September 11, 2015

CANVAZ road trip day 3: two disappointing stars in Napa

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Napa Valley has its share of well-regarded restaurants - and more than a few with macarons from the Rubberman.  Unfortunately, as we started planning this trip too late, I wasn't able to take the Parental Units to the French Laundry... or get into the Meadowood.  In the end I picked a couple of places out of curiosity... which didn't turn out so well.

After our visit to Colgin Cellars' IX Estate, we drove north to Calistoga for lunch at Solbar.  The place is attached to the Solage Calistoga - a spa resort.  The concept of a "healthy" restaurant with a macaron intrigued me, and since it was just down the road from Araujo Estate, this turned out to be the perfect venue.

The Parental Units and the godparents all wanted to eat light, so everyone ended up taking just one course... except me, of course!  I had to have two courses so I could try more dishes here.

Spicy shrimp lettuce wraps, rice noodles, tamarind dressing, avocado and nam pla dipping sauce - I guess I wasn't expecting large, whole shrimps here, but they were pretty fresh.  There was probably a little too much rice noodle in each of the lettuce cups, so eating them became a little challenging, especially with the dipping sauce already dressed.  Speaking of which... the fish sauce I get, but where's the avocado?

Crispy petrale sole tacos, sweet and sour cabbage, cilantro and spicy aioli on warm tortillas - I nicked one of mom's fish tacos, and these were pretty good.  I never thought I'd like fish tacos, but these days I'm definitely coming around.  The spicy aioli was nice.

Lucky pig, slow-roasted shoulder of Homestead Hampshire pork, black sesame crepes, pickled pineapple, Mongolian peanuts, lettuce cups and more - the menu says this thing serves two, and I ordered it for everyone to share.

The hunk of pork shoulder definitely serves more than two... and was cooked beautifully.  Very, very tender and delicious.  Ganma looked at it and immediately said "Oh, 蹄膀!"  Wrapping it in crêpes was a little messy, and this should just be eaten on its own.  In the end we had to take half of it to go.

My food was decent, but a Michelin star?  Hmmm...

We had a lot of time to kill before dinner, so we decided to show up at Auberge du Soleil early and just parked ourselves at the bar.  The terrace overlooks the beautiful Rutherford section of the valley, and it's nice to hang out here and relax - when the temperature isn't as high as it was today.

The sun was still out by the time our 5:30 p.m. seating came around, and thank to the weather we chose to sit indoors.  While the old fogeys took the basic 3 courses, I decided to take the 6-course tasting menu by myself.

This little nibble seemed to be a slice of zucchini with some cream and maybe beet purée...

Amuse bouche was chilled ginger and carrot soup, with lemon oil and chives.  There seemed to be a little cumin here...

Day boat scallop, glazed pork belly, matsutaki, grilled cabbage, Thai broth - the scallop was cooked perfectly mi-cuit, and sliced into two.  The pork belly was pretty charred but I'll take any pork belly.  The jasmine rice was made into a congee that was incredibly mushy, and you could see speech bubbles with "WTF" popping up from my head...  Why did they have to ruin a perfectly good dish this way?!

Foie gras torchon, pink pearl apples, rosemary almonds, horseradish - the torchon was actually very nice and smooth, and worked nicely with toast on the side.  Didn't really get much of the horseradish purée but that was OK.  One of the better dishes tonight.  But I found a strand of what seemed to be either someone's gray hair or a fiber from the cheese cloth, and our server apologized for this.

Veal sweetbreads, creamed little gem, chanterelles, fava beans, sherry - the sweetbreads came in little nuggets and were a little dry on their own... and definitely needed the egg sherry sauce.  Not one of the better sweetbreads I've had.

Mom cut me a little bite of her halibut and asked me what I thought.  It was on the dry side and the flavors weren't great.  She thought it was made with frozen halibut.  Not something I would expect from a restaurant at this level.

Paine Farms Squab, foie gras, figs, thyme, grilled fennel, balsamic red wine sauce - this squab was very, very good.  In fact, it was the standout from the entire menu.  The breast was perfectly cooked, and the leg was yummy, too.  The pan-fried foie gras was nice.

Prime beef pavé, tempura eggplant, baby bok choy, nardello peppers, Asian vinaigrette - I took the beef medium-rare as suggested, and the color certainly looked good.

Unfortunately, I got the "end cut", which meant that 5 of the 6 sides of this piece of meat was charred, and overcooked. The tempura egglplant was also a little bit of WTF.  For me this dish was a definite FAIL.

Hibiscus jelly with pomegranate seeds - interesting, but given that it's a quarter of a bite... kinda neither here nor there.

Pistachio financier, zee grand nectarines, chamomile, lemon gelato - the financier was OK, if a little on the hard side.  The lemon gelato was nice, the St-Germain gel was an interesting touch, and the chamomile foam was pretty nice.

Petits fours - chocolate all the way... with almond caramels.

I brought along another bottle that I fished out from local storage, and treated the old fogeys to a nice bottle...

2005 Harlan Maiden - decanted and put on ice as it was too warm initially.  A little rubber and smoke.  Definitely sweet on the palate.  Opened up after 45 minutes in the decanter, but still pretty tannic.  Nose was really nice after 2 hours, with coffee notes at the end.

When I asked for the bill at the end of dinner, our server told me that the corkage which is normally charged had been taken care of. Was this in response to me finding a foreign object in one of my dishes?

Frankly, this was a very disappointing meal.  Poor execution, WTF concepts, less-than-fresh ingredients...  I gotta wonder what the Michelin people were thinking.  If this place is good enough to have a star, then I gotta thank my lucky stars that I have easy access to places like the Mandarin Grill + Bar... because I'll take Uwe's cooking any day.

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