Solo: A Restaurant With Split Personality Disorder
I’ve been to a lot of business lunches in Midtown East, and I’m starting to run out of viable options for the same client. There are only so many times they can be taken to Metrazur. Thus, when news hit that fiesty Top Chef alum Eli Kirshstein was taking the helm at Solo, a kosher new American spot in the Sony Atrium, it quickly became the next-up option for business lunching in ‘hood.
It quickly became clear that Solo is a strange sort of place. Its two very different restaurants in one: on the one hand, edgy contemporary American and on the other, rustic Kosher American comfort food. This bizarre attempt at blending these two personalities and vibes together manifests itself on the menu, in the decor, in the target clientele, and in the equally bizarre table service.
While the exterior to Solo is a slick multi-colored neon facade, the interior is beige and mellow with clay pots, stodgy white tablecloths, sparse greenery, and rich brown leather banquettes. The menu offers Asian-flecked American cuisine alongside hearty comfort food; for example, big eye tuna tartare with avocado, yuzu, citrus salt and mint sits alongside pine nut, raisin and cauliflower stuffed lamb meatballs in a thick tomato sauce. In the main dining room, sharp business men in suits sit alongside rabbis; groups of young banking analysts out for summer luncheons pepper a room otherwise full of Midtown workers seeking haute Kosher cuisine. The table service makes attempts at quality with all the right intentions and none of the execution. Our server got so frustrated with his inability to find the right time to take our order (with long-time clients, we had a length ‘catch-up’ as soon as we sat-down) that he gave up and passed us on to a much sharper and icey cold woman – unprofessional much?
The menu is compelling and the food is uneven. With a wide-ranging set of influences, Kirshstein offers up everything from a soy sauce-flecked salmon carpaccio, served bright pink and thinly cut in a discus shape, to a 16 oz cowboy steak sure to initiate food comas to a frisbee-sized ‘hand-chopped’ hamburger to a basic grilled herbed chicken panini and fries. In as ‘new American’ cuisine is rarely considered ‘new’ anymore, such dishes seem run-of-the-mill at this point, expected and even a bit tired.
The lamb meatballs, cut with too-large chips of onion and served as a group of 5, were flavorful but all-around too much for an appetizer. The awkward plating on an extremely-long pencil-shaped dish had everyone laughing as I poked around, hoping to avoid too much sauce on my suit jacket. The burger was outrageously large, almost as thick as the bun and spilling out the sides with abandon; it was just too much. I found myself asking, what is the point of this? Who really needs a burger this big? The table agreed, entering into a spirited discussion about Shake Shack and it’s perfectly-sized burgers. Both fish dishes (the halibut and the pan-seared salmon) were artfully plated and easily the best offered by Kirshtein; the halibut had a beautifully crusted exterior and white flaky interior, succulent, while the salmon brought American influences (crabmeat and Yukon potato) together successfully with East Asian, represented by a light wasabi aioli. Unfortunately, the Stuffed Baby Delmonico Filet was served under-cooked and was unappetizingly red – not the way you want a steak served at a business lunch & suits place. That dish should be perfect.
Solo is hit-or-miss and an acquired taste. Ideal for those seeking completely Kosher cuisine, it offers an oasis in an otherwise Kosher-barren part of Manhattan. Yet, as a straight-up suits-a-lunchin’ place, it falls short with bland and uninspired ‘new’ American cuisine. I had hoped for something more exciting from Kirshtein, who showed spirit and originality during his stint on Top Chef.
Perfect For: kosher cuisine, client lunches, Top Chef-spotting, group meals (there’s a little somethin’ for everyone), those desperately seeking good sit-down in Midtown East