There are restaurant owners and there are restaurant owners. I had the pleasure of meeting and spending time with Ron Goldin and Mark Allen, owners of three Calistoga restaurants: Barolo, Brannans and Checkers, all on Lincoln Avenue in downtown Calistoga California. The town is 15 minutes away from Napa Valley, home to some of the best wines in the world. On your journey through wine country, if the crowds are too much, Calistoga is a great place to escape to at the end of your long day. Quieter than Napa, it touts a number of hotels and restaurants that are well worth exploring. Let’s start with Barolo, which is where I had dinner with Ron, Mark and their social media geek Peter Stetson.
Little did I know I was in for such a feast. I thought I was going to dine at their bar solo while catching up on some work and sampling one or two dishes with a glass of Napa Cab. We started with a bottle of Barolo — after so many Napa wines, I couldn’t resist the temptation and besides, what’s not to love about a Barolo? For starters, 23 year old chef Angelo, brought out a shrimp dish, served with Rosemary lemon cello, parmasan broth with chillies, and canelloni beans. Yum!
The asparagus was one of my favorites since the lemon aioli was perfectly done….zested lemon, a little olive oil and of course, just enough bread crumbs to make the dish naughty.
Time to bring on the salad, for something a light and bouncy before we dive into the pasta and red meat dishes. The salad was largely arugula topped with ricata and beets. Simple, but delicious.
Alas, we dive into the meat, starting with a Short Rib Affumicato, which is smoked, then braised and cooked down with stock overnight. It’s a red wine jus in case you’re wondering and the short ribs sit on top of a bed of spinach and creamy polenta with garlic. So tasty. This is a must order if you only opt for one meat dish. Trust me on this one!
If you’re a pasta lover, try the Spaghetti Carbonara, which is served with smoked pancetta, eggs and parmigiano reggiano. You can add an egg to the top if you wish. Yes, really. While the dish might look like it is cooked in cream, Angelo didn’t use any cream in his preparation. Delicious! The smoked pancetta gives it an almost nutty flavor. They also have an interesting potato gnocchi on the menu with parmigiano, Fava beans, English peas and lemon Mascarpone or you can go with a simple linguine and clam dish served with garlic, fresh herbs, white wine and chili oil.
While we’re into high calories, why not try the Cavatelli and Lamb? This dish is a hand-rolled cavatelli pasta, served with lamb bolognese and housemade ricotta salata.
Although Angelo may be young, he’s a talented chef who I’d never turn away from my kitchen. I’m still thinking about that tender short rib I simply couldn’t get enough of on that long and delicious night. Below is Angelo’s hand holding a wine glass – notice anything unusual? In case you’re wondering, yes…they’re permanent tattoos. I love the creativity!
Even though I couldn’t move after so many tasty dishes whizzing by me, they insisted I try a couple of their desserts. Below is the Hazelnut Torta, which is a chocolate hazelnut tart, served with a Nutella ganache, candided hazelnuts and Frangelico gelato. It’s decadent, most definitely naughty and a must try!
If that’s not enough, look at the exquisite preparation of this Panna Cotta, which is meyer lemon curd with a huckleberry compote. It was so beautiful that I had a hard time diving in – doesn’t it look like a cross between an eyeball and an exquisite piece of art? Those huckleberries were as delicious as they look.
Below I’m sitting with Ron in the restaurant, who shared several interesting stories with me, which included his travels and passion for art. I also learned that he grows a variety of things in his garden which are used in his restaurants, including Roma tomatoes, mint, corn, basil, strawberries, Pedrone peppers, eggplant and melons. The sourcing local is a theme that extends through Napa Valley and I for one, am a fan. WBTW gives Barolo a serious thumbs up! If you’re in the area, definitely stop by Barolo or their sister restaurant Brannans for a meal. Checker’s is a great option for lunch and has a funky almost retro design.