USA Day 17: Duvine Cycling Adventure Day 5

Napa Valley

Solbar at the Solage Calistoga

755 Silverado Trail
Calistoga CA  94515
(866) 942 7442
Open:  Daily  7 – 11am, 11:30am – 3pm, 5:30 – 9pm

Now… remember what I was saying about breakfast at Healdsburg – well – the Solage Calistoga was another matter entirely!  Gorgeous and amazing…

Brennan Steet Breakfast

Andrew had the Brennan street breakfast – with 2 poached eggs, sausage and russet potato hashbrown – how beautiful does it look?

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes

I had the drop dead gorgeous and tasty Lemon Ricotta pancakes with blueberry syrup and toasted pine nuts.  Hello! Second best breakfast in the States (after Bubby’s in New York).  They were soft and moist, beautifully flavoured with lemon, and the ricotta giving it a lovely light, creamy texture. They were served on a generous bed of blueberry syrup – which was really a purée of freshly poached blueberries, and a smattering of pine nuts gave a really lovely textural component.  I wonder if they won their Michelin star after the judges had breakfast here?

We were joined at breakfast by Ray and Janet – and Ray was saying: “Should I do it Janet – biscuits and gravy… should I do it???”.  Anyway – as you can see – he did it!

Biscuits and Gravy

I was so fascinated – I told Andrew he had to take a photo.  Now, bear in mind people, this is the Michelin starred version of biscuits and gravy – and by all accounts was very good…

Although I did hear Ray groaning later on in the bike ride….

See below for my review on Solbar for dinner!  Twice in one day – does it get any better?

The Silverado Trail

After breakfast – we kitted up again – ready to head out for another day of cycling.  We got the briefing…

“What do you mean we’ll do 30km and THEN have a coffee???”   It seemed a long way to go for coffee, and I let them know.   For some reason though, they just laughed at me…

The Silverado Trail is quite lovely. Similar to the riding we did in the Sonoma Valley, the road skirts the valley floor.  The trail is basically a very wide bike lane on the side of the road – pretty smooth (except for a couple of places) and undulating… don’t you love that word!  We all agreed it was code for hard work!

But you know what?  Nothing is hard work when you have these views to look at….

I found myself dropping off the back (for non-cyclists, that’s a term that means I couldn’t keep up with the rest of the group, and ended up falling behind).  I made a conscious decision not to pedal hammer and tong, but just relax a little bit and enjoy the amazing countryside.  Andrew was a sweetheart, when he realised I wasn’t keeping up with everyone, he dropped back and fell behind me, staying on my wheel til we caught up to everyone else.

Which we did … because they were all waiting for us at the turn.  Maybe because there was a little hill waiting for us there – which I tackled like a champion.  Plus it’s always nice going down… and coffee was waiting just at the end of the road.

Oakville Grocery

7856 St Helena Highway
Oakville, CA 94562
(707) 944 8802
Open: Mon – Thu 7am – 5pm; Fri – Sat  7am – 6pm;  Sun  8am – 5pm

This is where we stopped for coffee, the Oakville Grocery.  Oh,come to me – double shot medium cappucino!! Trouble was – I’d already lost my mojo by this stage… 30km – enough.  I had the coffee (which was brilliant by the way) – but didn’t recover my mojo.  I’d lost my spirit!   I hopped into the van for the rest of the journey – especially since it was getting quite warm, and rumour was that there was a big hill up to our first tasting for the day at the Rutherford Hill Winery!

Andrew – as usual did the full complement of rides!  What a guy!

Rutherford Hill Winery Tasting Room

This was quite a stunning winery – and we actually really liked the wines – so we bought a couple of reserve merlots and a zinfandel port.  Alas, the port met its end when the porters transporting our bags the next day obviously rough handled our carry-on luggage and broke the bottle!!! Andrew was not happy – until he remembered that it was Zinfandel – and that helped to ease the pain.  Zinfandel is all over the wine country in USA – and we didn’t really like it much. It’s not very widespread in Australia at all, so it mustn’t be to our palate.  Andrew also took some delight in hoping that the port had stained and smelled out the Mercedes they had used to transport our bags.   Small pleasures….

Nonetheless – as I was saying – the wine was quite good, and the group picked a bottle to have with lunch.  This gorgeous hilltop winery was also the setting for our last picnic together.

 What a great view for our last lunch!

Another great view!!

Look at that spread – fresh bread, Ashley’s home made guacamole, olives, fresh ham and salami, capsicums and tomatoes, a variety of cheeses, wine, Girl and the Fig chutneys and tapenades.  Really yummy!

Ryan and Ashley looked like such domestic angels in their Duvine aprons – I had to get  a photo!

 Hey – life’s pretty good, isn’t it?

Andrew was so pleased with his sandwich – he took a photo.
Guess I’m wearing off on him…

There was another ride after lunch back to the Hotel – but given my sensitivity to the sun – I thought I should get back in the van!!  Although, Ashley teased me and told me she’d already gotten the bike down so I could ride back with them.  I was psyching myself into it, really I was, but when I checked, my bike was still on top of the van – phew!!

Here’s the map of the day’s riding – you can see the start at Calistoga (top left hand corner).  All the way at the end, at the blue star, is the Oakville Grocery – which spelled coffee and the end of the ride for me, but only a break for Andrew and Jean-Guy, who once again persisted – riding back along the same route, but diverting to the Rutherford Hill Winery at the top of that hill (see the red star).  They are champions of the saddle and the chain ring!  Naturally, after lunch, Andrew, Jean-Guy and Ashley finished the ride back to the hotel, while Janet, Ray and I wanted to keep the lovely Ryan company in the van back to the hotel.

After the champions got back to the Hotel (during which time I could have a lovely shower and relax!) – we all hopped in the bus to go to the beautiful Chateau Montelena winery. This winery recently featured in the movie Bottle Shock, which tells the story of their chardonnay winning the 1976 Judgment of Paris blind tasting which finally garnered attention for the Napa Valley from wine connoisseurs worldwide.

As our winemaker friend James reminded us before we left, however, plenty of non-French wineries have won it since – but it was the signature mark of this winery, so they heavily traded on it.  Apparently the movie stars Snape (not his real name) from Harry Potter – whatsisname?  Ah yes – Alan Rickman – so, it might be worth watching… we’ll have to add it to my list (apparently I have been culture deprived not having seen Casablanca, Midnight Cowboy… and a few others that came up during our movie referenced cycling tour).

Chateau Monteluna

The grounds have a beautiful landscaped garden…

…which provided a brilliant photo opportunity.

 Ahhh…. the last tasting for the tour.
Cheers Team!

Fortunately, we were back in time for me to have a facial at the full service spa on site – recently rated #1 Spa in the Americas by Conde Nast Traveller. I know… it’s a hard life, but somebody has to do it.  I couldn’t beat Janet though – who had already had a facial and a massage – by gosh that girl could book a spa treatment!  My facial was lovely – and I’m sure I looked years younger…

Before we went to dinner – we all met in the Lunar Room for a tour debriefing.  Cocktails and nibblies were on offer, and Ashley and Ryan had prepared a video montage for us!! How cool!  If you want to see it, in fact, if you are close friends we will probably thrust it upon you anyway – but if we don’t for some reason – then you should ask to see it as it’s a great little 3 minute capture of our cycling holiday!

Here are the nibblies we got at the showing of our video montage…
Nice work Ash and Ry!

I know, I know…. you’re probably keen to see the dinner photos – ah well, without any further ado….

We had our last group dinner, at Solbar, the restaurant at the Solage Calistoga, where we were staying.  Hold on people – Michelin star food coming up….

Solbar at the Solage Calistoga

755 Silverado Trail
Calistoga CA  94515
(866) 942 7442
Open:  Daily  7 – 11am, 11:30am – 3pm, 5:30 – 9pm

I was very excited, as Solbar was the first Michelin starred restaurant that I have dined at! I was very keen to see how the quality compares to our own hatted restaurants in Australia.  The restaurant describes its fare as “creative California Soul Food inspired by the freshest locally grown, seasonal ingredients”. If breakfast was anything to go by, dinner was going to be something special.

In terms of ambience, the dining room is quite spectacular.  No expense has been spared, with a lovely lounge and bar area at one end, and an incredibly wide and spectacular fireplace, at the other.  Our table was right in front of the fire, so within minutes Janet, whose back was to it, had asked for it to be turned down.  I was sitting next to her, and glad she spoke up – otherwise we might have ended up being one of the courses!!  Roasted cyclist anyone?

Handmade gnocchi

Andrew’s starter was handmade gnocchi, local white chantarelles (which I got to eat because he doesn’t eat mushrooms), parsnips, solbar pancetta, fresh thyme.  Very nice according to Andrew.

Slow cooked pork belly

You know – I have trouble going past pork belly when it’s on offer – so I had to have the crispy slow cooked pork belly, served with broccoli salad, apple-miso soubise, scallion vinaigrette, and pickled shitake (Yum!).

Andrew’s main was Snake River Farms flatiron steak, olive oil fried yukon gold potatoes,
charred red onion, creamed spinach and beurre colbert.

My main was seared diver scallops (gotta love them), calasparra rice with
chorizo and king trumpet mushrooms, saffron butter and cracked almonds.

I’m still amazed at the gargantuan and gorgeous scallops over here, and these were no exception. Beautifully seared, and juicy and plump, soft and tender and sweet. The calasparra rice was interesting as it was done more as a pilaf than a paella, being quite dry and loose.  I think I would have preferred a paella style, with a bit of moistness.  Nonetheless, it was still a stunning dish.

Dessert for Andrew was Robin’s Chocolate Cake with old Rasputin
stout ice cream, mustard caramel and sea salt pretzels.

I had the Valhrona chocolate marquise with salted pistachios and
grand marnier crème anglaise. Absolutely lovely!! Rich!!!

What a lovely night… probably the best food on the tour – although it was a bit of a tight call with Bodega Bay Resort and Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen definitely top contenders.  I think we’ll have to call it a draw!!

Solbar on Urbanspoon

Our only hitch – in order to get in a ride on our last day, we had to do it before breakfast.  That meant getting up at 6:30 am.

I felt like such a piker losing my mojo today – that I committed to doing the morning bike ride.  Unless it was raining. Right??  Everyone agreed that was reasonable!