A scene from Top Gun was filmed here, their bartender loves to create artisanal tequila cocktails and to top it off, San Diego Magazine's readers just named their chef, Accursio Lota, as "Best Chef" in San Diego - so who was I to say no when they approached us recently and invited us to stop by for dinner!
Honestly, I am not typically a fan of Italian because I usually associate it with kitschy bottles chianti, heavy but tasteless spaghetti sauce covered pasta and pictures of the pope or mobsters on the walls. Over the past couple years though I am starting to warm up to it. What I discovered at San Diego's Solare Ristorante was a delightful interpretation of classic Italian but merged with the essence of the Southern California farm-to-table movement.
That's a very good thing. Solare felt fresh, fun, and classy with my only regret being that I couldn't sample everything on the menu!
So let's get this out of the way early - the scene in Top Gun is the one where Kelly Mcgillis chases Maverick down the colonnade and then he ignores her as he guns the engine on his bike. In the 80's this was the site of a Navy base but now, Liberty Station is a mixed commercial development with some of San Diego's hottest new restaurants and shopping.
Today, Solare is a chic farm to table restaurant that has merged the traditions of Southern Italian cooking with the fresh ingredients and spirit of Southern California.
We started the meal with a basket of delicious fresh baked bread and a glass of wine.
From there the meal just got better and better with each course including this appetizer, of Wagyu Carpaccio dressed with edible "summer flowers", arugula from Suzie's Farm, 20-month Parmigiano Reggiano, rosemary salt and balsamico pearls. What? what are those you say?
This is the first time I have seen these too but it is a process by which the chef transforms balsamic vinegar into little pearls of jelly. The presentation was was fantastic and this is a perfect example of how they have taken a classic Italian dish and dressed it up into something fitting well into a chic environment with a touch of molecular gastronomy.
The pearls are formed by cooling droplets of the balsamic and agar solution by dropping them into cold oil with a syringe or pipette. As they fall through the oil they form the nice round shape.
Next it was on to our main dishes - I chose the Pesce del Giorno al Cartoccio which is the local wild catch of the day served over broccolini with fingerling potatoes, sea asparagus, clams, nostralina olives, and house made limoncello.
The dish arrives at the table and the waiter literally cuts it open in front of you to reveal the treasures found inside.
Today's wild catch was white sea bass and the flavors combined with the presentation created a fantastic experience that I highly recommend you try.
Heather tried the Risotto Tartufo e Capesante featuring Carnaroli risotto with black truffles, seared scallops, fresh basil and dehydrated lobster roe for added flavor. In case you hadn't guessed by now, her's was excellent as well - though maybe with a bit less flair than the opening of my parchment wrapped treasures from the deep.
While we didn't try their pasta - aside from the risotto - Randy, the owner tells us that they are fresh made daily. Our waitress also highly encouraged us to try the Ossobuco and the Cioppino but it was hot today so we opted for something bit lighter instead. (Though we can't wait to go back in the fall and try those!)
Of course, no fantastic dinner is ever complete without dessert and Solare's chef delivered here as well with dishes that were unique, exciting, delicious and plated beautifully.
While Heather opted for the Crema Bruciata al Pistachio (pistachio creme brulee), I was attracted to the Variegato alle Fragole you see below featuring a vanilla mousse served with Suzie's Farm strawberries, rhubarb, almonds, and prosecco. This desert is probably one of the best desserts I have had anywhere any time. It isn't that it was just perfect in any one particular area but it combined all the things that I love about food - it was exciting and unique, it was visually stimulating, and it tasted delicious ... perfectly complimenting the meal I just had.
After our meal, Randy walked us around to show us two other options for dining - the Chef's Table and the Wine Room.
Both of these rooms are free of charge and do not require a minimum order. However it is encouraged to make reservations well in advance since they are extremely popular.
Solare is located at 2820 Roosevelt Rd in Liberty Station, San Diego. They are open for lunch as well as dinner and every Thursday night they have live jazz!
If you aren't content to simply dine here, don't worry, Chefs Accursio and Brian have that covered too. Every other Saturday they hold cooking classes, you can learn more on their events page.