Sola: Sometimes So Good, Other Times So So
Will and I got married in Kauai, so we have a nostalgic fondness for Hawaiian cuisine. When Sola Restaurant (3868 N. Lincoln Ave.) opened in Chicago many years back, we were among the first there to enjoy Kalua pork and other distinctly Hawaiian dishes.
We’ve returned to Sola several times, often times marveling at how amazing some flavors are. However, other dishes don’t quite measure up to the price point they occupy. In a recent trip with two friends, I had a similar experience.
We started with Artichoke Fritters—with “truffle aioli, soy-lime sauce.” It’s a good dish I’ve enjoyed several times, and a safe dish to order with vegetarians. Perhaps it seems there could be more artichoke fritter halves, but I’m willing to believe that perhaps these are organically sources artichokes and therefore more precious.
The Waygu Beef Tartar appetizer special was very prettily presented. As you can see in the picture on the top of this post, instead of the usual raw egg (or raw quail egg), there is a tempura soft-boiled egg sitting on top of a small mount of beef tartar. Ultimately, the egg was somewhat disappointing because it was quite cold inside—perhaps something they needed to do in order to tempura fry it without overcooking the egg?—but it was a beautiful presentation. The pickled green beans you can see on the left side of the picture was an unexpected big hit for our table.
One of the main dishes was a vegetarian burger, but that didn’t seem very special. I’m not sure any of us would go out of our way to order this dish again at a slightly upscale restaurant. My Waygu Burger was better, and one of the diners at our table declared it not only her favorite dish of the evening but one of the best things she’s tasted in years. I'm not sure I'd go quite that far, but I enjoyed it. I love Cambozola cheese (Camembert with Gorgonzola), and caramelized onions, and bacon, and pretzel buns, and Kobe beef, but as another friend mentioned, perhaps all that resulted in a little too much flavor competition. I might skip the bun next time and go the way of Prairie Grass’s award-winning sirloin burger.
The third main course sort of represents what is both “so good” and “so so” about Sola. I loved the very crisply fried green beans on top, and the edamame puree on the bottom was a clever idea on making the dish more Asian-inspired. But the salmon itself didn’t taste very “ginger-glazed.” And while I’m not normally one who complains about portion sizes in fine restaurants, I thought the dish was fairly insubstantial at $27.
So, a mixed-positive review with great appetizers and some winning main courses. What’s not mixed, however, is the experience of being able to relax with refills of coffee towards the end of a Friday evening. Even though the restaurant seemed mostly full, it wasn’t packed with hungry and hip diners eyeing our table at 9:15pm. The atmosphere—with a fireplace and convivial people—was a great addition to dining enjoyment.