Chef Gustavo Rios gushes with gratitude expressing how honored he is to pay tribute to his Mexican roots at the new Picobar at the Auberge Resort and Spa in Calistoga. “It’s very personal and hits home for me. I’m humbled to do this at Solage—they took a leap of faith with me.”
Part of the Auberge Resorts Collection, Solage recently tapped Napa Valley architect Howard Backen to conceptualize and design the resort’s new contemporary wooden barn structure surrounded by panoramic mountains and picturesque vineyards. Solage’s 130-foot landmark pool now features private cabanas, daybeds, chaises, and the star of the show, Chef Rios’s Picobar poolside restaurant.
“Picobar is the vibrant, playful younger sister of Solbar, the signature Solage restaurant,” said Rios, also executive chef of Solage. “For me, Picobar is a perfect marriage of the two places I am most passionate about in the world.”
Rios hails from Ensenada, Mexico, part of the California Baja, but he is quick to point out that Picobar is not only about Baja cuisine. “We’re 75 percent Napa and 25 percent Mexico. But it’s an homage to Mexico, not only from me but from my crew too. They come from all over—Oaxaca, Michoacán, Sonora, and Guerrero. I take my ideas and incorporate traditions and cultures and techniques from all over to create them.”
“Picobar fuses Napa’s amazing fresh seasonal products with Mexican flavor combinations for simple food done really well,” Rios said. For example, Picobar’s Pico di Gallo incorporates juicy, ripe peaches because peaches are in season in the Napa Valley right now.
When asked about diner favorites, Rios said, “There are so many, but Whipped Avocado Dip is a must.” Featuring avocados from Bernard Ranches in Riverside, Calif., pistachios from Napa Wild in Napa Valley, and kale, cilantro, and lime, the velvety dip is served with fresh corn chips or fresh vegetables. In addition, the menu, which is almost exclusively gluten-free, offers plenty of vegetarian and vegan options. “Baja meets California,” Rios laughed.
According to Rios, Tacos Al Pastor is quickly becoming the most-requested dish. The pineapple-vinegar rubbed pork is roasted on mini spits, then served with guajillo chili marinade, avocado crema, charred pineapple, and corn tortillas. The Ahi Tuna Tostada is a crowd-pleaser as well, made with avocado, jicama, radishes, and sesame salsa.
“Pico,” which translates to “peak,” captures the ethos of the year-round eatery, using peak in-season ingredients from local and regional purveyors. The restaurant’s Aquachile showcases a serrano, mint, and cucumber-cured fresh Pacific Kampachi straight from Monterey Fish Market in San Francisco. And the Queso Fundido uses Marin’s Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam triple cream cheese melted with poblano and served with locally made flour tortillas.
“I love that we can offer this level of cuisine in a flip-flop friendly environment that showcases my culture.” After all, he shared, “I am from Ensenada [Baja]; it’s in my blood, runs through my veins.”
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