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Calistoga, 70 Rose Street Lane North, Edinburgh
I HAD two good reasons for thinking Calistoga was going to be great.
First up, it won Speciality Restaurant of the Year in February, when I had the honour of hosting the Scottish Restaurant Awards 2010.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it's got a right rotten location.
Tucked down a dank little lane just o Edinburgh's Rose Street, I guess it doesn't get much passing trade.
Which means, of course, it must be the terrific word of mouth about the food that keeps the punters coming back.
Talking of location, Calistoga is just a squirt of baby oil away from an "executive sauna" (that's one of Edinburgh's great euphemisms).
We were going to pop in for a quick aperitif, but we'd already had a couple of stiff ones at Robertson's bar just down the road.
California-style cuisine is what this Edinburgh eaterie is all about. Whatever that means. When it comes to the USA, folks, I've got a strictly monogamous relationship with Las Vegas, Nevada.
However, one of my dinner guests - a lady called Margaret who had recently celebrated her 60th birthday - is probably more familiar with the LA lifestyle. Unless I'm very much mistaken, she even goes to Rod Stewart's hairdresser.
Having paid a small fortune at a charity bash to join yours truly for a review, Margaret (okay, okay, she's actually only 50) was joined by son Gary and hubby Kenny, who she refers to as The Toyboy (I reckon he needs new batteries, Mags).
First impressions of Calistoga? Well, I thought it was a wee bit cramped. Getting in and out of your table to go to the toilet was a bit like tackling the assault course on The Krypton Factor.
However, once I was settled, any grumbles about the surroundings were totally blown away by the treasures on my plate.
Prices are good. The four of us filled our boots with wine and drinks for about £25 a skull (in a touristy bit of the capital, remember).
Lunch is £10.50 for two courses and I liked the simplicity of the pre-theatre menu - all the a la carte mains are half price.
Also, unlike just about every other restaurant in the land, Calistoga doesn't try to kick you in the nuts when it comes to ordering the old vino.
More than 100 Californian wines are featured on the list and they're priced at just £5 above the shop price.
Great stuff. Even though the bottle we ordered was served in one of those stupid plastic flasks that I hate.
All the food is made on the premises - including bread and ice-cream - and one of the chefs has experience of working at three different Michelin-star restaurants. Unfortunately, though, he was a cloakroom attendant.
Nah, only kidding.
The starters were fantastic.
Gary enjoyed a sort of spring roll thing that was packed with BBQ pork and crab, while his mum had the watermelon and goat's cheese. "A strange combo," she said between mouthfuls, "but it works a treat."
Star turn, though, was the generous slab of ham hock terrine ordered by me and The Toyboy.
It was lovely and moist and bursting with smoky, salty flavours. And the spicy piccalilli on the side was awesome (as they say in California).
Even though The Toyboy hates cauliflower, he loved the fiery florets in this unbelievably zingy relish.
When choosing a main course, I'd recommend focusing on Calistoga's grill section: four meats, four sauces, four sides. Select one from each column and start licking your lips.
Gary had the enormous lamb gigot (nice and tender) with pepper sauce and superb homemade chips, while I lapped up the spiced chicken, which had been cooked in an amazing marinade. Aniseed? Cinnamon? Not sure to be honest, but it was fab. And quite different from 101 chicken dishes I've had in other restaurants.
Calistoga's website includes lots of positive customer feedback about the beef - no wonder.
Margaret's ribeye (with a threepepper and port sauce plus sweet potato fries) was "perfect... I haven't had a better ribeye steak".
Toyboy's blade of beef (slowcooked and genuinely melt-in-themouth) was the stuff of dreams.
No room for dessert - even though warm chocolate ravioli and fresh fruit fajitas with chilli mango salsa sounded quite amazing. So we compared notes about a truly great meal over on coffee.
There's a proud boast on the Calistoga website that boldly states: You'll be back!
You bet I will.
Calistoga - Address: 70 Rose Street Lane North.
Food: 5/5 - I predict more awards; Service: 5/5 - worked like Trojans; Decor: 3/5 - cat-swinging strictly prohibited; Toilets: 4/5 - no worries; Value: 5/5 - great city centre prices.
Please note Wine Tastings cannot be booked online.
Please phone or email.
Calistoga Restaurant & Sideways Wine Store.
70/72 Rose Street North Lane,
Edinburgh EH2 3DX
Tel.: +44 131 225 1233
6 days a week
Monday to Saturday
12 to 2.30pm (last orders)
5pm to 10pm (last orders)
We always offer Wine Tasting Dinners Find out more!
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