This trip saw a return to two of our oft-visited area restaurants, CIA and Solbar, one big disappointment and discovery of Archetype, another new (at least for us) valley favorite.
- Archetype (St. Helena). What took us so long to discover this two-year old restaurant? We shared two dishes: peanut-crusted soft shell crab with hearts of palm and green tomato relish; and bacon-crusted Alaskan halibut with manila clams, grilled ramps and marble potatoes. Both excellent, as was our server who helped us begin the evening right by helping us decide between two Pinots, proactively offering to exchange it for the other and, when he saw that I wasn’t drinking much, offering a free glass of the other wine. (We both preferred his recommended wine; I just didn’t need much more wine, after another day of tasting.
- California Culinary Institute (St. Helena). We have always enjoyed our CIA meals and this time was no exception. A double hit with my seared duck breast with mascarpone polenta and Joyce’s mushroom and goat cheese ravioli with little gem lettuce, roasted garlic croutons and a bacon vinaigrette.
- Market (St. Helena). A casual lunch at a popular restaurant. The “Lobster Rolls” are essentially rice paper spring rolls with lobster, papaya and asparagus, with a basil-mint dipping soft. Interesting concept, but what seems like frozen lobster limited the taste. The fried soft shell crab sandwich with bacon, watercress and tomato was quite good, especially with the chipotle aioli sauce. The onion rings were addictive.
- Cooks (St Helena). Three people recommended this restaurant so highly that we had to try it. Three of the four of us tried different versions of the restaurant’s pastas. While the cavatelli with sausage was probably the favorite, followed by the overly salted risoto with pancetta and fried softshell crab, these, and especially the seafood tagliatelli with white wine sauce were big disappointments. The fourth dish, grilled octopus with a “gloppy” saffron vanilla bean aioli, bordered on inedible. A huge disappointment, especially given the build-up it had we had gotten.
- Solbar (Calistoga). Lovely atmosphere and amazing chilled corn soup (with avocado, lime and cilantro)-incredibly rich and creamy, with no added cream. The spicy shrimp lettuce wraps (rice noodles, tamarind dressing, avocado and dipping sauce) and yellowfin tuna burger) were less inspired.