The whole Branzino or sea bass I enjoyed at Solaia, a fine-dining Italian restaurant in Englewood, hid a big surprise.
|Fat Beef Short Ribs were boneless and bathed in a red-wine sauce.|
By VICTOR E. SASSON
We walked into Solaia a little after noon today, but the dining room of the Englewood restaurant was empty.
The man behind the bar assured me lunch was being served and told us to pick any table.
The next surprise was the lunch menu, which was filled with prices you see at dinner elsewhere, with entrees priced from $22 to $32.
I had purchased a Living Social voucher for $15 that entitled me to $30 worth of food, and doing so for two people at Solaia suddenly didn't seem like a good idea.
But the beautiful, well-prepared food won us over, and the entrees were generous, allowing us to take home leftovers.
I've eaten a lot of whole branzino, a farmed sea bass from Europe, but the fish on Solaia's lunch menu is absolutely tops ($25).
The fish was perfectly grilled in an open kitchen at the back of the dining room -- with a crispy tail -- and topped with artichokes, olives, tomato and caramelized garlic.
Fresh juice from a half lemon on the plate was all it needed.
But the big surprise was that it had been deboned, the first time I've ever had a whole fish that was as easy to eat as a fillet. Delicious.
My wife's Beef Short Ribs, also boneless and covered in a red-wine sauce, were fork tender ($28).
We started by sharing a well-prepared Caesar Salad ($10). My only complaint: It was skimpy.
|A half-portion of the Caesar Salad with freshly ground black pepper.|
Don't go for the service
Eventually, other lunch customers showed up, but only a half-dozen tables were occupied, and one man ate at the bar.
Still, service was casual, and our waiter never recited the day's specials to us.
We chose a bright table for four in the window, and I always get a kick out of how the busboy rushes over to remove extra place settings, including cloth napkins and glasses.
The bartender was very accommodating when I couldn't find the waiter. He packed up our leftovers and three fat slices of dark, crusty olive bread, marking the cover of each container with the contents.
Our check totaled $37.41 with tax, plus the $15 I had paid for the voucher, and I tipped 15% on the full value of the food, which was $63.
That's a splurge for lunch, but the whole branzino is so good I might go back someday and pay full price.
I put my leftover fish in the refrigerator at home and forgot about it for a few days.
When I opened the Solaia container, I was surprised and disappointed the bartender didn't give me the head of the fish with its delectable "cheeks" and other morsels.
What he did give me was as good as I remembered.
|In the dining room, dark wood, paintings and beautiful wall sconces.|
|Both dining rooms at Solaia have bars, and the one not in use at lunch today is decorated with a mural, above. Singer Tony Bennett's son once ran a recording studio just up the street from Solaia.|
|I soaked crusts of the raisin and olive bread in a good olive oil, but my wife ate three whole slices with butter.|
Solaia, 22 N. Brunt St., Englewood; 201-871-7155. Valet parking available.
Web site: When you want to splurge
On today's visit to Englewood, I saw many changes in the food scene I described in a post two years ago: