‘Smoky bacon crisps’. The Silver Fox and I are comparing flavour notes on a particularly lush Old Vines Zinfandel, ‘The Predator’. We’re in the upstairs tasting room at Calistoga, a little late evening sun pushing through the windows makes this a pretty good simile for the California that this restaurant and sister wine shop are devoted to. We’re here to try the Senatorial Package (£36 per person), which sounds a lot more serious than it is. Al, the affable wine guy is taking us on a tour of five West-coast beauties, before we head down to dinner in the restaurant.
Unsurprisingly from the winners of Speciality Restaurant of the Year (Scottish Restaurant Awards), dinner was about bright flavours, delicate presentation, yet thankfully not in LA-style size zero portions!
It happened to be the fella’s birthday, so politeness allowed him first pickings. He started with pork, apple and tarragon ravioli. The light little dumplings, with a satay-like sweet peanut pesto gave a nod to Asian flavours. My warm salad of shiitake mushrooms and asparagus was well cooked, but perhaps lacked a touch of zing or sweetness in the dressing.
For his main, Mister had a plate-spanning T-bone steak that would have satisfied any rancher. Medium-cut and cooked, it came with an aromatic peppercorn and brandy sauce, and crisp skinny fries. I tucked into the perfect grilled tuna fillet, plenty of seasoning and colour on the outside, and a still-translucent centre. The side of red rice and crunchy pepper salsa brought together a dish that was clean on the palate.
Desserts were a little bit naughtier, and quite superb with it. Birthday boy picked the blueberry parfait, which came with a scoop of vanilla cream and a curly tuille biscuit. The concentration from the berries was deep and perfumey. I chose the seasonal ‘apple 3ree ways’, a trio with smooth apple parfait, dainty little cherry apples, and crumble with a whopping hunk of a biscuit as topping. Oh, and I confess to adding in the optional scoop of sticky Oreo cookie ice cream. Both dishes were pretty enough to be cookbook cover worthy.
Wine tasting and dinner packages from £31 a person, three-course dinner £23.50, and only a £5 mark-up on the retail prices of their wines. Argument of Pinot- versus- Merlot is optional!