Review: Sol y Sombra Spanish Kitchen - Scottsdale, AZ (w/ photos!)
A couple of weeks ago, fellow food bloggers Tim and Tara and I headed over to Fenix for a Thursday evening dinner. While the meal was decent, the highlight of the evening was the conversation. Because we all seemed to have a great time, we decided to get together again but to try our hand at tapas. Since I had never been to a tapas restaurant, I was glad to join in and, hopefully, get some guidance from Tim and Tara.
We arranged a time to meet and Tim was gracious enough to make a reservation. I was the first to arrive at the DC Ranch area and the parking lot was an interesting obstacle course. but I was lucky enough to find a spot near the elevator that took me to the second floor of the complex where the entrance to Sol y Sombra was located.
Since I wasn’t sure if Tim and Tara had arrived, I walked in to take a look around and the volume level hit me like a sack of wet cement. It wasn’t just loud; it was very uncomfortable. I looked around and realized that I had been the first to arrive, so I headed back to the entrance and waited. Tara arrived and said Tim was parking the car. She peeked into the restaurant and immediately said, “Wow, it’s really loud.”
Tim joined us shortly thereafter and we were taken to the back of the restaurant and seated at a table for four. We were handed menus as well as a list of specialty drinks. Our server arrived and asked us for our drink order. Tim and Tara just stayed with water and I ordered a Diet Coke ($2.50). Our server advised us to order a few plates at first and then to add more as we needed.
After a review of the menu, we chose our first plates. Tim ordered the Gazpacho ($8.00). Tara had the Romaine Hearts with Garlic Dressing and Sauteed Shrimp ($12.00). I selected the Soft Lettuce Salad with Manchengo Cheese and Marcona Almonds ($9.00). We also ordered a plate of the Pan Con Tomate ($4.00) and the Bocadillo de Chorizo with Scrambled Egg ($8.00).
Within a couple of minutes, Tim’s Gazpacho arrived and it was served in a beautiful, but simple bowl. What immediately struck me was the consistency of the cold soup. It looked creamy; a fairly radical departure from traditional gazpacho. Tara passed on the soup because she wasn’t a fan but I took a taste. I am not much of a fan of gazpacho either, but I really liked the complexity of the soup. Tim liked the soup as well and had no problems polishing it off.
As this point, there was a very odd period where various people arrived at our table trying to bring us dishes that we hadn’t ordered. First, we were brought an order of the asparagus. Then, it was the serrano ham dish. This was followed by a dish of chorizo. Oddly, when we would say the dish wasn’t ours, we would get a curt “Are you sure?” from the staff.
The Soft Lettuce Salad with Manchengo Cheese and Marcona Almonds arrived and looked like an artistic head of lettuce. In essence, bibb lettuce and some romaine were mixed with a slightly tangy, but somewhat creamy dressing. We all liked the texture and taste of this salad, particularly the dressing. What surprised me, however, was how mild the cheese was. It was almost tasteless. The almonds added a very welcome crunch that contrasted well with the lettuces.
The Romaine Hearts with Garlic Dressing and Sauteed Shrimp was presented on a very long plate with the hearts of romaine dressed on one side and a stack of five shrimp on the other. The romaine hearts were fantastic. Crisp, fresh and cold, the lettuce was wonderful. What struck all of us was the intensity of the garlic dressing. It was phenomenal. We all agreed this was the best thing on the plate. I didn’t have any of the shrimp, but they seemed to be okay based on the comments from Tim and Tara.
The Pan con Tomate was a plate of four slices of thick-sliced bread topped with butter, garlic and tomato puree. After each finishing a piece, there was no consensus on the bread. I thought the flavors were really bright and tasted a lot of tomato and garlic. Tara thought the flavors were subtle and that was appealing. Tim felt the bread was rather bland in taste. We did like the texture of the bread, but it was interesting that we all tasted something different.
The Bocadillo de Chorizo with Scrambled Egg was a sandwich composition of soft, white bread, cheese, eggs and chorizo. Well, we thought it was supposed to contain chorizo. The bread was soft and light, the eggs creamy and the taste was good. But Tim and I couldn’t detect chorizo to save our lives. We saw flecks of what was chorizo, but even those small flecks should have contained some flavor. Instead, the lack of any kick from the chorizo just made this an egg sandwich. A very good egg sandwich, but not much else.
At this point we returned to the menu and placed another order. We selected the Tuna en Estillo ($10.00), the Roasted Mushrooms ($12.00), the Patatas Bravas ($7.00) and the Pollo Colonial ($10.00). I had also selected the Pear with Goat Cheese and Almond ($8.00), but our server indicated he would bring that at the end of the meal since it was more “dessert like.”
While we waited, we finally had a chance to relax and take in the surroundings. The interior was spartan. The walls were blue grey but were bare and the only decorations were the bowls holding candles that sat on the window sills. Those combined with the concrete floors amplified the noise and made the volume level very high. It was a very hip look inside, but a few flairs with art would have really brought the room some warmth.
The Tuna en Estillo was a small oval bowl of a tuna mix served with big chunks of water crackers. Tuna wasn’t my thing, so I was more than happy to rely on Tim for his impressions. Overall, he seemed happy with the dish. He did say it was rich and substantial, but I got the impression it might have been a bit overwhelming. Tara wasn’t much into the tuna either, but both her and Tim said the crackers were very good because they had a very slight sweetness to them.
The Roasted Mushrooms were a small bowl of a variety of mushroom. I wasn’t sure of the exact mix of mushrooms, but I detected some crimini and, perhaps, a few sliced portobello. What I loved about the mushrooms was the slightly smoky flavor on them. It really was a nice taste sensation to balance out some of the other dishes we had. Tim and Tara also enjoyed the mushrooms as well.
The Pollo Colonial was a plate of chicken pieces with a slight crispy exterior and a sweet glaze. Tim and I took a first bite of the dish and it was great. The texture was good and the glaze was perfect for the chicken. What caught us off guard was the spicy heat from the dish. It wasn’t present at first, but then it came out of nowhere and both Tim and I were wondering when the spice would plateau. It was, ultimately, a very spicy dish.
The bowl of Patates Bravas was radiating heat when it was set on the table. We each grabbed a few of the potato nuggets and let them cool on our plates. After one bite, we were hooked. They were incredibly good. The exterior was exceptionally crunchy and the insides were soft and pliable. It was such a great combination of taste and texture that they became instantly addictive and we were glad we had ordered them.
The final dish was the Pear with Goat Cheese and Almonds. A half of a pear was poached and then topped with a dollop of goat cheese and then was placed on a dish with a red wine reduction. I thought the creation was outstanding. Tim and Tara didn’t like it, but I think that had to do with how in-your-face the flavors were. The reduction was quite striking but paired very well with the cheese and fruit. If I had one complaint, I thought there was too much goat cheese for the dish. Still, I thought it was the best dish on the table.
After polishing off the last of the pear, we requested our bill. The total was $97.75. Since I had never been to a tapas restaurant, I wasn’t sure how the pricing structure was in comparison with other places. I thought the prices were rather high, and Tim and Tara assured me that the prices were on the high end for tapas. Service was okay, but could have been much better. Our server seemed to be attentive at times and not at others.
The one thing that is very clear at Sol y Sombra is that the ingredients used for the tapas are top notch. Everything was fresh and high quality. That is why we had almost no complaints about the food outside of personal tastes. I had a good time at Sol y Sombra and will return in the future.
I only wish the noise level would have been much more reserved. The conversation with my dining companions was just as important as the food.
Sol y Sombra Spanish Kitchen
20707 North Pima Road
Scottsdale, AZ 85255
Dress: Resort Casual
Hours: Tuesday through Sunday - 5 PM to Close; Sunday Brunch starting at 10:30 AM; Closed Mondays.
Notes: Valet parking available. Patio seating available.
Alcohol: Full bar service.
Additional photos can be found at www.feastinginphoenix.com
Sol y Sombra
Closed, Scottsdale, AZ 85255
As always, a great review. I think that I'll wait until it is less a "happening" place, and maybe the db level will decline.
I've yet to try tapas in Phoenix. We've got some favorite spots in London, that are great for dropping in after the theater, or a long meeting. Somehow, I associate tapas with walking in after 10:00PM, and I'm usually heading home to bed, when in PHX. Why do I stay out so much later, when traveling?
Totally off the subject: Seth, you and many others have used the little red markers in your posts. Can you lead me to instructions for adding them? MapQuest? I've looked on CH, hoping to find the info, but am obviously looking in all the wrong spots.
re: Bill Hunt
I do hope the noise level drops, but with all the bare, hard surfaces in the place, I am not sure that will happen anytime soon. But let's keep our fingers crossed.
The red markers are for the new "places" that Chowhound added a month or so ago. When you post a topic or a response, there is a link next to the "Post my Reply" button that says "Link to a place BETA." When you click that, you will get a drop down box that will ask for the name of a place and the city and state. You then hit the button and it gives you one or more options to click. Choose the correct one and then when you post your topic or review, it will show up like mine did for this review.
Once it is in your post or reply, you can click on that link and add information such as cuisine style, hours, website, etc.
It is a great addition to the site.
re: Seth Chadwick
Cool ! I had seen them, but have been gone for almost 2 weeks, so they were new to me. I'll check them out to see how it all works.
As for the surfaces - that is a real problem for me, and too many designers seem to be enamored with LOUD places. Maybe I am "old school," or just old, but I want to hear my dining companions and seek places where conversation is possible. I suppose that some of it has to do with the folk, with whom I dine - they have things to say, that I want to hear. Just glad that the "dating scene" is many decades behind me, as I would not last a nano-second with today's high db levels. I hope that soon, the restauranteurs will move on to something else.
re: Bill Hunt
I will weigh in and say that I am young and went on a date here and was overwhelmed by the noise. My boyfriend and I literally spent most of the meal saying "What??" or just looking across the table in silence. It was uncomfortably loud.
Part of the issue was the sparse non-noise-absorbing decor, and also that the chair set-up and tables force you to sit at a normal dining distance from each other - unlike a bar or communal tables (although Sol y Sombra does have a communal table and I will try that if I go back) - so you are physically too far away from your dining companions to be able to speak over the noise.
Also, and this goes with the location and neighborhood, but at a starting price of $10-$15 per glass of wine and up to $20-25 or more (if I recall correctly) and tapas ranging from the lowest at $7-ish but many protein dishes being nearer to $20-ish, I found myself rather uncomfortably thinking about price. I cannot stand a good meal ruined because I am obsessing over the bill - and I wasn't even paying for the meal!! In my experience (and this was just 1 time) 2 glasses of wine and 4 tapas will be $100 easily.
In my perfect world, tapas bars are like I found them to be in Spain - friendly, cosmopolitan, noisy, cheerful, affordable and accessible. The food is great, but because of the fun people you are talking with, the drinks you are drinking and because a few bites of anything tastes great as compared with a big plate of something. Just my opinion of course.
I guess I just thought Sol y Sombra was very good in 2 ways - good looking and quite good tasting (cannot say even 1 bad thing about the food, all was excellent) - but I felt like it missed the whole point of a tapas bar and instead was a scene-y, noisy Scottsdale restaurant.
I think you'd like Lola Tapas in Central Phoenix. It can be quite loud, but the communal tables put you close to your companions (and others). It has the various good qualities you mention: friendly, cosmopolitan, noisy, cheerful, affordable, and accessible.
800 E Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85014
Oh yes Silverbear!! I adore Lola - much closer to my idea of a tapas bar.
I went with a friend for the first time last week and we had 4 drinks and 4 tapas and our bill was $50 - quite reasonable. We also could hear each other just fine at the communal table over the friendly background noise and felt cosy and at home.
I WILL go back there quite a few more times!
re: Bill Hunt
We've been to Sol y Sombra several times, and it's never been overwhelmingly noisy or crowded. The trick is to go early on a weeknight or Sunday. We've found the service to be quite attentive and personal at those times, as well. This restaurant is pricy for a tapas place, but that's to be expected given its location. I thought Seth's total of just under $100 was quite reasonable for four people at this restaurant.
Thanks, as always, for the review. I've been to Sol y Sombra several times now, and although I agree the noise level is higher than a regular restaurant, I did not find it as distracting. As part of a party of 4 I was able to hear everyone and converse without much issue. However, in larger parties, it was very difficult to hear folks at the other end of the table. It's certainly not a quiet restaurant, but they are looking for a more "happening" experience, I guess.
That said, I always find the food and flavors to be fantastic. I have yet to try something on the menu that wasn't great, and I've worked my way through most of it at this point. I'm far from a tapas expert, but the food there is really great.
They also have a great wine guy who put together the interesting list of wines from Spain, knows them inside and out, and has several times made recommendations that were excellent. I know next to nothing about Spanish wines, so I enjoyed learing and tasting with the guide of an expert who was very down to earth and approachable. I found much of the wine list to be very reasonable, as well.
Thanks again for the great review.
I frequently read/leak but seldom post. but after several locals helped me recently on a trip, I vowed to "pass it on"
Anyway, I keep kosher which is almost like being a vegetarian (I eat fish, but no shellfish and almost no meat), and am very picky, so I have found few restaurants in the phoenix/Scottsdale area that I love or return to frequently. we eat out at least twice a week (have a permanent babysitter-YEA!!:)
(boy, how many qualifiers do I need before I discuss the restaurant???)
I actually said to my wife last night when we ate here, I think this may be the best food in arizona. and with the exception of Sea-saw, I think it is true. I have eaten here over a dozen time without ever having a bad meal. The menu changes every few months so as not to get board. Almost every dish is prepared in a thoughtful manner, with interesting flavors, tastes and textures. I do agree that the noise level is way excessive, but the food is great. the wine list is also superb (for an all Spanish list). as an cork dork, I find this as important as the food. (although this is one of the few places I would eat without wine if necessary).
If you have not been here, do your self a favor and go.
I ate here last week because of all the positive reviews garnered here and I have to say that I was extremely underwhelmed.
Nothing was really fantastic to me. In fact, I came back to re-read this review and replys to see what was truly said. I have pretty much an opposite view as to everything offered here save for just a couple things.
I didn't think it was too loud at all but I wasn't really focused on that either so who knows. I sat at the bar and ordered a few things - the sweet & crispy pollo, the bocadillo with chorizo, the gambas, and the pear. I noticed that the room was pretty much wide open. In fact I would say that it was not even 1/5 full. Then again, this was a Tuesday night so take that into consideration.
I thought the pollo was decent enough but the glaze was tremendously odd. It was an aioli of sorts but yet not quite that consistency either. The flavor was good enough and there was a hint of spice but not overwhelming like some have said. I thought it was good but not great. Another thing I noticed was that it was a pretty big portion for supposedly being tapas. That's not anything to complain about but rather an observation.
The bocadillo was pretty tasty I thought. I didn't have the trouble of the missing chorizo. In fact, the dish tasted of that more than anything else. There were somewhat larger chunks of chorizo as opposed to small flecks of it. The bread for the sandwich that I was served was definitely on the firmer side, bordering on flat out hard. However, the eggs were creamy and the dish was again just okay with all things considered.
The gambas were actually pretty tasty. They were very well prepared - not overdone and not raw either. The garlic aioli that was served with it had good flavor as well. This was my favorite dish.
I also ended my meal with the pear as suggested by the bartender. I had such high hopes for this dish as I absolutely love goat cheese and this had all the makings of perfections. The pear was underdone and the red wine reduction had an odd flavor to it. The combination was great in theory but they didn't quite pull it off, IMO.
I had a couple glasses of the white sangria with my meal and that was hands down the best thing I had there. I would go back just to sit outside with a pitcher of white sangria. All things considered, it seemed to me that in that restaurant the emphasis was put on the atmosphere and decor rather than the food which is never okay for me.
I'll head back to try it again but I'm not in any sort of rush to do so.