Where: JoLe: Farm to Table, Calistoga in Napa Valley
Why we went: Napa Valley may be Michelin-star central, but JoLe caught our eye because its chef owners – Matt and Sonjia Spector – ran the insanely popular Matyson Restaurant back in Philadelphia. Since the husband-wife team moved to Calistoga, they’ve racked up accolades in their new home.
Who’s there? Located in the boutique Mount View Hotel, JoLe oozes sophistication in the only Napa Valley town that still seems agriculturally based. The crowd on a May Saturday night looked Wine Country relaxed, in jean and button-down shirts. At first we were bummed by our table by the kitchen, but then we realized we could watch the pastry chef at work at an open counter.
Chowing down: The menu is made of small plates ranging from $7 to $19. You can put together a five-course tasting menu for $50 (you choose your courses) and add wine pairings for another $30. Between the two of us, we tasted most of the menu – and then added on a dessert course to share at the end.
Among the dishes we picked: grilled asparagus with balsamic vinegar and strawberries, grilled octopus, bacon and chorizo stuffed dates, veal sweetbreads with fava beans, foie gras mousse in endive (yes, this was a very politically incorrect meal), seared scallops with tabboulah salad, crispy duck rillette with dandelion greens, crispy lamb’s neck and pork belly with fried green tomatoes and cheesy grits. Don insisted on splitting a piece of coconut cream pie for dessert.
Um, yeah. We were full.
Libations: Here’s where JoLe made its mark. All of the wines served with our courses were unusual varietals that perfectly matched our food. My grilled octopus came with a 2010 Qupe Marsanne, while the foie gras was paired with a Calistoga Charbono that was so good, I begged the sommelier to let me know where he got it (from a small vineyard called Shypoke). The wines turned what was already an innovative menu into a memorable night out.
Order this: Comedian Jim Gaffigan calls bacon the “Fairy dust of the food world.” Pair it with chorizo and stuff it in a date? If you don’t like it, we probably aren’t friends. You should also save room for dessert; JoLe celebrates its pastries, so much so that the owners have opened The Bakeshop nearby.
Meh: I ordered the duck rilllettes primarily for the dandelion greens, which I love (my grandma used to make salads out of dandelions). But the dish faced stiff competition, so we felt it was the least memorable among them.
The Damage: $216.41.
Go back? Napa Valley is full of so many great restaurants that it’s hard to go back to the same place. But I would absolutely recommend it to foodie friends, particularly if you are staying in Calistoga.
Deets: Open for dinner seven days a week. Make reservations on weekends and holidays.