The New York Times - July 18, 2013
The Sun, the Moon, the Tapas
A Review of SolunTapas Bar and Restaurant, in Woodbridge
Solun Tapas Bar and Restaurant is the sort of place that makes a great first impression. Its brick red color scheme, with splashes of mango yellow and a pair of wall panels partitioned into yellow, blue and red, presents a cheerful, festive air. Then there’s the can-do quality of the staff, from the welcoming hostess to the service crew. And the food, if not quite on the level of fine dining, is often prepared well enough to put diners in a good mood.
Mushroom ceviche with portobello, cremini and oyster mushrooms, red peppers, cilantro, Vidalia onions, lime juice, and sweet potato.
Solun, a contraction of the Spanish sol and luna (sun and moon), opened in Woodbridge in March 2012, an offshoot of Tinto Bar and Tapas (formerly Meigas) in Norwalk. Both are owned by a Guatemalan expatriate, Carlos Hernandez, who, having honed his culinary skills in Spain, serves as executive chef at both.
Like its sister restaurant, Solun specializes in Spanish cuisine with a twist, cross-pollinating traditional ingredients (Bomba rice, Pedro Ximénez sherry, manchego cheese, figs, squid, Serrano ham, saffron), with more unconventional items (chipotle peppers, wasabi, Vidalia onions, chimichurri, guacamole, cranberries).
Even the most Spanish of tapas, tosta de boquerones, consisting of wonderfully tender vinegared anchovies, draped over toasts spread with black olive coulis, receive a modern updating with a lightly smoky chipotle aioli squiggled over the fish. The same mayonnaise crosshatched a pair of delightfully crisp and light empanadas de pollo, which contained a harmonious blend of chicken, spinach, cheese and a touch of cream. (They were, however, missing the avocado purée promised by the menu.)
One of Solun’s most inventive tapas, mushroom ceviche, proved a welcome innovation. This marriage of coarsely chopped cremini, portobello and oyster mushrooms, served in a long-stemmed martini glass and suffused with tangy lime juice, cilantro, tomato, onion and bell pepper, was a refreshing change from the standard fish ceviche. The inclusion of diced, roasted sweet potato was a discordant note, however.
I had no such quibble with the stuffed artichokes, which were presented like twin bells with their long stems pointing upward. The enjoyable filling of finely minced shrimp, peppers and onion inside the hollowed-out artichokes was beautifully complemented by a velvety smooth lobster sherry cream sauce.
Sauces would seem to be one of Solun’s strengths; the highlight of an otherwise unmemorable serving of spinach ravioli was its light, fresh-tasting tomato passata. The citrusy chimichurri sauce — dense with garlic, parsley and cilantro — that accompanied twin skewers of grilled Angus beef was so good I almost overlooked the chewiness of the steak. And a salsalike citrus-mango-pineapple vinaigrette was an inspired pairing with two other tapas, a lovely melding of seared shrimp, roasted beets and avocado, and a serving of crisp-tender grilled baby squid.
In addition to offering 38 tapas, Solun’s menu lists 8 entrees. Among them, I particularly liked the superbly tender boneless Black Angus short rib, accompanied by twin grape-leaf packets stuffed with buttery mashed potatoes permeated with manchego cheese and accented with bits of chorizo. The gambas plato was similarly successful, its moist, flavorful shrimp expertly griddle-grilled and served atop a mound of sofrito-infused chickpeas and spinach. The assertive presence of saffron, however, with undertones of honey, all but obscured any flavor of the advertised ginger-wasabi soy reduction.
Less agreeable was cochinillo de Segovia, an inch-thick square of suckling pig that was crusty and oily. And paella Valenciana, while amply endowed with chicken, shrimp and peas, was marred by shriveled, overcooked clams and mussels, and, again, too pungent a presence of saffron.
Solun’s apple and sweet potato flan had an intriguing flavor, partly overpowered by the Granny Smith apples in the dish; its texture, however, verged on mealy. As for the sorbets, the lemon had an appropriate acidity, whereas the mango was virtually flavorless. Both the caramel and goat cheese ice creams, although so dense as to be nearly cloying, were nonetheless irresistible.
My favorite among these house-made desserts were the Rioja-poached pear, seasoned with just a whiff of cinnamon, and the tres leches cake. After polishing off that cake, its spongelike texture delicately impregnated with cream and condensed milk, you are likely to leave Solun with just as favorable an impression as you entered with.
The Solun Tapas Bar and Restaurant
245 Amity Road
THE SPACE The lounge, with 26 seats, feeds into the bar area. A more formal dining area, with 46 seats, has pocket doors that can be closed for privacy. The terrace flanking the entrance has eight more tables (about 35 seats). Wheelchair accessible.
THE CROWD Couples and small groups of friends, in their 30s and (mostly) older. Servers are attentive and friendly.
THE BAR A total of 42 seats at the counter and at high-top tables. Over 40 wines by the bottle, mostly from Spain, Chile and Argentina, $24 to $69, and 13 by the glass, $7 to $10. A half-dozen beers on draft, $5 to $6. The mojitos ($8) are very good, too. A discount of $2 off drinks and tapas at the bar during happy hour, Tuesday through Saturday, 4 to 7 p.m.
THE BILL Tapas, $7 to $16; salads, $12 to $16; main courses, $23 to $30; desserts, $5 to $8. Same menu at lunch and dinner. All major credit cards accepted.
WHAT WE LIKED Crispy calamari salad, tosta de boquerones, mushroom ceviche, mussels, empanadas de pollo, stuffed artichokes, steamed octopus, grilled baby squid, shrimp and avocado, Hudson Valley foie gras; boneless Black Angus short rib, gambas plato; tres leches cake, wine-poached pear, goat cheese and caramel ice creams.
IF YOU GO Lunch: Tuesday through Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Dinner: Sunday and Tuesday through Thursday, 4:30 to 9:30 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 4:30 to 10:30 p.m. Closed Monday. Reservations accepted; parking in front.
RATINGS Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, Poor.
A version of this review appeared in print on July 21, 2013, on page CT7 of the New York edition with the headline: The Sun, the Moon, the Tapas.
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