When one edits a newspaper section devoted to life’s culinary pleasures, one is often asked the same questions: “Are there are any nice restaurants in Edinburgh?” “Isn’t it all deep-fried?” “Do you even like whisky?” While those questions are tiresome, the question I live for is of course “What is your favourite restaurant?” because my response is practically instantaneous: Calistoga Restaurant on Rose Street.
Calistoga is a Californian restaurant, I explain. Does California have a unique cuisine? they enquire. No, I respond, but they only serve Californian wine, so there you have it. Calistoga’s very existence is based on the state’s oenological output. In a lesser restaurant, the food might suffer due to this emphasis on drink over food, but since Calistoga is anything but a lesser restaurant, this is not true.
The menu changes every month based on the machinations of Gordon Minnis, the owner, and is reminiscent of The Kitchin’s capacity to come up with fascinating, unique combinations which seem familiar but are probably like nothing you have seen or tasted before. The starters are typically unexpected marriages between meat and vegetable: from their May menu, Calistoga offers smoked haddock, corn, potato, and pepper chowder or pressed smoked pork, shallot, and sweet pepper with raisin citrus honey to start. What even is raisin citrus chutney? Order it and find out, because that’s the American way.
The main selection of grills, sauces, and sides (all for under £20 and excellent quality) is also a more than compelling reason to cross the Princes Street divide. For dessert, you’d have to be a cheese-eating surrender monkey to not be moved by the blueberry and vanilla cheesecake.
But Calistoga would not be what it is today without the American pioneering spirit of doing things Europeans do, except better and weirder. At the Judgment of Paris in 1976, a Californian chardonnay and a red wine beat out their French cousins, and the French have been smarting ever since. Calistoga’s wines, from its pinot noirs to its zinfandels, may make you question your allegiance to the Old World wines which are the staple of supermarkets and drinks cabinets in this country. But Gordon Minnis acknowledges that Californian wine is a difficult beast: "Californian wines comprise some of the best and the worst in the world." But what would dining be without varying pitfalls? Calistoga will lead you off the beaten path, but you will never go over a cliff as long as you stay critical and alert. A unique evening guaranteed.
Calistoga Restaurant 70 Rose Lane EH2 3DX