A taste of California on a gritty Edinburgh side street.
Calistoga is situated down an alley where restaurants are apparently sent to die.
Rose Street Lane North is a dusty, rubbish strewn and generally deserted backstreet, the kind police advise you not to walk down late at night. At one end is a small, unwelcoming boozer; at the other an “exclusive” gentlemens’ massage parlour.
Half way along sits Calistoga, an outpost of west coast Americana in the midst of a dingy Scots wasteland. It’s not the first restaurant to occupy this insalubrious location. Tony Singh’s excellent Roti used to dwell here before a disastrous relocation to Morrison Street and prior to this was the well-received but ill-fated Martins.
Calistoga used to have a popular and praised Southside base before moving permanently to their new central location and one has to hope their gamble pays off as they go to great pains to provide a dining experience that is as near to California as you can get.
Come evening they specialise in American grills and sauces, but you can also get an excellent two course lunch for just £11.50. As Father is about to leave town for one of his regular San Francisco sorties, he seems an appropriate co-diner today.
It’s not Calistoga’s fault it seems so unwelcoming. Whilst there is one other table of diners present, the elegantly furnished room feels dark and bare, an effect exacerbated by the window view of the large waste bins outside. However, the lone waiter is friendly and informative about the food and drink on offer while the live relay of a Bay Area radio station is a cute idea, though timing means we’re getting their breakfast DJ and I’m sure no-one wants to hear U2 bluster out “Pride (In The Name Of Love)” over lunch.
We eschew their excellent wine list, geared entirely towards displaying a wide range of Californian wines, and treat ourselves instead to a couple of Sierra Nevada pale ales from their equally impressive beer choice.
Starters are pleasantly inoccuous though difficult to get excited about. My pressed cob chicken and corn terrine with potato salad and mustard dressing is meatily robust though slightly too chilled. Father has a tortilla, vegetable and chilli broth which is indeed a thick spicy soup embedded with shards of tortilla used in a crouton-like manner. Nice, but that’s about it.
Mains easily salvage any problems thus far. Although tempted by the chargrilled ribeye, it carries a £3 supplement, so I satisfy my meat lust with a loin of pork chop with lemon rice in a sour cream and lemon pepper sauce. The slab of perfectly cooked meat which arrives on my plate is a real All-American portion and the zesty piquancy of the sauce is the ideal complement for the pork’s slightly charred flavour.
Father has the tempura of whiting with fries and chunky tomato salsa, or fish and chips to you and I. It’s a perfectly Americanised take on fish and chips, though, with a light, crisp batter only slightly let down by having a soggy bottom. Once again it’s a truly magnificent plateful of food to bear witness to and we certainly can’t accuse Calistoga of not offering value (or quantity) for money.
So much so that we have to wave away the temptations of dessert, despite the mere £3 supplement and potentially tasty dishes of orange couscous cake or panacotta, mousse and sorbet strawberry three ways. Considering this would have still only taken our lunch up to £14.50, drinks aside, that’s bargain pricing for what’s on offer.
North American food always feels like an anomaly in the UK. We think of it as being hamburgers and barbeques, “Man Vs Food” and the obesity option to go Supersize. There aren’t many restaurants in Edinburgh specialising in this part of the world and Calistoga deserve great kudos for their enthusiasm in communicating what’s special about Californian food, drink and lifestyle. In order to do so further, I fear, they may have to move away from a grimy city centre lane.