strawberry Ginger Mojito (rum, strawberry puree, mint and fresh ginger); Brasilian (Oronoco oak aged-rum and fresh lime juice) or blood orange Sidecar with Martell Cognac, blood orange puree and fresh lemon juice ($11).
SolBar at Solage: Open to the public daily for lunch and dinner. 755 Silverado Trail, Calistoga, 866-942 7442.