POSTED ON JANUARY 20, 2010:
Down Home and Fancy
Calistoga Bar & Grill combines the right amount of cuisine and comfort
A little taste of wine and country comfort is what customers experience at Calistoga Bar & Grill. Named after a city and wine region in Napa Valley, Calistoga found a new niche in the restaurant business, and owners James Andrews and Kathleen Kennedy decided to embark on a "wine country concept."
The idea is to have classic comfort food, such as mac 'n cheese, Andrews said, but with a different twist--combining white cheeses, including cream cheese, with white truffle oil and herbed breadcrumbs.
It's a classically fun concept, and the experience begins as you walk in the door. A wine barrel sets the tone for the wine country feel. Andrews, who is friends with the owners of Calistoga Cellars in California, presented him with this barrel, which he said "adds a little authenticity" to the restaurant.
The concept continues when reviewing the wine menu as many Calistoga Cellars wines are available. My friend and I each selected a glass of the medium-bodied 2007 Chardonnay ($8, $40 for a bottle), which is described as "beautifully balanced, with just the right mix of ripe pear and melon, accented with mild hints of oak...with a long and creamy finish, which fills the mouth with vanilla." We thoroughly enjoyed this crisp, brilliantly golden wine.
From there, we went on to select our dinner. Andrews explained the first list of items, which was properly titled "Small Plates."
The items on this list might be featured in a tapas bar or can be viewed as appetizers. One favorite he said is the Wild Mushroom Bruschetta with Brie, Parmesan & Fresh Herbs ($8).
Another is the Fried Calamari ($7) with Roasted Garlic Aioli and Red Pepper Tomato Sauce. Lamb and Beef Meatballs ($7), Fried Chorizo Stuffed Olives ($5), Catfish Tacos ($8) and Goat Cheese Quesadillas ($8) are some of the other Small Plates.
Andrews said one of the best things about Calistoga is that they are not confined by a theme.
"Kathleen and I looked at many options and picked out what we liked for the menu selections," he said.
Andrews also said some of the popular meals are the Stuffed Burgers, where you can design your own "stuffed" burger with a choice of carmelized onions, bacon, mushrooms or jalapeno peppers and any number of cheeses, such as Cheddar, Swiss, Gouda or Bleu.
The menu ranges from simple, yet gourmet-like items as Grilled Cheese Goodness (a new take on the old grilled cheese sandwich that has tomato, red onion, lettuce, mayo and Dijon, Brie, sharp cheddar or Gouda cheese) to a 16-ounce Grilled Ribeye.
We ordered the Fried Risotto Balls ($7), which are Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Fresh Mozzarella, Roasted Tomato Sauce and Fresh Basil. Andrews said, "These are like an upscale Mozzarella stick. Even though we don't have a children's menu, the kids really like these." Adults aren't too far behind as my friend and I were thrilled about these as well.
This Small Plate included four lusciously creamy and cheesy balls. They were coated with dry bread crumbs that gave the outside a crispy texture, while the inside was rich and practically sinful. Little pieces of the onion and sun-dried tomato added some texture and flavor to each bite.
For our main meals, I ordered the Roasted Green Chili and Beef Enchiladas ($9), and my friend sampled the "Down Home" Meatloaf ($12). While Andrews said he's responsible for the main menu development, when it comes to designing the Mexican items, he gives way to chef Fernando Flores and his touch.
The Enchiladas were no ordinary enchilada. They were filled with tender, slow-braised beef and roasted chilies. They were topped with queso fresco and cilantro sour cream. Black Bean and Corn Salsa was served as a very small side. The enchiladas were excellent. The plate of four was very filling--each enchilada was very large and fully loaded with ingredients. The beef was perfectly tender and flavorful.
The Meatloaf was not like mama used to make. This "down-home" version is upscale, described as "loaded with veggies" and topped with tomato demi-glace and onion hay. Andrews said this meatloaf is hand-ground beef chuck and tenderloin.
A serving of this dish came with a very thick slice of meatloaf commanding the plate, topped with a large scoop of creamy mashed potatoes with demi-glace and crispy-fried onions on top. Carrots were the only obvious veggie in the loaf; it was moist and tender and not too dense. A zesty spark of flavor in this dish was the demi-glace, and Andrews gave me an insight into how this is prepared.
He said this thick and silky glace begins with tomato base and stock; the zest comes from a combination of vinegar and brown sugar. This topping was ideal to jazz up the overall taste of the meat loaf. Sautéed spinach was a perfect side to this upscale comfort meal.
We finished this meal sharing Cinnamon and Dried Cranberry Bread Pudding with Bourbon Sauce ($5). This was a dense square of warm bread pudding, ample cranberries and sweet whisky sauce. It was a nice closing to this wine country meal.
Calistoga's large dining room is broken into various seating areas, so there is an intimacy about the place otherwise lost in the spacious restaurant. Candles on tables add an overall simple elegance to the atmosphere. Andrews said there are two private dining rooms: the River Room seats 50 people; the Club Room, 20.
Sunday Brunch at Calistoga's is from 11am-3pm and includes all items on the regular menu, plus more than 16 additional breakfast items, such as French toast, pancakes, huevos rancheros and homemade braised beef hash. Calistoga also has monthly wine classes, led by Andrews, who is a certified sommelier, and wine-pared dinners.
Calistoga Bar & Grill
Riverwalk Crossing, Jenks
A taste of wine country comfort food is at Calistoga Bar & Grill. Upscale comfort food such as Mac 'N Cheese with White Truffle Oil and Down Home Meatloaf are possible options.
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