JoLe Restaurant is a Calistoga California-based contemporary restaurant owned and operated by husband-and-wife team Matt and Sonjia Spector, chef and pastry chef, respectively. JoLe is the couple’s second restaurant venture after a successful stint at Matyson Restaurant in Philadelphia. I discovered them after doing a bit of digging on the web and their farm-to-table and organic approach to their menu jumped out, so much so that I called in advance for a reservation so I could taste and tell after the fact.
The wine list is eclectic and ever-evolving, consisting of many of the area’s boutique producers. Since I opted for the four course tasting menu, I didn’t choose the wine for each dish – let’s just say that the wine chose me all night long. Because I sat at the bar, I suddenly not only had neighbors to dine with, but neighbors who wanted to participate in my “taste and tell” experience, especially when they learned why I was taking so many photos. While I’m not showing the dishes in any particular order, the first dish shown below was my favorite of the evening: the Grilled Quail served with chicken livers, dates and almonds. The quail was paired with a 2012 Clos de Gilroy Central Coast Grencache from Bonny Doon (14.4%).
Before any of the dishes arrived, a simple but delicious crab stuffed calamara olive with a Thai chili showed up. It is hanging out here with some French bread and extra virgin olive oil.
Quite possibly my second favorite dish on the menu was the Lamb Noisette, which was served with Porcinis (love ’em), roasted potatoes and harissa. The harissa was a surprise sauce for a dish like this, at least in my experience. They paired it with a 2010 Bonny Doon Syrah (Central Valley/Santa Cruz). I have to admit that I was surprised that the wine wasn’t a Napa one given our location, but it was refreshing to see Italians and other regions on the menu for a change.
There’s always fish if you want to keep it light. They had a delicious Talley chardonnay which is worth trying regardless of what seafood dish you end up ordering.
My neighbor insisted I dive into his Bacon Wrapped Veal Sweet Breads. This was served with a warm mushroom and asparagus salad, mustard and verjus. How could I say no? It was as you might expect, very rich, but also very delicious.
A close up of this very naughty dish that might not be great for the waistline but it was ohhhhh, so good!
Then, there were the sea scallops. Is your mouth watering yet? The scallops were served with Fava Beans, basil oil, strawberry and tarragon. They paired this with a local Rose, which I’ve never been much of a fan of….then or now. Rarely am I surprised by a Rose that takes my breath away.
There was also the “I can’t stop thinking about” grilled pork belly with stuffed eggplant and cherry barbeque sauce and the slow roasted brisket, served with pappardelle, oven dried tomatoes and parmesan. Because of the high fat content, they suggested a Nebbiolo to cut the fat while bringing out the taste. They poured a 2011 Langhe Nebbiolo Giovanni Rosso which my neighbors seemed to be drinking as well.
Speaking of neighbors, two of them tried the Lobster Ceviche with wait for it.….popcorn. Yes, real popcorn, served on the side in a bowl. The ceviche was served with purple potatoes, yellow chilies and avocado. Yum!
Over dessert, new neighbors arrived, who turned out to be two young girls from England over to explore the west coast of America. And so, we sampled and tasted and sampled and tasted some more. By this time, I had moved to the Hendry Block 24 Primitivo from Napa Valley although the chocolate decadence was served with a sweet Maderia.
Did I mention that their desserts are to die for?
What was so fun about this joyous experience was the pairing itself. While some places choose the dishes for you, the JoLe team allows you to choose your four, five or six courses depending on how hungry you are. And, although they do pair wine with each dish, you can also try other wines by the glass. According to the bartenders who looked after me for the night (Rich and Joel), they tout a wopping 62 wine pours, which is significant in comparison to most restaurants. Below Joel, who entertained me for most of the evening, stands with owner Sonjia Spector.
As my taste buds were in high heaven, I couldn’t help but smile as I thought about my meal, one which six of my neighbors at the bar participated in over the course of the evening. As I took a rich bite of that slow roasted brisket, Joel told me about the time when he worked on a tugboat as a deck hand, a cook and an engineer. He laughs as he tells the story. “I was 12 hours on, 12 hours off. You didn’t just have one job on the boat. If you were a cook, you were also an engineer.” From a tugboat to an organic restaurant in Napa Valley that serves over 60 wines, Joel has made a turn in his life and I have to admit, it wasn’t a bad one.
The service was incredible and the food mouth watering. Kudos and thanks to Sonjia, Matt, Rich, Joel, Scott and the JoLe crew for a fabulous experience. Although I didn’t meet Dan the wine buyer, I’m told that he is a scratch golfer and has an eclectic sense about wines, making him a bit of a “pairing expert.” I’m sorry we didn’t have a chance to toast a Cab together. Another time, she thinks, another time. Calistoga and JoLe, I will be back!
Note: While I was hosted by JoLe for my meal, all opinions expressed here are entirely my own. For other great restaurants in California, check out our California restaurants section. (Top California restaurants). All photo credits: Renee Blodgett.