SolBar: a Calistoga lunch spot while visiting Northern Napa Valley.

We often send guests up to Northern Napa Valley (only 25 miles away) to visit Vincent Arroyo Winery, Summers Winery, August Briggs Winery, or even Laura Zahtila Winery.  We often suggest a picnic lunch to enjoy, but for those who want to sit down and be served then SolBar is the answer.  Situated in the Solage Resort in Calistoga, SolBar is their restaurant that has a nicely appointed dining room and a sunny patio area outdoors for those who enjoy the sun and views of the surrounding mountains.  We chose outdoors for our venue and with perfect 70 degree weather and everything green and lush, with the swimming pool in the background toward one end, and the fountain that has a firepit in the center of it at the other, it created a “perfect Napa moment” for us.  The menu is playful: four columns of about 20 items- 10 appetizers, 10 entrees.  In the appetizer section, there is the first column printed in green (healthier options) and the second column printed in red (richer options); and that same organization on the entrees.  It was fun to choose from both sides of each column, playing with both healthy and rich, luscious food (read that butter, creamy, and wonderful).  We began with the roasted pepper soup served with arancini, delightfully poured out into the bowl at the table, as well as the sunchoke soup with a creamy base and pine nuts that were a perfect contrast in texture and flavor.  Moving onto the entrees we ordered the tuna burger with tofu salad and the chicken tandoori with naan bread and a cucumber-lettuce salad.  The tuna was freshly cut tuna steaks, formed into patties and served in a steamed bun.  Served medium rare as it should be, it was a nice afternoon bite.  The chicken tandoori was served as cutlets with a dry rub marinade and pan-fried, on top of homemade naan bread with a fresh tasting cucumber salad that fit just right with the chicken.  Portions are large, presentation is great, and flavor is wonderful.  We are really excited about having this new restaurant to send our guests to while visiting the Calistoga region and know that they, too, on a day like today, will find a “perfect Napa moment” celebrating good wine, good food, good friends, in a great location.

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The Inn On First was rewarded by Congress and the California State Legislature for our recycling efforts!

The city of Napa and Napa Recycling and Waste Services presented The Inn On First with two prestigious recycling awards today.  We were awarded the Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition for invaluable service to the community issued by the office of Mike Thompson, our congressional representative in Washington, D.C.; and we were awarded a Certificate of Recognition by the California State Legislature for outstanding recycling efforts.  What was even better was that we received a small monetary award to go with the awards.  This was all with the assistance of the Napa Recycling and Waste Services who made on-site visits and gave us the information and tools necessary to implement changes which secured us these awards.  We are so excited to know that our efforts to be green, to educate our guests and employees on the need for recycling and composting, are being recognized in the community and in the state of California.  Thanks to the housekeeping staff (Mari, Lourdes, Nita, and Veronica) whose daily efforts to support our recycling efforts have paid off through these awards.

Angele: still great food, great service, and great ambience for a romantic evening.

We recently returned to Angele (pronounced On- jell) as part of our yearly evaluation of restaurants in the area.  It was a quiet night, but even when it is busy there is always a sense of romance in the air.  The candlelight, the river outside the windows, and the great food make a lasting impression.  Foie gras was on the menu, still a favorite of mine, served two ways: fried and a terrine slice served with apple relish and toasted brioche.  What a treat.  Jamie enjoyed the beet salad and we both tasted the roasted artichoke soup that was a special on the menu.  Both items were just lovely.  For dinner I ordered the sweetbreads; I realize that not everyone likes the concept of sweetbreads, but they are beautiful.  Served with fresh vegetables and a poultry reduction sauce it was a perfect pairing.  Jamie decided on the Boeuf Bourguignon with buttered noodles and it was the hit of the evening.  Slow roasted, fork-tender beef, with a luscious red wine reduction sauce.  For dessert a scoop of peanut butter and chocolate ice cream.  It was a wonderful meal and confirmed that Angele is still one of the great places for guests to dine while in Napa.

As a side note, Angele also has a wonderful patio that overlooks the Napa River and is a great dining spot for lunch; or when the weather cooperates later in the Summer, a perfect place to dine for dinner.

Norman Rose Tavern: new restaurant along First Street

We typically avoid restaurants along First Street as they seem to suffer from bad food or bad service and in rare cases both.  Norma Rose Tavern breaks that mold.  They don’t take reservations, so it is first come, first served.  So we gladly put in our names, were told it would be forty-five minutes, and informed them that we would be across the street at the Avia Hotel enjoying a glass of wine in their lounge and would return to claim the table and not to give it away any sooner.  They honored that request nicely.  A note on the Avia lounge- it is a nice place to gather around a table for a glass of wine while you wait.  We haven’t tried the restaurant yet as they have exchanged chefs multiple times and we’re waiting on some history to be built before we go.

As for Norman Rose Tavern, it is now another local’s favorite, and it is tavern food.  Sandwiches, soups, salads, burgers, chicken, fish, french fries, onion rings, etc.  This is not gourmet as in innovative and different.  This cuisine is for those who want something easy, simple, and tasty.  We ordered the truffle-parmesan fries to start and the macaroni and cheese (pure comfort food!) and we were not disappointed: crisp, freshly fried, and tasty fries, with a smooth, creamy, delicious cheese sauce on the macaroni.  The field greens salad with Pt. Reyes Blue Cheese (a personal favorite cheese of mine) was spot on, as was the tavern chopped salad (with more Pt. Reyes Blue Cheese).  Unfortunately they were out of snapper that night so we settled on the Buttermilk Fried Chicken Sandwich and the Lamb Burger.  With Oenotri just next door, we can’t even tell you how happy we are that these two new restaurants have opened just 3 blocks away from The Inn On First.

Oenotri: Oh-No-Tree: A great new addition to First Street restaurants.

A new restaurant called Oenotri opened in the past few weeks and we are really excited.  They are certified to serve Neapolitan Margherita Pizza (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pizza), and serve specialties of Campania, Calabria, Basilicata and Puglia.  We started, of course, with the Pizza and the tomato sauce is so fresh and clean tasting in its simplicity that you can appreciate the tomatoes for what they are without a lot of added herbs; as well as the roasted beet salad with pistachio sauce that was delicious.  Then we ordered the black pasta, made with squid ink, served with squid and more squid ink and butter, which made everyone’s teeth black as you ate and created a good round of laughter while indulging in the flavors.  Jamie enjoyed the lamb which included two large chops and vegetables, and I ordered the squab which was perfectly roasted and served with an olive relish that worked really well with the meat.  Our friends ordered the black cod on grits with spring vegetables and pine nuts, and the fish just melted in your mouth.  For dessert we ordered the cookies and coffee which came with 3 small bites, a bit of chocolate, and coffee of course.  We loved everything about the place; so much so that we want to go back soon and try it again just to make sure there is consistency in the service and dishes….dinner anyone?