High ceilings, prominent yet minimal light fixtures, neutral woven whicker platters artfully hung on the wall, beige and gold accents and a real live olive tree in the middle of the restaurant. All of the things you notice when you’re entering Solia suggest a Mediterranean villa on the coast, or a cozy village plaza. You can also see an enormous open kitchen, the work-space for more than twenty chefs from all over the world, designed to be visible but unobtrusive without overwhelming your senses.
Once you’re seated, you will be presented with the choice of two menus. A beautiful three-page card stock menu in muted green and a classic gray, adorned with hand-illustrations and held together with a wooden clothespin. The other option is an iPad menu, perfect for people who prefer visual choices over written descriptions. This is a dilemma for some, the suggestive pictures are so enticing that making a choice is a challenge for even the most disciplined. Solia’s menu sets the bar very high, because you will not accept a dish that is any less beautiful than the one in your imagination.
We started with drinks, which gave us an opportunity to hydrate while we went through the menu. The Sangria with its zesty and citrusy fruits transported us to a summer vacation on the Spanish beach. It comes in a pitcher and served in glass tumbler with a slice of candied orange pinned to it. We knew what was happening, Solia was wooing us with their drinks. The locally inspired Black Sensation drink, fashioned out of activated charcoal, apple spritzer, vanilla syrup, blackberries, cranberry and grape juice tingled our taste buds and prepared us for what was to come.
Having decided on our soup and salads we sat enjoying the atmosphere. There is an air of quiet confidence to Solia. The staff are well informed about the dishes, offering friendly advice on what to order. They come from more than a dozen different countries which mirrors the multicultural cuisine of the restaurant.
Solia is a Mediterranean restaurant, drawing from French, Spanish, Turkish, Italian, Levantine and North African influences. Instead of focusing on a single culinary tradition, they have instead chosen to assimilate all of them without fusing any of them into a franken-cuisine. The menu selections flow perfectly together, showcasing a part of our history where culinary traditions are constantly shared amongst the Mediterranean region and never isolated.
The Lyon Onion soup arrived. Covered in puff pastry, the crust is golden, flaky, buttery and absolutely delicious. The little lion head on the porcelain soup bowl was a sweet pun we appreciated. Our host informed us that there were two ways of going about it. Some people preferred preserving it, completely removing it before tucking into the soup. However, she suggested it should sink into the soup which is what we did. The sweetness of the soup, the crunchy pastry and the creamy Gruyere come together perfectly.
Moving on to our salads we loved the tabbouleh. Sweet chewy sun-dried tomatoes are the perfect addition to the traditional Levantine staple. The Greek Village Salad is topped with an amazing creamed herbed feta that elevates it to a new level. The Pil Pil Prawns arrived in a sizzling skillet and packed a spicy punch. And the Bresaola was a good way to reset our palates for the main course. It’s already one of our charcuterie favorites, sliced so thin they are almost see-through, Solia’s was divine.
Mama Isabella’s Seafood Linguini was created for seafood lovers who appreciate the wholesome goodness of carbs. Shrimp bisque, tomato sauce, fresh shrimps, calamari, cherry tomatoes and herbs dance together in this tantalizing and comforting Italian dish, cooked al dente, of course.
We noticed that each dish came in a matching but different colored plate. Ever curious we enquired and were told that this was an intentional decision to make sure that the colors of the cooked plated dish were either complimented or contrasted with the color of the flatware. An attention to detail that is worthy of respect and admiration and is representative of the work ethic at Solia.
Our epicurean journey was not even half way done and we were already at destination happiness. The main courses are a visual feast. The pictures did not lie, and every dish was exactly what was promised. The Lamb Shank practically fell off the bone from how tender it was. This wasn’t surprising when we found it had been marinated for an entire day then slowly braised for six hours. Laid on a bed of tzatziki sauce which adds to the texture and taste of the dish. Not to be outdone, the Solia Steak was cross- charred on the outside and tender in the middle and covered in a smooth herbed garlic sauce. The rough- cut steak fries on the side will probably be stolen by your dinner companions. The pièce de résistance was the Sea Bass. The skin-on fillet was pan fried to a perfect crisp, on the inside it was just perfect. The verge sauce with capers is the perfect companion for the mild fish and is served on a pillow of fluffy crushed potatoes, snow peas and cherry tomatoes that pushed it into a world where fine-dining and comfort food coexist.
Already stuffed and extremely satisfied our desserts arrived at the table. A classic Tarte Tatin, with layers of caramelized Granny Smith Apples and puff pastry was an explosion of subtle flavors of cinnamon and vanilla. But we fell unabashedly in love with the Pavlova Meringue. A good meringue has a crispy glossy shell, is light, airy with a marshmallow center. Only this one was also filled with a lemon curd and floated in a sea of intense Chocolate Créme. You are supposed to pour the sauce and then crack the meringue with a spoon. It is a sensory delight with flavors, colors, textures and sounds. It was an impossibly high note to end on and despite being absolutely stuffed we had no regrets.
Overall, Solia was an immensely satisfying experience. They have respected the tradition and heritage of all of the dishes they have brought together under their roof. And perfected the technical aspects of cooking all of the dishes and have stayed true to their authenticity. Yet, they have managed to infuse their own flavor and aesthetic to it all.
It is an Audrey Hepburn in a world of Kim Kardashians. The girl next door who is also a princess and knows it. She does not need to flaunt it and instead carries herself with understated grace and elegance. Solia is in the Avenues Phase VI, close enough to everything but removed from the hustle and bustle of high foot-traffic. It is intimate and cozy and would be perfect for a group of friends or a romantic dinner. And the good news is you can enjoy all of this, alfresco in their new Murooj branch opening soon.
Solia is located in the Avenues Phase VI, for more information follow them on Instagram @soliakw.