HAVING booked dinner for three at Calistoga, I was half-tempted to squeeze in a late lunch beforehand. My reservations about going home hungry were spuriously based on its boast of being “a taste of California in Edinburgh”. Given that my only experience of Californian dining was repeats of the reality TV show Vanderpump Rules, that didn’t bode well for big eaters like myself.
The show follows the fortunes of the impossibly glamorous staff at Sur restaurant in West Hollywood, owned by Lisa Vanderpump, cast member of The Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills. The “Survers”, as they are known, only seem to wait the odd table in between meltdowns and modelling jobs. So while the restaurant is always packed to the gills, I suspect most of the customers have been waiting for starters since a week past Tuesday.
More fool me. My note to self when I turned up at Calistoga was a reminder not to rely on reality TV as a substitute social life and get out more. While I’ve been glued to repeats, this restaurant has been clocking up accolades over the years, including a recent AA rosette.
I’m relieved to find the atmosphere is a million miles from the glitzy drama of TV’s Sur. With prints of sun-baked Napa valley vineyards on the walls and books on Californian wines gracing shelves, it feels like a scene from Sideways, the charmingly sozzled road trip movie round the wine country. Indeed the restaurant, which is named after the Napa County city, has an online business called Sideways Wines.
With my two friends now ensconced and sharing a crisp Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc (£15.50), we were more than ready to tackle three courses.
My generous portion of avocado, pomegranate, feta, flame grape and heirloom tomato salad was a steal at £7. The juicy sweet and slightly tart taste of the pomegranate married to the tangy saltiness of the feta with the king of tomatoes, the heirloom, bringing up the rear along with the creamy avocado, was a seasonal delight.
Friend one opted for the seared king scallops with spiced puy lentils and onion fritters (£9). The fritters were pleasingly chewy, although the lentils could have handled a bit more spice, she concluded.
Friend two had black olive croquette and cheddar croquetta with piccalilli (£8). Her verdict – tasty and quite filling for a starter.
For my main course I chose the free range chicken and chorizo skewer with roasted vegetables and cilantro yoghurt (£18). Char-grilled, the chicken was moist and full of flavour and perfectly complemented by the smokiness of the chorizo.
Friend one’s flat iron steak with hand-cut fries and peppercorn sauce (£18) got a thumbs-up, although she wished she had some wilted spinach as a side to balance the dish and add a different texture. Meanwhile, friend two’s monkfish scampi with sweet potato fries and lemon sauce (£17) was a good combination with the sweetness of the fries working well with monkfish.
The desserts too didn’t disappoint. My granola flapjack with meringue and fruit compote (£7) was the delicious balance of crispy chewiness, while the dark chocolate and Oreo rocky road with toffee sauce (£6) could have done with just a touch more toffee sauce (although my friend admitted that might just be greed talking). The third dessert of raspberry crème brûlée with cinnamon shortbread (£6) was delicious and not too cloying. Dinner for three, with drinks, came to £128.
To quote the former governor of California, Arnie Schwarzenegger, in his Terminator role: “Hasta la vista, baby.” I’ll be planning a return trip soon.
70 Rose Street Lane North, Edinburgh EH2 3DX (0131-225 1233, www.calistoga.co.uk)
Main courses £16-£18
Puddings £6-£11 Cheeseboard from £7
ALSO ON THE MENU
Wine buffs can enjoy the full Napa Valley experience at Calistoga’s Thanksgiving wine tasting fair, buffet and dinner on 26 November. According to the website, the owners are not long back from a trip to California visiting vintners and wineries and there will be more than 60 wines to try on the night. The tasting and two-course buffet at the fair is £25. Alternatively, you can attend the fair for £10. Or if you want to go the whole hog, it’s £35 per person for the fair and a special dinner.
The restaurant is also open on Christmas Day. The four-course lunch is from 12.30pm until 3pm with the three-course dinner on from 6pm. Both menus are £55.