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Apr

04

2004

Globe South

Bella English

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Pity the poor waiter who spills red wine on the (unbeknownst to him) restaurant reviewer's table. That's what happened on a recent night at this six-month-old restaurant tucked in a former railroad depot. I didn't know who to feel sorrier for: the waiter, or my husband, who took a direct hit of merlot on a new shirt.
Fortunately, my husband is a good sport, and the wait staff moved in immediately, cleaning up the mess, showing us to another table, and bringing us complimentary glasses of wine. They apologized profusely and offered to pay the dry-cleaning bill. What more could they do? Actually, they brought a glass of club soda to the table, to blot the wine stain.

You can judge a staff not just by how they serve, but how they react in such situations; here, it was very professional.

The interior of the former station, which dates to the 1840s, is lovely, with exposed brick walls, muted lighting, a lively bar, and a sunken room off the main dining area with a working fireplace.

Obviously, word has spread Solstice was filled on a recent Friday night, with a girls' night out crowd at the bar and friends and couples filling the tables. There's a happy, relaxed vibe to the restaurant. This is a fun spot to get together. As a bonus, there is ample parking space in the big lot.

But it's what comes to the table that counts. Chef and owner John Cataldi is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. He owned a Nantucket restaurant for three years and grew up cooking (his parents operated several restaurants, including three Nanina's). His wife, Holly, handles the front of the house.
"We're just trying to give this area something that they have a little farther north of us: a real comfortable atmosphere and a menu driven by fresh, local ingredients as much as possible," says John Cataldi.

This summer, an organic farm will provide vegetables, including herbs, baby lettuces, and heirloom tomatoes. He also hopes to add a few outdoor tables, where patrons can enjoy a glass of wine while waiting for a table.

Once you are seated, a basket of warm, dense rolls are brought with the menu.
Among the appetizers, a mushroom tart ($8) sounds great, and it is. A bordelaise sauce slightly softens the mushrooms and thinly sliced onions beneath. It comes on a bed of baby greens.

Don't miss the butternut squash tortellini ($7). This dish is almost a cliche these days, you find it on so many menus. But here it is ethereal: light and airy and sweet, served in a sage butter. It is one of the best of its kind that we've had.
Another sure bet is the grilled tuna ($22). Seared on the outside and velvety rare on the inside, this sushi-quality fish is cooked the way tuna is meant to be cooked but seldom is. It's served over small rock shrimp and fried rice with a wasabi note. It's accompanied by two crunchy spring rolls filled with vegetables, and they have a nice, tangy kick.

A friend recommended the steak ($26), which came medium rare as ordered. It's a tender cut of beef, nicely grilled. This is a straightforward dish with no surprises, unless you count the crispy onion strings on top. Sticking with tradition, it comes on a bed of mashed potatoes with a side of grilled asparagus. It could, in Emeril's immortal words, be kicked up a notch. But steak people will love it.

We adore chocolate and swooned at the fallen chocolate cake and chocolate bread puddings being brought to nearby tables. Unfortunately, we're on the chocolate wagon: none for us until Easter. So we settled for a vanilla coconut tart, served in a banana coulis, and a slice of cheesecake. Both were fine (at $8 apiece), but not spectacular. But we'll be back after Easter to try the duck breast and lamb shank and pan-blackened salmon and, of course, the fallen chocolate cake.



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