How many of you have ever thought of going hot air ballooning? I hadn’t, until Ann Marie and I started doing our Napa Valley Wine Trips and she mentioned that it was something of a bucket list wish of hers. Ann Marie’s birthday rolled just about a week ago, and the birthday wish? To go up in one of those hot air balloons you see floating across Napa Valley vineyards if you happen to be passing by on the earlier side. However. Yes, there’s a however. Long story very very short, we drove all the way up to St. Helena to spend the night there, because call time for hot air ballooning is 6:30am. It had been a terrible, horrible, no good rainy week, and we were worried that the balloon was not going to be able to take off due to more rain. In the end though, after an hour long wait at Étoile at Domaine Chandon, we were told that we were not going to be going on a ballooning adventure due to FOG. Not a drop of rain to be seen, but it was way too foggy for ballooning visibility. Which apparently poses something of a safety concern. On top of which, the ballooning experience is supposed to come with a champagne brunch afterward, which of course you do not get if the balloon ride is cancelled. In short, we were left with a free morning this past Sunday – 7:30 am and nothing to do, nowhere to go. And we had already been awake for two hours.

So here’s a tip for those of you who may find yourselves cruising around Yountville in the pre-8am hours and wondering to yourselves, where can we go to eat? You aren’t going to Redd, let me tell you that. Or Brix, or Mustards, or anywhere else you might have heard serves delicious food. You can try those places closer to the 11 o’clock hour. You could go to Bouchon, and we thought about it, but we wanted a) something new and b) more of a real sit-down brunch experience, and so I hopped on my smart phone as we drove along near-deserted streets. Where did we end up? SolBar.

SolBar is in Calistoga, part of the Solage resort, and a 15-20 minute drive from the Napa Valley Balloons takeoff location in Yountville. It opens at 7am, which was about the only criteria we had on this dewy morning, so we parked, headed in, and hoped for the best. Disappointment, fortunately, eluded us. The Weather Gods must have decided that we’d already had our fair share of that.

Now. Onto brunch. In a word: delicious. Ann Marie and I settled on our usual favorites: Corn Flake Encrusted French Toast for me, and Smoked Salmon with Cream Cheese and Bagel for her. We ordered a side of donut holes to split – “freshly puffed,” our waiter informed us. And a couple of lattes to start. And yes, everything was glorious!! I loved, loved, loved the corn flake French Toast. What a cool way to do it. Plus it came served on a bed of blackberry compote and topped with vanilla mascarpone – I guess the trend in French Toast these days is to top it with a scoop of mascarpone, not that I’m complaining. It was divine.

Corn Flake Encrusted French Toast

The salmon plate looked beautiful – it came with cucumbers, pickles, hard-boiled egg, and capers. I’m not a fish-eater, so I will take Ann Marie’s word for it that the salmon was “the good stuff.”

It was a very good thing that brunch at SolBar was so tasty, because coming off of our disappointment with the balloons, I’m not sure we could have handled any more. Funny that, coming from San Francisco, we’re used to high prices, but the prices at SolBar were slightly higher than even I was used to paying. An eeeeeeeensy bit steep. I guess it has to do with being in tourist land up in wine country. Overall, though, service was super attentive and we walked away totally satisfied and feeling like our day was no longer a waste. I think that’s about all you can ask for, and I would absolutely refer friends and family to SolBar for early morning munchies if you’re in the area. Go there!


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