What do you call a chef who makes his own pancetta, bacon, pasta, salami, sausage, breads, cheeses, and ice cream?
I don't know, but I know one when I taste his food. And I tasted it on two visits earlier this month at Chef John Cataldi's Solstice in Kingston.
Our first visit to Solstice - housed in the old brick Kingston train station - was the Friday night before the vernal equinox. We were encouraged by the crowd of couples and singles drinking and dining at the large bar as the tables filled up.
The first bite of the first appetizer cued us into what kind of place we'd stumbled upon. The second bite lifted our eyebrows, and they didn't lower until we'd finished dessert.
The musky lamb skewer ($10) seasoned with garlic, rosemary, and coriander was deeply delicious. And the ravioli ($10), in a light butter sauce with delicate strips of asparagus and small bits of pork belly, was a delicious partner to the lamb.
Our server told us that the duck breast with duck leg confit ($26) was one of the restaurant's big favorites and that Cataldi gets complaints if he switches it out when he changes his menu - which happens at least quarterly.
Mouthfuls of the crispy confit leg smoldered with flavor atop a hash of butternut squash, apple, and pork belly - over a parsnip puree. The rare, sliced breast meat was delicious and less rich than the leg, a situation that was both lamentable and appreciated.
The miso-lacquered salmon ($23), new to the menu that evening, was a culinary world unto itself. The filet came atop a spicy pile of shelled soybeans - edamame - that were tastier than I've ever had them - wonderful. The proteins come on a light saucy field strewn with sweet lump crab and a mouthwatering smear of a buttery aioli. Festooned atop the thick salmon filet, which was grilled on its bottom skin, was a bright Asian vegetable salad, punctuated with a few rice noodle crisps.
The lemon house sorbet was every bit as lemony sour (and sweet) as I hoped it would be, but have rarely had before. It was so light and bright and fresh, it felt as though it must have been melting away the calories we'd just eaten.
The restaurant was a bit less crowded on the Sunday evening after our first visit: there were fewer Friday night locals at the bar and a couple more Sunday best, multigenerational dining parties. The chicken under a brick ($23) (from Bell & Evans hormone- and antibiotic-free poultry) was layered in two large crispy pieces over fresh spinach and sided with cheddar and chive potato nuggets.
My first bite of a lardon of house-cured candied bacon tasted like a whole mouthful of French toast with maple syrup and bacon in one small meltingly tender square. So, so delicious!
The chicken was crispy, with plenty of moist white and dark meat to tuck into.
The evening's special chili-dusted hanger steak ($25) was a fanned-out layer of thick medallions interspersed with slices of ripe avocado and a sprinkling of fresh cheese. The small salad of "Mexican street corn" it came with was spicy, sweet, and delicious. Another side of tomato jam - made with slow roasted tomatoes, coriander, and a bit of cinnamon - was reminiscent of applesauce, but better. The steak was bawdy and great.
Although the sorbet beckoned (what must Cataldi's strawberry sorbet be like?), we did our duty and ordered his trio of chocolate treats ($8). The three confections were beautiful on a small rectangular plate: a chocolate panna cotta, two small triangles of chocolate toffee crunch, and two Oreo-sized ice cream sandwiches.
Cataldi, who has a degree from New York's Culinary Institute of America, grew up in the restaurant business. His father owned restaurants in the '60s and '70s in Dorchester and Weymouth and, more recently, Pembroke's Cafe Christina.
After cooking at several places, Cataldi and his wife, Hollie, who runs the front of the house, opened Solstice in 2004. It's an amazing restaurant two minutes off Exit 10 on Route 3: a perfect spot for Bostonians to meet friends from the Cape for dinner. This is one fine restaurant more than worth the trip.