The sleek, three-story structure that houses Solas rises above the neighboring restaurants and bars on Glenwood South, its roofline radiating a neon blue glow. Near the entrance, a car park valet waits under palm trees framing the entrance. If it weren't for the scattered patches of residual snow on the ground, you think, this might well be Miami instead of Raleigh. Inside, the hostess greets you, her dressed-to-kill looks a reminder that this is not the sort of place where you show up in a sweatshirt and jeans. She escorts you to one of the tables by the brushed steel-framed windows that define one wall of the dining room. Sheer white curtains suspended from the ceiling surround these tables, softening the edgy architecture with a sultry, ethereal look. Overhead, vermilion light filters through the frosted glass dance floor of the second story nightclub. The floor above that is the rooftop patio and bar, where private lounge areas with cushioned sofas are available by reservation after 10 p.m.
No doubt about it, Solas raises the bar for urban chic style in the Triangle. Question is, does the substance — that is, the food — live up to the style?
By and large, it does. Executive chef Cliff Vogelsberg has worked at a number of fine dining establishments in the area, among them Second Empire and Sullivan's Steakhouse. Vogelsberg draws on his varied experience to produce an eclectic, seasonally changing offering that's as dramatic as the surroundings. Divided into categories labeled Small Plates, Large Plates and Side Plates, Vogelsberg's menu is a culinary kaleidoscope whose colors range from elk carpaccio to Kobe sliders to coriander-crusted sea scallops to pecan-granola sweet potatoes.
Order the Hot Rock from the Small Plates menu, and a few minutes later a searing hot slab of volcanic granite will be delivered to your table. Sizzling on the polished surface of the stone are bamboo-skewered shrimp and strips of filet mignon, a subtle rosemary perfume rising on their steam. A veritable orgy for the senses, the presentation is the distilled culinary expression of Solas' style.
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Panko- and parmesan-crusted portobello fries are rustic by comparison, but they're welcome companions on a chilly night. Another starter option, featuring a small lobster tail split and fried in a light tempura batter, then presented on the shell with a smoked tomato aioli, rates high on the sensory seduction scale. So does foie gras, expertly seared to the point that it melts into a voluptuous liquid in your mouth. The pear beignets that were recently paired with the foie were dense and chewy; they have since been replaced by toasted brioche, which may well prove a more suitable match.
The wild boar chops I happily gnawed to the bone recently are no longer on the menu. Wild boar terrine, offered on the Small Plates menu with fruit compote, toasted baguette and baby greens, should provide ample consolation for those seeking a taste of primitive pork. More substantial meaty alternatives on the Large Plates menu include a thick veal rib chop, braised short ribs and New Zealand lamb chops that are brushed with rosemary chimichanga before grilling, and again just before serving.
Tuna au poivre, ordered medium rare, is competently executed but comes off as ordinary in the midst of so many exotic alternatives. A more tantalizing seafood option is pan-seared Chilean sea bass, set on a vibrant roasted beet butter and topped with a tangle of melted leeks.
Regardless of your entree choice, be sure to supplement it with either the creamy lobster risotto or the white truffle-scented house-cut fries. What the heck, as long as you're indulging, treat yourself to both.
Solas' diverse wine list offers something for every taste, including more than a dozen wines by the glass. The bar is, as you might expect, stocked with an extensive selection of trendy liquors, from cachaça to pear vodka. Fans of traditional cocktails, however, may have a more difficult time. When I tried to order a classic Manhattan, I was informed that the bar doesn't stock rye.
Still, I can't complain. The mojito I ordered instead put me in a fine, sultry Miami mood.