Nestled among the historic buildings of the former Naval Training Center in Point Loma is a restaurant that defies categorization. Steeped in history, it is decidedly contemporary; yet, amid its modern ambiance, its dishes are rooted in tradition. It offers the gracious, professional service of a fine-dining restaurant, yet with a welcoming undertone that is usually only displayed in private homes. And then there’s the food—drawing on the traditions and flavors of Italy and the clean, fresh aesthetic of Asian cuisine, it is truly one of a kind. To defy boundaries, to integrate a myriad of influences into a single, harmonious concept—this is the very core of Solare Ristorante and Lounge.
The restaurant was destined to be unique. Four years in the making, it opened in early 2008 as the sole restaurant in the historic NTC Promenade, a cultural center home to various non-profits, art galleries, and educational organizations. Co-owners and husband-and-wife Stefano Ceresoli and Roberta Ruffini, who also own Caffe Bella Italia in Pacific Beach, were selected by the NTC Foundation to bring a passionate, family-run restaurant to the cultural center.
Located in an old Spanish-revival building, the restaurant seems both grand and intimate, awash in a down-to-earth elegance that is both stunning and comfortable. The historic building’s second-story ceilings and oversized windows naturally make the room feel airy and light, a feeling continued after sunset by oversized pendant lamps that emit a soft glow. The décor is guided by a natural, yoga-inspired aesthetic, with golden walls, sheer curtains, and gorgeous hardwood floors. But the most stunning feature is the furniture—designed by Stefano and commissioned in Bali, the custom-crafted teak tables and curvy, craftsman-inspired chairs fill the dining room with a whimsical elegance.
The center of the space consists of a three-walled, floor-to-ceiling tower of wine, which serves as a backdrop to the host stand and a room divider between dining room and lounge. Inside the tower is the most charming space of the restaurant—a tiny "wine room" set with just one table. A meal here is intimate and romantic, and may well be the most unique private table in the city.
Aside from the wine room, Solare boasts several seating options. An outdoor patio is casual and breezy, linen-clothed tables sheltered by a second-story overhang. The lounge is relaxed, with plush leather couches and oversized bar tables. The dining room is the most formal, but remains casual with placemats instead of linens and an open kitchen whose energy mingles with the lively buzz of conversation. A private room is available for parties of 16 to 24, and a chef's table—a counter against the glass window of a second kitchen—allows two to three guests to indulge in a meal prepared before their own eyes.
The kitchen is headed by Executive Chef Mark Pelliccia and Chef/Owner Stefano Ceresoli, who together bring a refreshing honesty to seasonal Italian- and Asian-inspired cuisine. Their experience is a unique dichotomy of old world and new: Stefano hails from Milan, but has been serving Italian cuisine in San Diego for well over a decade; Mark grew up in San Diego, but spent the past 15 years in Italy’s culinary-rich Liguria (he returned stateside for his family and decided to stay once he discovered Solare).
A dining experience here is a series of captivating details that tantalize the senses. Cocktails seem a natural beginning, with deftly prepared drinks featuring hand-squeezed juices and inventive combinations such as the Mandarum, featuring fresh mandarin orange juice and muddled basil blended with Cointreau and rum and garnished with kumquats.
The mid-sized wine list is intriguing and varied, with an unsurprising emphasis on Italy. The carefully selected collection includes both reasonable and rare, with a well-represented selection of library Chiantis, Barolos, and Barbarescos and a handful of lesser-seen wines such as Roero Arneis and Gattinara . The by-the-glass selection includes a handful of high-end wines as well as more affordable, but still quality selections, such as a $10 Belguardo Super Tuscan from Marchesi Mazzei.
The menu is short and concise, but holds a wonderfully far-reaching array of flavors that boast a comforting balance of familiar and new. While the restaurant's theme is a blending of Asian and Italian, the dishes are hardly fusion cuisine. Instead the menu seems inspired by Italian regional specialties, tapping into the exquisite potential of the Mediterranean region. When Asian ingredients do surface, they are integrated so well that the dishes still seem quintessentially Italian.
Take the Sea Bream Carpaccio with Lychee Salad. Three thick slices of pale, translucent sea bream lay draped across a plate, drizzled with olive oil and nearly covered with a mélange of sliced lychee fruit, micro greens, flower petals, and mandarin orange pieces. The textured dish looks like a splash frozen in time, exploding from the pale white plate in a moment of vibrant energy. A bite is real, unadorned, capturing a subtle taste of the sea, the lychee’s nutty sweetness, and tangy citrus note. It is simple and clean yet unique and intriguing—recurring characteristics of Solare's cuisine.
Cappon Magro is quintessentially Italian, although Solare’s version is a deconstruction of the traditional Ligurian dish. Here, components are presented side by side. First is a hexagonal cake made of blended potatoes and cod fish, a soft, pillowy texture encased in a crispy coating of breadcrumbs and parsley. Alongside is a deep purple salad of sliced beets, carrots, and zucchini slivers, boasting a surprisingly tempered flavor, a silky texture, and a bright acidity from a red-wine vinaigrette. An unadorned mussel, clam, and shrimp segue into the last component, a pool of deep-green parsley pesto that resonates with the familiar flavors of lemon, fresh olive oil, parmesan, and garlic. The dish is garnished with grated bottarga—a Mediterranean delicacy of cured, dried tuna roe—which lends a potent and surprising kick to each bite.
Chef Mark's Liguiran influence is seen again in a delicate Farinata, a paper-thin, crepe-like round of baked chick pea dough topped with plump rings of pale white calamari and a medley of diced tomato and green onions. Playful in presentation, a forkful proves elegant and delicate, the thin dough lending a silky luxury to the tender rings. It is unique and intriguing in both texture and flavor.
When it’s time to move on from the appetizers, the menu continues to bring delightful surprises. Ofelle are luxurious and decadent, plump round gnocchi dumplings whose centers are filled with savory ground sausage. The perfectly formed medallions are blanketed by a shiny, translucent brown butter sauce and draped with large leaves of wilted sage. A graciously curved parmesan crisp stands between forms, while a heady aroma of butter rises from the plate, enticing with promises of richness. The gnocchi are silky and viscous, the ravioli-like forms bursting with deeply resonant flavor. Each supple bite brings the feisty flavors of sage and sausage met with a hint of vibrant acidity from the sauce. Simultaneously elegant and playful, it is an absolutely decadent dish.
Spaghetti with arugula, tomatoes, and oyster mushrooms is designed as a vegetarian option and offers a light, satisfying main course. Perfect on a hot summer's day, the dish bursts with fresh, clean flavor. Thick ribbons of spaghetti intertwine with thick chunks of tomato, narrow strips of arugula, and poached oyster mushrooms. A fresh and simple olive oil completes the dish, letting the natural sweetness of in-season tomatoes, the peppery arugula, and the tender, meaty mushrooms work to flavor each forkful. It pays homage to fresh ingredients and simple preparations, and is executed perfectly.
The Rack of Lamb is a stunning presentation, hearty and comforting. Gently curved ribs rest on an upturned triangle of Gorgonzola polenta cake, the meat rooted in a bed of mashed potatoes and surrounded by a deep brown porcini mushroom sauce. Sliced asparagus and baby carrots are scattered around the mashed potato bed like confetti, lending a burst of color to the plate. The polenta cake is a treat, the cornmeal spun into an airy, cake-like consistency, offering only the slightest hint of gorgonzola's presence. The mushroom sauce is a surprise, studded with tender mushrooms that threaten to be more savory than the lamb itself. But one bite of the lamb reveals its quality, the slight hint of grassiness fading to a delicate sweetness.
Despite his mastery of regional Italian flavors and international ingredients, pastries are Chef Mark's passion. Dessert at Solare allows him to shine, with creative, house-made preparations that offer guests a giddy, exciting conclusion. The Vanilla and Meringue Sphere is a quintessential indication of his creative talent. A wide flat plate holds a perfect white sphere coated in crushed meringues; it wittily resembles a powdery snowball. The dish is delivered with a smile, as the innocent looking form holds a surprise inside. The round form splits easily, releasing a thick, red raspberry sauce that gushes from a hollow center. The ball itself is formed of sweet vanilla mousse, a simple concoction of egg whites and cream. To spin such pleasure from so few ingredients seems magical—each milky spoonful boasts a sensual texture yet a taste that is innocent and pure. Even after a large meal, it is near impossible to resist finishing.
The last sweet spoonful is the perfect conclusion to a Solare experience. Simple and clean yet with a hint of intrigue, it is a refreshing respite, a decadent pause before returning to reality. Which is just what a meal at Solare proves to be.
Copyright © Restaurant Agent Inc.
We fell in love with the food on our first visit to Solare. I have always been a fan of Italian food but this cuisine was better, something more exciting. We dine out alot and many times the food is only so-so. Surprisingly many restaurants lack good service and oddly I sometimes feel that staff can't wait for us to leave.
Solare holds itself high to integrity, quality,artistry, style and in welcoming you. At Solare- they really care and it shows. When we go to Solare it's a magical treat! Back to our love of good food. We start with an appetizer Frittura Mista, mixed seafood lightly fried in a delicate flour batter with light seasonings-wow my taste buds were exploding with satisfaction. I was thinking "Yes" I love it when I make good choices. Usually my husband gets the good tasting ones.
Next the strawberry arugola salad. I am a salad lover and gardener so very impressed with this delightful combination- ooh la-la delightful. Finally what has become one of my all time favorites Ravioli Neri de Pesce e Broccoli.Oh my I am in heaven with this exquisite Black ink Ravioli stuffed with sea bass, broccoli and lobster tomatoe sauce. Each bite is such a pleasure! I feel good energy when I eat this one and there is no way I can make this myself so I will have to come back for more!
Our kids love the pasta & pizza so it's a win win for all of us! Now here is the icing on the cake for me. The SERVICE is excellent. I want to experience a good time when I go out! At Solare we feel very well taken care of by pleasant,enthusiastic and knowledgable human beings. So hard to find these days. Thank You Solare for providing a place for us to really get away, a place where we can enjoy great music,dancing and meet interesting people-to feel alive again. This Joy that we experience at Solare is definately a positive plus for us. Just writing this makes me want to go back for more!! Kathleen & Scott
Go on Tuesday. The bottle of wine up to $99 are 50% off. Great food. Great service.
Saturday night two couples that pick a new resturaunt to try once a month tried Solare just because we drove by and decided to try it. The only down side to Solare is the lack of signage. It's difficult to find if you don't know where it is. Our waiters were prompt, attentative and extremely knowledgeable. The food was the best Italial we've tried. And we've tried a lot. My sister in law (who rarely doesn't have enough left over for the next day) was licking her plate clean. All the meals were great tasting, came to the table hot and were sufficent to leave us comfortably full, and were moderatly priced. The owner's wife gave us the cooks tour of her resturaunt. We will be back. A fantistic experience, and we highly recommend this resturaunt.
Everything was perfect.
This restaurant was outstanding. The service and food was great and the price is awesome for how good the food is.
The ambiance of Solare was highlighted by the decoration as well as the noise-level. It is a great restaurant for catching up with friends or having a romantic meal for two. Service was outstanding. Food was delectable.
This place is a gem! The atmosphere is very calming, decor beautiful and noise level very low so conversation was easy. All that and great food, too! There were some things on the menu that were not actually available due to some transition they were going through. We ordered two wines before finally finding one they actually had on hand. That being said, the bottle tasted corked to a couple of us, and the server replaced it with another completely different wine without question. We also had brought one bottle of our own and they waived the corkage. In addition, they brought us 3 desserts on the house at the end for "being out of so many things" we had wanted. I was very impressed at the effort to make up for what was really not much of an inconvenience. There are a number of very inviting looking outdoor lounging areas, so it would be a really nice place to meet for a drinks and appetizers, too. This place definitely deserves two thumbs up.
This was our first time eating at Solare and it was truly enjoyable. The foood and service were superb!!!
Beautiful entirely custom made interior makes it a very inviting place. Just to give you an idea all the furniture was designed by the chef and his wife custom made in Bali. There is a private vine room in the middle of the restaurant made out of glass. This place is owned by one of the most talented chefs who is of an Italian decent who had reinvented the traditional Italian food and gave it a modern adge. I highly recommend this venue to anyone!!! P.S. great vine selection!!!
we went in on a tuesday night because of the half off on bottles of wine. We ended up just ordering a bunch of appetizers, which were all very good. The pizza with prosciutto and arugula was by far my favorite! the service was very good also. i would definitely recommend this restaurant if you are looking for good food at an affordable price and a nice ambience
Excellent food, service and nice ambiance! All the meals were very authentic tasting Italian food with a good variety of choices. Our waiter had a nice accent and provided excellent service without being too overbearing. We had a large party but didn't wait too long to be served. The waiter even gave us a complimentary desert to my daughter since it was her graduation dinner. Overall, a restaurant I would come back to and recommend to friends!
Great menu, food, service at a fair price. This our first vist and we will go back.
Friday night, 6:30PM, and the harried host says he doesn't have our online reservation. He does agree to seat us anyway. It's too hot inside, so we ask to move outside to the patio. We think it will be cooler and quieter. The host doesn't mention the airplane noise, but maybe he's forgotten about it -- it is ubiquitous to our Point Loma guest. Good food, great drinks, and a very personable busboy make the experience a win. Wish I had gotten his name, but forgot I'd want it for the review. He seemed happy to cater to us. (We are two middle aged women, not young hotties, so it was genuine service!)
The gnocchi was very, very yummy! Great experience overall.
It is okay -- fine to try once. Food is okay. Service slow.