Saturday, October 8, 2016

Another Unique Dining Adventure At Sola

Travel + Leisure and Zagat periodically publish lists of the best destination dining cities in America. If Florida merits a mention it is usually Miami that get the nod. After dining in and reviewing some 350 restaurants in the Tampa Bay area I can suggest that it will be awhile before we achieve destination dining status.

While there are a few innovative restaurants that are contenders, there is one that is far ahead of its competitors in eschewing ubiquity and presenting discerning diners with innovative gastronomic stylings that the adventurous foodie might expect in one of our bigger cities such as NYC, Atlanta, New Orleans, or San Francisco, to name a but few.

My bride, the Belle of Gulf Boulevard, and I have dined at Sola Bistro and Wine Bar on several occasions and each time our taste receptors have been treated to spectacular foods and tastes that simply amaze with uniqueness and complexity.

Last night was no exception with tasty delights that can be found in Spain, Portugal, and Catalonia. With that in mind, we started with a bottle of Viña Mayor, a light straw colored Spanish wine with rich, ripe fruit flavors balanced by lively acidity. Perfect with our seafood, pasta, and fresh salad.

As owner Tig enumerated the appetizer specials, I realized that this night would be a small plates night for me, starting with the Percebes and Calçots.

Percebes are are crustaceans that cling to rocks in places that have a strong crashing surf. In Spain and Portugal, they’re considered a rare delicacy, thanks to their sweet flesh, which tastes a bit like a cross between lobster and clam. There is an art to enjoying these Gooseneck Barnacles. Give the soft end a pinch, then peel back the sheath, and enjoy. I did enjoy these treats immensely.

Calçot is a type of scallion or green onion that is grilled over a hot fire, wrapped up in newspaper, and eaten after peeling with bare hands and dipping them one by one in romesco sauce. The dripping calçot is lowered into the mouth in one go. You repeat this until the calçots are gone. Do it badly and your face, hands and neck end up a black and red mess. Do it well and it’s about the same.

Calçotada is an annual event in Tarragona, Catalonia celebrating the harvest of calçots. Enjoying these scallions at Sola was almost as good as gallivanting half way around the globe. Almost! While the Belle did not share my enthusiasm for the barnacles, she did enjoy the taste and experience of the calçots.

My next small plate was the Grilled Portuguese Sardines with Parsley Salad and toasted baguette slices. I can assure you that there is nothing similar to these Portuguese sardines and what we typically get from a tin.

To eat and enjoy, just slip a blade between spine and flesh and gently glide from one end of the fish to the other. Then lift the flavorful fillet onto a toast with a dab of salad and give your taste buds a thrill.

My last small plate of the evening was the Grilled Lamb Tongue with pomegranate, tarragon, shallot and polenta. I have had lamb's tongue once before, but this grilled rendition was by far the best.

The slightly charred crust gave the tongue a rich depth of flavor that still allowed the subtle taste of lamb to show through. The richness of the lamb was tempered by the tang from the pomegranate. The polenta added a smooth creaminess to this fantastic dish.

My Bride dined a little more conservatively last night with a house salad to start, but this was no simple house salad. With arugula, baby kale, Swiss chard, red onion, blistered cherry tomatoes, house made crème fraîche, blue cheese vinaigrette, and pine nuts the Belle achieved salad nirvana.

From the salad, my Bride moved on to the Made in House Orecchiette and Sausage with Rapini. I was too full for a bite, but it really looked good and she did enjoy this made in-house dish. She took home left-overs and delighted in this taste treat for lunch today.

Speaking for myself and the Belle of Gulf Boulevard, Sola is truly a dining destination. If you consider yourself to be a world-class foodie, you owe yourself a visit to Sola.

For all of that delicious food and the excellent wine, our total for the evening a pleasant $139.10. We added a 20% gratuity.

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