I don’t trust people. So why should I trust their recommendations?
Yet that is what people do. “Oh, you should try the Poncy De Lion Tavern,” someone says. And somehow “Poncy De Lion Tavern” enters our head as a place to which we should bequeath temporary control of our platinum.
So when someone I know, someone who might even turn out to be remarkably trustworthy, suggested I try Solbar, I said the most obvious thing: “Where the hell’s bloody Solbar?”
It seems that this place is owned by the same people who own Auberge Du Soleil, which is quite a poncy placed lionized by the well-to-do and even some of the well-to-don’t up in sunny Napaish.
Solbar is at a hotel called the Solage, which is just around the corner from the main drag in Calistoga. Yes, where people go to take their clothes off, bathe in mud, have sex with each others’ wives and then drink very expensive water.
I had no real expectations. I took my companion, she who has given a totally new meaning to the phrase “she is said to be in a critical condition.” And it was blazing hot, so I really felt I had nothing to lose.
We arrived to discover that the restaurant is next to the hotel pool and the hotel boules. Well, it isn’t quite boules in America, is it? They call it bocce ball, because there’s far more Italian mafia in the US than there is French.
Sitting out on the terrace allows you to sip a strangely unswizzlesticked bellini while watching an old white lady in something of an inappropriate costume (at least, inappropriate for the eyes) become highly competitive while bocceing the balls out of a husband who could barely stand or breathe.
This bordered on animal cruelty, so I was relieved when a very nice short gentleman came over to us and led us to our table. In hindsight, I think he was a clever man. While my companion couldn’t decide whether to take a table outside or in, he guided us firmly indoors. There, we had the room to ourselves.
Our server, a large man who looked as if he had recently enjoyed a spirited romp in a cupboard, explained that the menu changed almost every day. It contained dishes printed in green, for those who were experiencing severe guilt. It also contained dishes printed in orange, which essentially seemed to be for piggies and contained quite a few ingredients that seemed to have originated in piggies.
My suspicion, because I am largely made up of various suspicions, was that all of these dishes would be large on the frou-frou and small on the food-food.
The last time I was quite this mistaken was when I thought Britney Spears would have Justin Timberlake’s children.
I had a salad that had large pieces of green and a wonderful flat trouty thing–I believe it may technically be called “rilletes” on the bottom. It also had bright orange pieces of caviar, the world’s largest crouton, mushrooms from a galaxy hitherto unexplored and a taste that could not have been bettered had the Virgin Mary herself wafted into the kitchen and tried to rustle up something for Jesus and Joseph.
This truly was a high level of divinity. Especially from a salad. Especially from the green section of the menu.
My companion became severely involved with another salad that seemed to consist of leaves, meat and foam. She seemed prepared to smear all three over her body in public. Well, this was Calistoga. They smear their bodies with everything around here.
Then there was the asparagus. I don’t even like asparagus. Some reasons are the obvious, odor-centered ones, some less so. But my companion insisted and along came asparagus in a three-way. Pan-seared, raw and tempura with soy caramel.
No, I had no idea that’s what they were. I just looked that up on the restaurant’s website. But this was akin to having dinner with General Pinochet and finding him blazingly funny.
Alright, the wine by the glass, like so many wines by the glass in restaurants, offered little basis on which to send a postcard. But who cared when the food was so mesmerizing?
For our next pleasure, my companion ordered port cheek tacos (she often diets), while I maintained my figure by having tenderloin, shoulder and belly of duroc pork.
While she dug into hers as if this were her last meal before a a trip to the penitentiary on embezzlement charges, I took one bite of tenderloin, only to discover that it was lukewarm. I asked the server whether it was supposed to be lukewarm. He said not and took it away.
It came back. It was equally lukewarm. But by this stage, I simply wanted it now and chose to endure another quite wonderful oral and intestinal experience, albeit at not quite the right temperature. It annoyed me, in the way that your favorite lover accidentally scratching you annoys you. Briefly.
Could dessert match what we had experienced so far? Only if we ate it while not looking out of the window at waddling white bodies that would have been best served as mannequins at a taxidermist.
The upside-down pineapple cake which came with coconut ice cream could only have been better if they’d given us another piece. My companion’s doughnuts were simply beyond health and somewhere in the area of the spontaneous erotic experience. Or at least that’s what she intimated. I tried them. Then I stopped.
All of this could only have been followed by marvelous dessert wine. All of this could only have been followed by a feeling in one’s heart, lungs and slightly lower that this was utterly memorable cooking. All this could only be followed by another visit.
Now, about that lukewarm pork. Ah, no. Not my words. But those of someone who remains, barely, in a critical condition.