Ever on the lookout for innovative, cutting edge restaurants, my bride and I came across a new kid at 6700 Gulf Boulevard at St. Pete Beach. If that address sounds familiar it's because this was the home of Cafe Luna, a gastronomic beach fixture for many years. Alas, the owner of Luna got tired and sold the place some six months ago, but fret not my fellow gastronomes, Sola Bistro and Wine Bar has filled this culinary black hole.
The Belle of Gulf Boulevard and I walked in to this eatery around four one recent afternoon. We had our choice of tables since the dinner crowd had yet to arrive. This was to our advantage since we had the undivided attention of owner Tigran Khachaturyan, or Tig for short. Tig gave us a much appreciated explanation of the food and wine menus along with the Sola concept.
Sola has a concise menu with fixed choices that change little over the course of time such as steaks, seafood, pork kabobs, and chicken dishes prepared with an Armenian or Russian flare. What really piqued our interest were the cheese and charcuterie, and nose to tail choices that change weekly depending on what is fresh and locally available. If you visit their website you may join their mailing list to be notified of special offers and events. Tig mentioned that a whole roasted sucking pig would be available in the future.
There is a most impressive wine list with selections by the glass and bottle from France, Spain, and California as well as a few surprises. We were surprised by a superb red from Georgia. Heavens no, not that Georgia!
This bottle came from a country that probably started producing wines some 8,000 years ago. Saperavi is Georgia's most widely grown wine grape and it enjoys the most popularity in Western markets of any native Georgian variety. The juice of these fruits also runs purple -- not clear, like most grapes -- and produces a wine so dark the Georgians call it "black wine."
As a side note, European vintners traditionally discard the grape stems when making red wine. The unique character of Georgian wine derives from its fermentation along with the stems, seeds and skins in huge clay vessels lined with beeswax, called qvevri.
Our bottle of Saperavi provided an excellent pairing for our entrees with a color that was a dark ruby with blackberry notes on the finish. We also got the last bottle in stock. What can I say - "You snooze, you lose." I am sure Tig will order more of this impressive wine.
My bride and I began our food and wine journey with a couple of glasses of Prosecco to accompany our appetizer selections. While waiting Tig presented us with an amuse bouche of figs and house made chorizo with caramelized onions, toasted pine nuts, and a balsamic drizzle. Our bouches were delightfully amused.
What made the carpaccio a stand-out was the adornment of pomegranated seeds as opposed to the ubiquitous capers. The pork belly had a crisp bark on the bottom of the unctuous layer of flavor topped with tender, juicy pork. The salad provided the perfect foil for the richness of the pork belly.
Speaking of pork, Tig suggested the Pork Kabob for my dining partner. This tender and flavorful pork was marinated Armenian style with thinly sliced onions, pomegranate seeds, and an exquisite roasted eggplant salad.
I was torn between the Rabbit Cacciatore and Sterling's Rib Eye. I think what pushed me over to the 16 ounce rib eye was the Maker's Mark au poivre sauce with black peppercorns. It has been said that everything is better with bacon. Well, I am here to tell you that even bacon can be bested by a good Kentucky Bourbon. The only thing that could have made that bone-less steak any better would have been a bone. I do so love gnawing on the bone.
After the appetizers, the kabob, and the steak my bride and I were done, D-U-N, done. "Not so fast," said Tig as he presented the Belle with a complimentary Honeycomb Cake in honor of her birthday. Unlike a baklava, this cake, baked by his wife, was a dichotomy in that it was moist and dense yet light and airy. This cake is based on a traditional Russian recipe and was the perfect end to a perfect dining adventure.
Our total for all food and wine, minus the honeycomb cake, came to a pleasing $154.08. We added an additional 20% gratuity for the other servers and the kitchen staff.
The Piglet Parade dines anonymously and except for my bride's birthday cake we do not accept freebies in exchange for our reviews.