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WANTED: Lively, delicious dining in Calistoga area

d
diablita Feb 15, 2007 05:18 PM

I'm plotting a fun Napa weekend to celebrate a friend's 40th birthday next month, and it's been a while since I've eaten in the northern end of valley. We'll be staying in Calistoga and feel the birthday dinner is an occasion where we'll want lots of wine, so we don't want to be driving--a cab for a short jaunt would be okay. We'll be a somewhat large-ish group--8 or 9--and would love a lively atmosphere coupled with really good food. I recall Cafe for All Seasons being good, but it's been a while... Any dinner suggestions? Post-dinner watering holes? Brunch? Any shouldn't-miss wineries? (Not touristy like Sterling; some off the beaten path wineries would be nice.) Lots of the searches revealed older posts, so I'm hoping someone is up to the task, armed with some fairly recent intel on the subject. Looking forward to reading the tips.

  1. maria lorraine Feb 15, 2007 08:53 PM

    Diablita,

    Calistoga is about 3 blocks long, so it doesn't take long to scoop out the offerings
    and decide for yourself. Several posts (some from me) really do have the current info...
    so that...coupled with just walking around will give you an idea. Cabs are relatively unheard
    of here...but St. Helena, with many more restaurant choices, is 8 miles away. I'd recommend you read the posts here, and then wander around...the only recent new spot is BarVino,
    a wine tasting bar...

    1 Reply
    1. re: maria lorraine
      b
      BigWoodenSpoon Nov 6, 2007 12:59 PM

      I went to BarVino last fall and really liked it. It was nice to be able to have several different small plate dishes which were quite tasty and a choice of wines from around the area, etc.
      I'm not sure if they can handle a larger group or if the locals would recommend it,
      but I plan on going again the next time I'm in town.

    2. Carrie 218 Feb 15, 2007 10:20 PM

      I feel like a broken record when it comes to Calistoga....

      Brannan's Grill is group-friendly with great food (their polenta cake is to die for!). Wappo Bistro is way up there for as well, but I always got a little better service at Brannan's.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Carrie 218
        maria lorraine Mar 5, 2007 12:08 PM

        Have you eaten at Brannan's lately?

        If not, there have been quite a few changes in the quality of the food in the last 18 months. On a recent visit, the deep-fried squash blossoms were a disaster: the breading was doughy and gluey and not completely fried. There were all sorts of ingredients thrown on the plate, and none of the flavors congealed or went together.

        My favorite item on the menu -- the rabbit bolognese -- was very, very salty (salt in the meat, salt in the sauce, salt in the pasta water). Obviously the chef in charge was not tasting the dish on a regular basis. And I'm a salt lover. The time before, some unknowledgeable preparer had liberally sprinkled minced fresh garlic -- yes, fresh, not browned, not cooked -- over the top of the dish.

        By the way, none of this was cheap. Brannan's charges Napa Valley prices, so the price/flavor ratio suffered.

        Untrained, unknowing food preparers seem to be in charge of the cuisine lately, and I can no longer recommend the place highly. It's a disappointment because there are few fine eateries
        here (Wappo always always works, especially now since the service is good).

        1. re: maria lorraine
          Carrie 218 Mar 5, 2007 02:17 PM

          Wow, how sad. The last time I ate there was just over 18 months ago. They had some fresh venison which was outstanding and the polenta (which I rarely order!) was out of this world.

      2. j
        jimtak Mar 5, 2007 02:08 PM

        Wappo is always a delight.

        1. t
          tigerwoman Mar 5, 2007 02:20 PM

          whenever we visit northern california from New York and are in Calistogia we always go to Wappo. Go for a mudbath too - it's fun and you feel so relaxed afterwards.

          1. foodiegrl Mar 5, 2007 04:34 PM

            I heartily throw in my vote for Wappo. If the weather cooperates, I highly recommend sitting out on their gorgeous terrace.

            1. f
              Foodluver2 Nov 1, 2007 12:46 PM

              I have an amazing dinner at Brannans. They have a new chef and a new menu. Give it a try!

              1 Reply
              1. re: Foodluver2
                maria lorraine Nov 1, 2007 04:42 PM

                What dishes did you have that you enjoyed? And when did you dine there?

                I must admit, foodluver2, that I'm skeptical to recommend Brannan's to folks, especially Chowhounds. Brannan's will get a new chef, things will be fine awhile, and then the cuisine will go downhill. I can't recommend it because it's inconsistent, and while it may be fine now, in a few months (if history holds) it will slide south again.

                For the prices they charge, the quality isn't there. Much better food elsewhere for the same or less money.

                And I don't like saying this. I really, really want to like the place -- I live in Calistoga so it's a local spot for me, within walking distance.

                I love the flavors of the dishes at Wappo Grill, and the prices are reasonable. Now that service has improved at Wappo Grill, I'll take it anytime over the iffy cuisine at Brannan's. Sorry.

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