The cool kids might measure their lives in relation to the characters on Girls, but my friends prefer to see ourselves as the quirky group from Happy Endings, which is basically Friends with younger, funnier people and more pop culture references and mocking of hipsters.
In the best episode, Dave, who has an intervention-proof addiction to V-necks, plans to open a restaurant called Pangaea which would feature 900 dishes from 125 ethnic cuisines. Spoiler alert: This does not go well.
It was Pangaea that came to mind as I looked over the menu at Solea. The restaurant bills itself as "wine, bar & cafe" with a menu that veers from Middle Eastern tapas to flatbread pizza to entrees than span American, Mexican, Cajun and Mediterranean cuisines.
I can't quite decide what Solea is, or wants to be. It feels like no one wanted to make any decisions, so it's a mix of genres and concepts all stuffed uncomfortably together.
For appetizers I started with a trio of smallish scallops, slightly undercooked and accompanied by beach mushrooms, a sliver of basil and a an overly creamy sauce that only exacerbated the faintly gelatinous texture.
I love dates, so I was excited to try a plate of six dates stuffed with goat cheese and topped with powdery pistachio. The dates were rich and flavorful, though the goat cheese was lost in the mix and the pistachio had an uncomfortable drying effect.
My favorite of the small plates was a trio of enormous shrimp, sauteed lightly with a hint of spice and served over a small mound of grits, that while buttery, lacked some creaminess — proper grits, in my opinion, can never be constrained in a mound. They ooze, enticingly.
Moving into entrees, I ordered the Jewel of the East with lamb, which co-owner Amin Safari described as his favorite. With a trio of lamb chops on the plate, the portions were generous but despite a pleasant hint of rosemary the meat was marred by a dry texture, some unexciting saffron rice with raisins and almonds, and some limp, flavorless asparagus.
However, I loved the Natchitoches Meat Pie, essentially a large, Cajun empanada. Despite its heft and a pastry shell that was more thick than flaky, the warm spiced beef inside made for an immediately appealing comfort food. I also tasted the chicken mole, a special, which though mild and appealing, tasted nothing like any mole I've ever had.
The band scheduled to play when I dined had canceled at the last minute, but for a space that has a focus on music and a huge bar, the cocktail program seems remarkably undeveloped, and only a small part of the menu offers small bites or plates to be shared, the kind of food you want to eat while drinking wine and listening to flamenco guitar.
Rarely have I left a restaurant with so few solid opinions, and I have opinions for a living. I can't quite decide what Solea is, or wants to be. It feels like no one wanted to make any decisions, so it's a mix of genres and concepts all stuffed uncomfortably together.
Nothing I tried was truly bad, but neither was there anything — except perhaps the meat pie — that was exceptional, or even beyond the bell curve of mediocre. You can't please everyone, and the confusing identity of Solea is a good argument of why it's foolish to try.