Wellfleet's Sol Puts the 'Aura' Back in 'Restaurant'
By: Susan Blood, July 19, 2012
SUSAN BLOOD - Located on the ground floor of the Harbor Stage on Kendrick Ave, Wellfleet, Sol's decor is simple and clean, with teak tables and chairs, hand-lettered signs and a flair for design.
Once a friend and I took our own wine glasses to a bar because—although we loved everything else about the place—their stemware was a deal-breaker.
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
I don't tell you this so you can go offend your favorite bartender. I tell you this because when you find a place where everything is right and you're not mentally fixing details or wishing you had gotten take-out, you've got a winner.
Wellfleet's Sol is on that short list.
Sol's owner, John Arsenault, began his career as a design student. If you didn't know this (as I didn't), you would simply assume that Arsenault hires very well and landed some people with a real flair for presentation.
A moveable piece of the open sign transforms it from “OPEN” to “NOPE.” The specials menus are hand-lettered. The interior is simple and clean, with teak tables and chairs that may make you think of patio dining in Bali. This is not a coincidence.
A curated menu
If you go...
15 Kendrick Avenue (at Harbor Stage)
Largely inspired by global “fish and rice” cuisines, Sol curates menus from Japan, Southeast Asia, Mexico and the Caribbean, re-inventing itself to take full advantage of what is fresh and available.
There is not a weak item on the list. We started with two Wellfleet oysters on the half shell, one roasted in lobster coral butter and one topped with Jerry's Jamaican Juicy, a sauce that's mixed in-house and aged in a barrel for a year before it's ready to serve.
Totally worth the wait.
Next, we had roast tomato and cucumber gazpacho with chilled squid salad. I anticipated a decorative dollop of squid salad on the gazpacho, but I should have known better.
Sol doesn't skimp on the good stuff.
Some like it raw
From the raw bar we had sunso scorched pollock nigiri with fresh ginger and tosa torched toro nigiri with sesame. Hitting the pollock with the torch kept the white fish on the slightly firmer side. We love our sushi, and this rivaled some of the best we've had.
Since real wasabi is prohibitively expensive, what you generally get in restaurants is not wasabi at all. At Sol, they make a fake wasabi with avocado and horseradish. Brilliant.
Poke is Sol’s signature appetizer and for good reason. The raw, cubed tuna is tossed in magic and sprinkled with sesame seeds. Ordering tip: It's pronounced “pokey.”
The lobster sashimi with pickled radish and shiso oil arrived in a quarter lobster shell. As sashimi, lobster is much lighter than what we're used to. It has a nice texture and fresh flavor. The pickled radish was just the right counterpoint.
Another signature app is the papaya salad, chopped green papaya with shrimp and peanuts in a lime nampla dressing. It's ridiculously fresh and clean. This is one of those dishes that makes you wish you had a personal chef so you could eat healthy, delicious food all the time.
Fish & game
The most eye-catching item on the specials menu was housemade bear sausage over warm cabbage and bacon salad with sharp cheddar, green apples, red onion and mustard seeds. Wow.
Bear sausage is a great illustration of the scope and agility of Sol's menu. The bear was offered to Arsenault the day before our Cape Cod bear was found and relocated. How could he resist?
For the bear, he referred to dishes you might find in a northern European hunting lodge. This is typical of Sol – there's a fluidity to the menu which allows them to run with whatever is fresh. Each dish is honest to what it is.
The Nightly Fish has been a menu feature since day one. The fish changes from night to night, but the basics of the dish remain the same: udon, steamed rabe and red curry coconut sauce. Ours came topped with very lightly stir-fried tuna.
A distinctive aura
We ended with a pair of small bowls filled with chocolate mousse and lemon bisque. The ancho chili chocolate mousse was sprinkled with red sea salt. I was too interested in the mousse to get the full description of the lemon bisque, and when it arrived I was too busy devouring it to take notes. I'm sorry.
After dinner, Aresenault pulled up a chair and told us more about his background, travels and influences. One of his mentors once pointed out to him that the word “aura” is in restaurant. He's never forgotten that.
While you can't pigeonhole the menu at Sol, you can define it by this one cardinal rule. It has an aura. It has a style and a standard. It is not either this or that; it is simply Sol.
And everything in it is just exactly right.