Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Good Things to Come at Solita's Preview Night

Solita Tacos and Margaritas
7631 Edinger Ave. Suite 1508
Huntington Beach, CA 92647

I have a feeling that 2014 is going to be a kick ass year for restaurants. Sorry for the vulgar language, but I'm really excited about what is happening culinary wise in our fantastic county. There are a number of what I anticipate to be some great places coming down the pipeline this year. Provenance will be opening their doors this year, at the space that used to house Sage in Newport Beach. The award winning restaurant, The Winery is taking over the picturesque Villa Nova spot. Also, you can almost always count on Bruxie opening up a new location somewhere during the year. Probably one of the openings I was most looking forward to actually happened with six days remaining in 2013, and that was Solita at the Bella Terra Center.

Solita comes to us from the creative team behind one of our favorite restaurants, Sol Cocina in Newport Beach. We have been there numerous times, celebrating birthdays, holidays, and restaurant week events. This is kind of the reason that Solita came into existence. Sol Cocina, for some people, is more of a special event kind of restaurant. A restaurant where you celebrate things at. They wanted Solita to become more of a regular, every Friday night kind of place, but they wanted it to evolve.

Think about your local go to spot for sit down Mexican food. For most of you, it is probably a place like Don Jose's or El Torito, where the menu has not changed very much in the last 30 or so years. You know what you are going to have when you walk in the door, you know how it's going to taste, and you know you will probably be back again the next week. Trust me, I like Don Jose just fine, they are very consistent in what they do, but I could never imagine eating there every week, like so many people do.

Solita wants to be your neighborhood Mexican restaurant, one you will eat at regularly, with a lower price point than Sol, but they want you to see that Solita is a new style Mexican restaurant. The dated decor of sit down Mexican restaurants is gone, and replaced with a more updated, sleek feel to it. The decor in this 38,000 foot restaurant is inspired by some of the great Mexican resorts. The chairs and furniture are from Mexico, they have roll up doors in the restaurant, that lead to an enclosed, large patio, lending to an openness, that is probably the envy of most Mexican restaurants.

Another thing that will separate Solita from other neighborhood restaurants is that their food is inspired from actual trips to inland Mexico. We learned that in the interior of Mexico, food is prepared over wood, and that is the case here at Solita. You can even smell a slight hint of the wood from their wood fired grill when you walk in the door. We were recently invited to come see what makes Solita different from other Mexican restaurants, and check out their vision. Let's see what they had cooked up for us.

I did not actually get a chance to try this Wood Grilled Wild Fish (Market price), but I liked the simple, clean presentation here. Solita is going to use a rotating seasonal, local fish as the centerpiece for this plate, which will be grilled simply, with lime and butter.

I am a huge fan of skirt steak, and this Skirt Steak Asada with Toreados ($19.50) was delicious. I learned that toreados are roasted chilies, which added a good pop of flavor to this tender skirt steak, that was a perfect medium rare. Kind of in the vein of an Argentine dish, this was also served with a well made chimichurri. A good dish for you steak lovers out there.

I have recently gotten into ceviches, and it was just my luck that they offered this Yellowtail Ceviche Tropicale ($10.50) at Solita. Diced up yellowtail is mixed with lime juice, Serrano chiles, cucumber, tropical fruits, salsa fresca, and avocado, to create this colorful and refreshing ceviche. I really liked how the sweetness of the fruit interacted with cubed yellowtail.

The Wood Grilled Canre Asada Fajitas ($16.75) kind of threw me for a loop, because they are not served on a sizzling platter, with lots of steam. In this version, the carne asada is combined with roasted poblano chiles, tossed with red peppers and red onions,  then served with guacamole and salsa fresca on the side. Predictably, the carne asada was flavored well, and was very tender. This is also paired with your choice of beans and Mexican rice.

Not something I was expecting at a Mexican restaurant, but they have Sweet Potato Fries ($7.50) at Solita. These are presented in a paper cone, with cotixa cheese and a chipotle dipping sauce. I'm not really a big fan of sweet potato fries, but others that are, really enjoyed these.

Without a doubt, this Grilled Corn Elote ($3.50 each) was the big hit of the night with all of the foodies in attendance. The whole corn is roasted and grilled with chipotle salsa, butter, California chiles, cotixa, and green onions. People were waiting right by the kitchen for this to come out, and snapping them up before they even hit the dining room. I'll predict that this will become one of Solita's signature items.

Another unique item that you will not see on many Mexican restaurant menus is this Tequila Shrimp and Avocado Sundae ($10.50). The shrimp is cooked with blanco tequila, salsa fresca, lime juice and chipotles, and then layered with a creamy avocado sauce. I liked this updated version of a shrimp cocktail. The brininess of the shrimp, with the smooth avocado went nicely with each other.

While everyone was waiting for more corn to come out of the kitchen, I was quite happy taking these Chicken Taquitos ($7.50) down. These were not as heavy as other taquitos I have had, and not greasy either. The chicken inside had a nice moistness to it, and these were perfect for dipping into Solita's awesome guacamole.

The kids aren't into Mexican food? Not to worry, Solita has you covered with their Cabo Loco Chicken ($8.50). The menu says these are breaded with a crispy coconut, but I did not get too much of the coconut here. What I did get was that these were fried nicely, the chicken was of good quality, and the lemony salsa these were served with was spot on. I definitely ate my fair share of these, my apologies to my table mates.

I had my first queso fundido at Cha Cha's in Brea awhile back, and became addicted to this heavy cheese dish. At Solita they have a version of this dish called Queso al Forno ($8.75). Not sure what the difference is between forno and fundido, but this version was right up there with the one at Cha Cha's. The cheese was bubbly, with green onions and Serrano chiles included in this. Nicely made corn and flour tortillas are used for the dipping here. Very filling, so make sure you share this, even though you will want to keep it all for yourself.

The tacos at Sol Cocina are great, so I knew that the menu at Solita would feature some great tacos as well. They have plenty to choose from, and if you are indecisive, or just want to try as many as possible, they offer taco tasters, which include a 4 taco platter. Pictured above is one of the two taco tasters, the El Primo ($14.50). With this platter, you get to choose from among these premium tacos; wood grilled carne asada, red chili beef borracho, chicken mole, wood grilled fish Mazatlan, spicy garlic shrimp, beer battered shrimp, or sauteed mushroom tacos. With all of these great choices, it would be hard for me to make this delicious decision.

They also have a more basic taco platter, which is anything but basic. This Just Tacos Platter ($11.50) also includes 4 of your choice of tacos. Varieties include, wood grilled ancho chile chicken, oak roasted chipotle chicken, carnitas, chorizo bacon and sweet potato, crispy fried fish, or chile garlic tofu. The carnitas taco I had here was legit, with a tender pork, wrapped in their great corn tortillas. I'm usually more of a flour tortilla kind of guy, but these corn tortillas are really good.

The menu at Solita features 13 different tacos, so you might have a tough time deciding on one. If you want my two cents, I would go with these Cadillac Tacos ($15.50). One of my favorite tacos at Sol Cocina is their El Jefe Taco, and this is kind of Solita's version of that taco. This surf and turf taco combines wood grilled carne asada and chipotle shrimp. These proteins go great together, and will leave you satisfied.

Solita is not just all about tacos either. They have other Mexican restaurant staples as well. Their Burritos ($11.00) come with your choice of meat, and are filled with cheese, beans, rice, and sour cream, lettuce, and salsa fresca on the side. You also have the option of having your burrito wet, wet with cheese, green sauce or red sauce, or all three, which they call El Flag style, because it resembles the Mexican flag I am sure. These pictures do not show how big this burrito actually was, it was a good size.

Enchiladas are also on the menu at Solita. These Lazy Enchiladas ($12.75) use corn tortillas folded over your choice of meat, then are topped with either red or green sauce, sour cream, cotixa cheese, lettuce, and salsa fresca. I think these are called lazy enchiladas because they are not rolled, but they were still delicious even without being rolled.

The last food item that I tried was the Quesadilla ($11.00). This is not your typical fast food variety quesadilla either. They use two flour tortillas, which are buttered crisped, then filled with Mexican cheeses, and the meat of your choice, with salsa fresca and guacamole on the side. This was a lighter than you would think quesadilla, without sacrificing flavor. The carnitas are the meat to get in this. So good.

The bar program at Solita is not to be overlooked by any means. I am not much of a margarita guy, but the Solita House Margarita ($8.00 got rave reviews from the assembled media on this night. They also have frozen drinks, which are much more my style. The bartenders were busy experimenting with their slushy machine, whipping up kiwi-strawberry, guava, and watermelon frozen margaritas. My favorite drink of the night was the Horchata Cocktail ($10.00). Solita uses their house made horchata, which is mixed with Agavales blanca tequila, 1921 Crema, and is topped with cinnamon. I usually get tired of horchata after a few sips, but I drank two of these on this night. Kind of like an adult milkshake, but lighter. These could get me into some trouble.

I think the brain trust at Solita nailed what they were trying to accomplish here. Chef Deb has created a great menu that will not only keep people coming back, but they will become regulars here. The menu has items that customers will recognize, but they have their own Solita twist to them. I am really looking forward to coming back. Wish I lived closer so I could become one of the regular customers that they are trying to grab, but Solita is definitely worth the drive up from South OC. With so many good restaurants coming to OC this year, you can definitely count Solita among them.

For more information on Solita Tacos and Margaritas, go to their website here: http://solitatacos.com/

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