When I first heard that Calistoga Kitchen was closing last fall, I was sad. The restaurant, set in a white clapboard cottage in downtown Calistoga, had been one of my favorites –– a gem since it debuted in 2010.
But then, this January, the new owners transformed the space into Lovina, and I’m happy again. Celebrating Cal-Med cuisine, the charming bistro delivers delicious, creative sparkle in every thoughtful dish.
There’s a strong team behind this spot on the southeast corner of Lincoln Avenue and Cedar Street. Owner Jennifer Bennett operated Zazie Restaurant in San Francisco for nearly two decades, but as a Calistoga resident since 2008, wanted to put her stamp on something closer to home. So she partnered with chef Shaun McGrath, chef Jenna Hodges, and general manager Kaitlin Jones, all previously with Sam’s Social Club at the Indian Springs Resort just up the street.
First order of business: a gentle refresh for the already pleasant 40-seat eatery and its lovely 20-seat garden patio spilling over with lush trees and flowers behind a white picket fence. The previously gray and cream interior color scheme has been brightened a bit with blue-orange plaid cushions on the banquettes, sage green walls hung with beautiful, curving pieces of wood, and cute little flower vases on the tables. Sound absorbing pads on the ceiling and patio heaters outside are welcome new touches, too.
At Zazie, Bennett was known for her brunch, and here, she’s turned it into an all-day affair, served weekdays 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and weekends 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
I really like the flexibility of a morning meal of warm duck confit spinach salad tossed with red onion, hard-boiled egg, mushrooms and hazelnut vinaigrette ($16).
And I love the option of an afternoon meal of French toast, the thick slab-cut cinnamon raisin walnut bread skillet fried to a custardy interior then topped in berries, real maple syrup and whipped cream ($8/$14/$19 for one, two, or three pieces).
Add in a blood orange mimosa ($12), or one of the wines from the short, Northern California-only wine list, and you’re set.
In a friendly touch, all the wines are offered by the glass or bottle, such as The Grade Cellars Sea Fog Sauvignon Blanc ($14/$52) that comes from vineyards in the Calistoga sub-appellation on Lawley Old Toll Road.
There’s dinner, too, offered Thursday through Monday from 4 to 9 p.m., featuring many of the brunch items plus more elaborate entrees.
The hefty Berkshire pork chop is a fine choice –– my server said it weighed in at 10 ounces –– and the dish sings with vibrant flavors of tangelo-carrot purée and a side of vadouvan-spiced cauliflower, celery root and lacinato kale ($36).
Precede it with an appetizer of tempura maitake mushroom and grilled asparagus salad ($15), and you’ve got an excellent repast. The veggies offer good meaty bites and crunch with a bitterish accent of frisee.
Dinner is also when you can get the sumptuous Baked Oysters Bucher appetizer that’s baked with diced kale, artichoke, leeks, cream, bacon and truffle butter, plated on rock salt. ($12).
Yes, it’s as decadent as it sounds.