Friday, May 8, 2009

Stuff to Eat in the Suburbs: Waltham—Solea

Solea is my husband's favorite restaurant and one of mine. We used to drive from Malden just to have their amazing duck in berry sauce. I can't recommend them highly enough.

Halfway down Moody Street, a yellow awning above a wall of tall windows marks the entrance to Solea, Waltham’s only tapas restaurant. The large menu can accommodate even the choosiest of diners, and the festive yet cozy atmosphere makes Solea the perfect spot for a large party or a quiet date night. Recently renovated to offer even more seating for the weekend dinner crowd, Solea also features a cozy bar with smaller tables for folks who just want a quick bite while waiting for friends, or who want to augment their drinking experience with some delicious small plates.

Solea is an old favorite of this Bostonist, who used to make the forty-five minute trek out to Waltham at least once a month just to have dinner there. The sangria, both white and red, is a must-order—not too fruity and not to bitter—and comes in pitchers as well as by the glass. You often forget how much you’re drinking because it pairs so perfectly with the food.

And what food it is! Normally, an order of three tapas per person is sufficient. However, the great thing about Solea is that if you realize you’re still hungry you can always order more. The food turnaround is fast and efficient, and despite complex orders placed by multiple diners, the courteous and knowledgeable wait staff has never gotten this Bostonist’s order wrong.

While all the offerings are tempting, there are a few dishes this Bostonist cannot leave without sampling. The sizzling garlic shrimp and the goat cheese with tomato and basil are usually some of the first items to arrive. Tiny shrimp float in a sizzling bowl of garlic oil alongside delectably thin slices of salty garlic and chili peppers, all waiting to be scooped up and heaped atop a piece of dense bread. The tomatoes and basil are thinly diced and baked into a soft puddle, topped with a warm baked goat cheese also deliciously accompanied by Solea’s dense bread slices.

The next tapas to come out are often the artichoke and spinach fritters and the collard greens with pine nuts and golden raisins. While this Bostonist believes that Solea does everything well, one thing that they are exceptional at is sauces. Their artichoke and spinach fritters are crispy on the outside and spongy on the inside, with the spinach and artichoke incorporated so perfectly that there are no strange texture interruptions. But the real star of this dish is the sauce: this Bostonist doesn’t know exactly what is in the sauce but its creamy texture and salty-sweet flavor is the perfect accompaniment to the fritters. You find yourself dipping every bite. The collard greens are still a little crunchy but cooked enough to keep them from being leafy; their bitterness pairs perfectly with the sweetness of the raisins, and the pine nuts give the whole dish an added dimension by adding a completely different texture.

The final dishes to arrive, or at least the last ones this Bostonist eats, are the grilled chorizo and the roasted duckling with berry sauce. The chorizo is delightfully salty and Solea grills it to perfection, a little crispy but mostly tender and completely flavorful. For those of you who don’t like a lot of spice, don’t worry; these babies are as mild as they come. The roast duckling is the dish this Bostonist ends with every time. Again, the Solea chefs show their sauce chops by creating one of the best berry sauces this Bostonist has ever tasted. Blackberries seem to be the main ingredient but there must be something else as well to make this sauce as complex as it is. The perfect balance of tart and sweet, the sauce compliments the salty, meaty flavor of the duck in ways that defy explanation. This Bostonist can’t recommend it highly enough; it is truly one of our favorite dishes.

The dishes described above are by no means the only things to order at Solea--everything is a treat. We recommend you try everything since you never know when you’ll find a new favorite.

In addition to the standard fare Solea’s chefs regularly try out new tapas so don’t forget to check your menu for the new items. Their desserts are tasty and well paired to the cuisine. This Bostonist highly recommends the chocolate almond cake with fresh berries and whipped cream and the crepe with a vanilla cream, fresh berry and dulce de leche filling if you can find the room after all of those tapas.

Once afflicted with the popular Boston no-reservations rule, Solea has eased up in recent years and now accepts reservations by phone and through open table. This Bostonist highly recommends Solea for any gathering from small and intimate to large and boisterous.

You can check out their menu on their website

This post originally appeared on the Bostonist.

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