After my rant about Christmas menus, it was always going to be interesting at my own work’s Christmas lunch, this year. I was confident that Calistoga would see us right, though. It has a very solid reputation for December value, and a number of folk I know value it very highly as a regular dining spot.
This was my first visit, aside from a couple of trips to arrange the booking, so judging it under such hectic and not entirely sober circumstances isn’t completely fair, perhaps, but I got a pretty good sense of the place, from this encounter.
It was lunch for 19, with diners split across two tables in the area that doubles as their wine shop. We had the run of this smart section, which suited us very nicely.
Service was crisp, accurate and friendly, with all staff members incredibly prompt in meeting our various requests, and where particular questions were asked, fitting answers soon followed.
Rather than having to place orders in advance, which is often the way with large party dining in December, the restaurant stuck to the more usual format, with orders taken round the table. I ordered the winter vegetable and barley broth to start, with slow-cooked beef to follow, then cheese to round things out. Bottles of house red and white were ordered for the table and regularly replenished.
Starters went down very well. My broth was pretty good, with a good wholesome heartiness to it. It was a very suitable winter dish. Of the others, the smoked mackerel terrine was a particular crowd-pleaser.
It’s worth pausing now for a short digression about the wine. It was universally proclaimed to be excellent. Indeed, many enjoyed it rather more than the food, overall. Certainly, it planted the seed in many people’s minds to return to Calistoga for one of their regular wine tastings, in the future.
Main courses soon followed. My slow-cooked beef was very good. The mustard mash was powerfully mustardy, and the spaghetti strands of beetroot brought some nice earthiness to proceedings. Another vegetable element wouldn’t have gone amiss (this was a comment made by many of my fellow diners), and the dish could have used a good dollop more of the mushroom sauce.
A simple duo of cheeses rounded out the meal, with accompanying quince and oatcakes. Of the other desserts, the trifle divided opinion, but the brownie was generally thought to be very good.
As coffees and teas arrived, we contemplated the bill. For around £30 each, we’d been served three good courses accompanied by a profusion of excellent wine. During the festive season, that represents excellent value. Accordingly, I’d strongly recommend Calistoga as an excellent venue for December dining.
As for the overall verdict, I was impressed with the place. I wasn’t blown away, and indeed one of my colleagues characterised it as “very pleasant but not exciting”, but I thought that a little harsh. The place suited our needs beautifully, the service was very nicely judged, and the food was of a very decent quality. When I come back for another visit, I’ll be better placed to judge things in terms of the full capabilities of the kitchen, but I left very pleased with my first experience of Calistoga, and would certainly advocate it as a place for others to visit.
Blythe scores Calistoga
3.5/5 for food
3.5/5 for presentation
4/5 for service
4/5 for setting
giving an overall 15/20
Today’s questers were: Blythe and work colleagues
We ate: turkey and sage croquette, smoked mackerel terrine; vegetable and barley broth; slow-cooked beef; guinea fowl; black bream; baked aubergine; chocolate brownie; trifle ginger sandwich; coconut rice with mango; cheese.
We drank: house white, house red, sparkly water, water, coffees, teas
We wore: an array of festive wear
Total bill: c.£700 (19 diners)