Restaurant Reviews

Solera

Spain on the Wane?

What’s become of Solera since Tim McKee/Josh Thoma’s group sold the restaurant to a partnership that has left the Graves 601 Hotel operating the restaurant and event space? The changes will strike some regulars as blasphemy, while occasional guests may barely notice.

The front lounge/bar/tapas bar space has been reworked: The row of banquettes is gone, with smallish copper dining tables added, plus new wood floors. The room is louder and buzzier, the colors less bold.

Ben Graves says his team’s goal for Solera has been to evolve the restaurant to a more contemporary feel and more diverse menu without changing its essential nature. Graves emphasized trying to diversify flavor profiles beyond consistently “rich, heavy, savory.” He installed chef Jorge Guzman (Tejas, Corner Table), who has supervised menu changes.

Diners will notice a smaller menu—fully half of the tapas options are gone, and in their place is a selection of Spanish cheeses and cured meats. Tapas portions seem smaller, and prices are up a bit. A small selection of soups, salads, and main courses, for diners who don’t want the small-plates route, did not impress: It included overcooked sea bass, dry sausage and beans, and a take on paella where the proteins are cooked separate from the rice.

Service on my visits veered from knowledgeable veteran to dazed newbie. During both visits, the staff was sporadically inattentive and in one case did not deliver a dish we ordered. A Solera regular complained to me of the absence of port and the restaurant’s signature Madeira selection from the new beverage list, and also disliked the switchover from authentic Spanish dishes to traditional white plates.

Upsides: The bulk of the tapas remains tasty and well-prepared, while the house-cured duck breast and new cheeses are impressive. The rustic menu is balanced by tasty modern desserts in the Cosmos style, an awkward transition.

Solera is a restaurant in flux, less focused on exacting Spanish cuisine and in search of a middle ground between what it was and the array of something-for-everyone restaurants up and down Hennepin Avenue.

900 Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-338-0062, solera-restaurant.com

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