Friday, November 06, 2009

The Solo Restaurant Experience

Debbie & I went to Solo for her (mhm)th birthday, whose executive chef is Hung Huynh, a winner of the Top Chef program. We hadn't been since their merger with Prime Grill, and it is now an amazing experience, instead of just pointlessly expensive.

This post is composed of Debbie's Livejournal description, coupled with my long addition in the comments section.

Debbie's post:

Tonight, [info]jonbaker took me to Solo, which is a fine-dining kosher restaurant on 5th Avenue, with Hung from Top Chef at the helm.

It was LOVELY. The bread came with a humous spread - sun-dried tomatoes, paprika and garlic mixed in. We both had appetizers - Jonathan had grilled eggplant salad with microgreens and tiny tomatoes. I had salmon carpaccio dressed with soy and wasabi, with microgreens in a nice vinaigrette including jalopenos and avocado, plus parsnip chips. It was perfectly balanced between the spicy and the creamy, the smooth and the crunchy.

For mains, Jonathan had a chicken rice clay pot with yu choy (a green) and enoki (a vegetable). It was rich and gingery with caramelized soy sauce. I had short ribs braised in plum and beer with mashed potatoes and turnip puree, and crispy shallots. It was rich and sweet and falling-apart tender. And then we had dessert. I normally do NOT get dessert, but this time - well, on the dessert menu was a list of ice creams and sorbets, and one of the sorbets was papaya-szechuan pepper. There was no way I could resist. It came as three scoops, which could be taken all in one flavor or mixed. I decided to mix - the papaya-szechan pepper, mango-lime and vanilla. That last was an ice "cream." The waiter approved. And then my silly husband told him it was my birthday. So not only did we get the nice dish of ice cream and our espressos, but also a tiny pice of cake with a lit candle and a cookie (a nice, crisp delicate toile) with happy birthday in chocolate syrup.

The ice creams were so amazingly yummy - the vanilla was intense and I couldn't tell it was non-dairy, the mango-lime was nicely balanced, and the papaya-pepper was AMAZING. Sweet, cold, hot and spicy at the same time - it made my mouth very happy. It also went well with the vanilla and the mango.

It was the best meal out ever.

My addition:

The chicken/rice was not the usual Chinese dish, but interesting.

The waiters show up with the pot on a plate (small covered casserole), warns "extremely hot, don't touch", and takes the cover off with a napkin. Second waiter pours a measured amount of sauce (mostly soy) over the chicken and rice, then stirs the whole thing.

First bite of chicken, an explosion of ginger. But the ginger didn't permeate the rice. The remaining pieces of chicken were gingery, and felt like they were covered with a chinese white ginger sauce.

The rice was for the most part wetter/creamier than I think of Chinese rice, and had these things like vermicelli noodles mixed in. But the noodles were the finely julienned "enoki". Not much flavor, but texture felt like vermicelli - sorta rubbery noodles, but when you bite down, you feel the longitudinal plant fibers. Yu choy was somewhere between broccoli rabe and bok choy. Broccoli-shaped pieces with leafy, not flowery ends, with a bok-choy-like flavor.

As I got towards the bottom, I noticed a thin burned layer on the bottom, which was full of flavor from the soy sauce, and didn't actually taste burnt. I think the pot was so hot, that when they poured in the sauce, it ran to the bottom and caramelized on the hot surface.

I encouraged Debbie to have some dessert, so I could have an excuse to ask the waiters to do the birthday thing. Debbie was modestly saying she didn't want the minor birthday fuss, but secretly she did want it, so getting the dessert made an excuse. You can get warm chocolate cake or apple crisp at all these places. She had her eye on some house special dessert, but I thought it looked way sweetsier than she would like. So she looked at the sorbets - she likes sour, and hot mixed with sweet, so the papaya-sichuan-pepper thing called to her. I had the sorbets as well, we both kept taking tiny spoon-dips, and they were terrific. Mixing the fruit flavors with the vanilla made for the most terrific Creamsicle-like flavor.

Dinner that's a sensory delight as well as delicious and nutritious, waiter service that's heavy without being overbearing (lots of guys, but not pestering us too much, and in the case of the chicken dish, having two guys to prepare it at the table made it that much more impressive), and a mostly pleasant ambience (a bit loud, and there was some annoying percussion coming through the PA, and they seated us near the kitchen/service area - but even that was fascinating for Debbie the budding chef), made for a lovely evening, and one of our top three restaurant experiences.

5 comments:

Mike S. said...

What are microgreens?

thanbo said...

mixed greens, mesclun, whatever you call it. radicchio, frisee, baby spinach, etc. that kind of stuff.

Lion of Zion said...

short review: was it worth the price?

thanbo said...

Short answer: I don't know. I have a psychological trick to make it seem cheaper than it is - I use a gift check for $100 that I got as a longevity bonus at work a couple of years ago. It's still my money, but it feels like less out of pocket, because it's set aside to defray fancy dinners.

The total bill, including tax & tip, was about $190 for two of us, with wine, two appetizers, and dessert.

Pesky Settler said...

Thanks for participating in the November KCC! Please don't forget to spread the word and post a link to it in your blog. Happy Thanksgiving!