For those of you that think the western suburbs has little to offer, I "offer" you Sola in Bryn Mawr.
I dined last night (Tuesday) in a 12 table place that by 7 pm was completely filled. That in itself should say something about this place now that the new hands on, efficient and friendly owner, Bryan, took it over a year ago. But the real stuff comes from the kitchen and that new chef has a sophisicated palate to say the least. From divine softshelled crab to butterfish for one, to ribeye steak for another, to a delectable short rib for another, topped off with a vanilla bean creme brulee with just the perfect crunching of fired brown sugar on top to share, we all went away filled and happy.
The plus is that it is also a BYO (they charge a reasonable $2 corkage fee)
I don't like writing negative reviews, especially of small, often struggling-to-make-it, family-owned restaurants. But sometimes you just have to be honest and provide a counterpoint to other opinions. Although I've heard good things about Sola, a small BYOB located on Lancaster Ave in Bryn Mawr, unfortunately my first visit did not live up to expectations.
Upon entering, we found perhaps a dozen 2- and 4-top tables, well-spaced and cosy, although I have to say the decor was fairly basic and uninteresting. Now, I don't mind a somewhat utilitarian room, as long as the food is up to snuff, but Sola could definitely do with bit of interior decorating help.
The restaurant was only half full on a cold Sunday evening in February, but even if it were packed, I wouldn't expect it to be very noisy. Which was a nice change of pace from the typical ultra high-decible BYOB.
Sola was featuring a Valentine's Day menu all weekend, but for some reason it didn't really excite me, so I decided to go with the much more interesting sounding a la carte menu.
Appetizer: Seared Scallops (2 medium-sized), with a few accompaniments that I didn't note except for thinly sliced, unpeeled sunchokes, and sprinkled bacon powder ($15). While the scallops were well cooked, both were very salty (edible, but just barely, and I have a high tolerance for salt), and one scallop didn't appear to be properly cleaned, still having attached membranes. I also found the sliced sunchokes to be an strangley incongruous addition to this dish. Sometimes a contrast of texture really adds interest to a dish, but it had the completely opposite effect here. And that odd white bacon powder (it looked more like white chocolate) had no dicernable flavor and added nothing.
Entree: Filet Mignon, with red wine sauce, Chanterelle mushrooms, and Pommes Dauphine ($36). I ordered my steak medium rare, but it came sliced and a very clearly over-cooked medium. Otherwise, it was tender and flavorful. Unfortunately, the potatoes were also a bit bland.
I felt both these dished (as well as a couple of others that I only tasted) were poorly presented. Obviously there had been an attempt to plate things in an attractive manner, but as with all my own attempts to mimic the painting style of Claude Monet, it really came across as somewhat messy and disjointed. Again, if the food on the plate still tasted great, I wouldn't really have cared.
[Interestingly, Sola also serves Hawaiian Butterfish, which from what I've read seems to be their signature dish. When questioned, the waiter admitted that this was indeed Escolar, a very delicious fish that is notorious for causing gastrointestinal upset due to an undigestible oil that it contains in high quantities. Fortunately, this did not prove to be a problem for my dining companion!]
Dessert--Classic vanilla bean Crème Brûlée, with fresh raspberries ($8). This was a tasty enough version, and went well with our passito. But with four lonely raspberries on top, it was not particularly memorable either.
2008 Domaine du Petit Paris Bergerac Rouge
2004 Massa Vecchia Aleatico (a brilliant, rare wine, and unfortunately not one that I'm ever likely to taste again, now that I've finished my last bottle)
Service, and wine service in particular, was excellent. Notably, the provided wine glasses were the same Schott Zwiesel Tritan Forte that I use at home (both red and white, but not dessert), titanium crystal and very difficult to break (which I proceeded to demonstrate by accidently knocking an empty glass onto the floor, without any adverse consequences). It is so nice to see really good wine glasses provided by a BYOB for a change ($2 corkage). And if the empty wine bottles (Latour, Margaux, Quintarelli...) lining several shelves near the door are any indication, Sola's glasses are often put to very good use.
The owner was also very friendly, and stopped by out table 2 or 3 times (this is apparently a big improvement from the previous owner, or so I hear).
Metered parking (free on Sunday) was easy on the street out front. Sola also recently began to serve dinner on Monday evenings too.
All-in-all, I found our dinner to be a bit of a weak effort of Sola's part. The kitchen showed some promise, but the multiple missteps unfortunately overcame the positives. Perhaps I'll give Sola another chance one of these days, since most of the other reviewers seem to be overwhelmingly positive. But at least based on this one experience, Sola failed to equal the level of cooking displayed by so many of our favorite BYOBs downtown, and even those in the 'burbs.
Thanks for this review. My fiance and I had an unplanned (read: reservation made 1 hour ahead of time) visit to Sola this past weekend for a late Valentine's Day celebration. He ordered exactly what you did, scallops, steak, and creme brulee. I believe he enjoyed everything, though he felt the portion of scallops was a bit stingy given their size and has been dieting lately, meaning everything tastes really, really good to him. I got an off-menu vegetarian entree. I am a picky eater (my problem, not the restaurants), so the only fair comments I can give are, a) My entree was overpriced at $24 for a dish that was small and amounted to lentils, mushrooms, and baby carrots and, b) No one could tell me what it was and seemed to think this was comical. I definitely appreciate that they custom made something, but it would have been great to know what exactly it was when it was put on the table.
There were a lot of service snafus but the owner apologized several times, saying he was down a head waiter due to a weather-related issue. Finally, regarding your decor comment, apparently they had some sort of leak recently. They appear to have removed almost all of their art work from the walls. Their lighting is also different, which is likely not related to the leak, but it is worth mentioning that it normally feels warmer in there as the walls are not normally that bare. Verdict--I have been there at least half a dozen times (at least 4 times under the previous owner and 2 times under this owner) and would return because it is usually good and it is very convenient to me (I live in Ardmore). But, it is not usually my top choice, if for no other reason than they never have a vegetarian option and always have a very limited menu in general which seems pricey for a suburban BYOB (I think the filet was $30+). Thanks!