I am always on the hunt for restaurants with varying shades of Latin American cuisine: Spanish, Argentinian, Mexican, Cuban, Colombian, Belizian, Peruvian, Portuguese, you name it, I’ll try it – and I will have an opinion. The beauty in most Latin American fare is it is bursting with flavors from chili rubs to exotic fruits and grain and it’s preparation can awaken your senses and transport you to another region.
Sol Cocina, however, is NOT one of those restaurants. Recently featured on Fox’s, GoodDayLA for Orange County Restaurant Week alongside highly revered restaurant, The Winery Restaurant & Wine Bar, I had high hopes. Upon my initial arrival, I was impressed. The decor is unique, the set up is inviting, until you look up – stucco. At least in the dining room. Unfortunately, I’ll never understand why such a promising theme could nose dive so quickly with such a rookie mistake, but I was willing to look past it. Back to the piece on Fox that peaked my interest – For starters, the live interview boasted vegan and vegetarian cuisine. When the server arrived and I inquired about it, she had absolutely NO idea what I was talking about. I hinted I had heard it on the piece featured on the restaurant and her eyes seemed bewildered. I even attempted to ask a manager. To my dismay, no one employed by Sol Cocina (working that day, March 27th) had any clue that the restaurant they worked for was even featured on TV. Clue #1. (I guess it’s meat for me tonight…) Needless to say, ordering the Cucumber Jalapeño Margarita was more than in order.
It took about 10 minutes before the drink arrived, which under normal circumstances would have been fine. However, there were maybe 20 people in the entire restaurant, including staff, and our server still forgot about the drinks. (One can only imagine what happens when it’s busy.) Minute 10, the drinks arrive (mine and my guest’s whom ordered Sangria). She ran down the items on the menu and the few she was familiar with, she did a great job selling. We looked at the menu, which I have to say is fantastically presented in a thin, raw organic material that looks almost like wood. Upon scanning it, we ordered some appetizers to start: White Corn and Pablano Soup and an order of Ceviche. In the interim, a basket arrives with large tostado shells that look like someone dropped a shaker of chili and pepper on it by accident. It is accompanied by a fabulous display of 3 dips: black bean, salsa, chili sauce. The black bean dip was good, presentation fabulous, but the shells were mediocre at best. Finally we taste our drinks. Mine is refreshing but in no universe could I even taste a hint of Jalapeño; the Sangria — not really worth a second sip. (While I’m aware there are many versions of Sangria, after being in Barcelona and having dozens of different blends, when it’s good, it’s good. When it’s not, it’s really not.)
So onto ordering. The menu, as I mentioned, seems so promising… However, they are out of the 1st three items I’m attempting to order. Not because they ran out, just because they don’t serve it anymore and they hadn’t changed the menu. At least that’s what the server told us. Clue #2. Still, I’m not ready to give up. I order:
T A C O V A M P I R O
double tortilla stuffed with melted cheese, serrano chile & scallions , topped with carne asada, guacamole, pico de gallo, chipotle sauce & cotixa cheese
My guest orders:
CHICKEN FAJITA CLUB TORTA
grilled dark meat chicken with grilled poblanos, red peppers & red onions, guacamole, crisp bacon, cheese
I anticipated the flavor exploding in my mouth. Nothing. The tacos were mediocre, the idea however was fantastic – just poorly executed. The server promised a “very spicy” taco and it tasted like someone threw in a bell pepper and called it a serrano chili. And then the torta – while I read the description of a garlic roasted telera roll – we weren’t expecting the OVERSIZED roll with some ingredients thrown in between. My guest ate only the insides of this strangely made torta because in truth, most anywhere in Latin America, when you think torta, you don’t think of a hoagie. Clue #3.
The only thing left to do was order one more beverage and cross our fingers dessert wasn’t a total bust. Flan. What can possibly go wrong with flan? How about a flan that is so stiff and “bready” – yes, bready – that there little to no resemblance to the notion of traditional flan. It was a disappointment to say the least. We instead ordered the creme brulee with guava and berries and the Perfecto drink. The creme brulee was ok, just massive in size, which was a little overwhelming though the berries were incredibly fresh. The Perfecto – a little on the Less than Perfecto side but did it’s job.
So all in all, Sol Cocina was not as bright and tasty as I had been led to believe. The staff could stand a little more training in customer service and etiquette, the kitchen could stand to take a little more time on presentation, and overall, the management needs to make sure everyone knows when they’ve just been featured on a Nationally recognized show. Everyone has their tastes and preferences and perhaps, if given another opportunity, I would take a 2nd look. First impression was a sheer let down. Great decor (minus the stucco ceilings in the dining area), authentic idea, poor execution – and in my opinion, not worth the $130 price tag of a meal for two. So there is my first review of a restaurant that has not lived up to the hype.
Written by Dawn Garcia