After several months of construction, Solea on Shepherd opened last week. Although it is located near the Washington Ave strip of bars, clubs and restaurants that provide fuel for people going to clubs and bars, Solea presents itself as something a little different than just another place to become intoxicated.
First, Solea continues the pattern of recent openings with elegant interiors. At the entrance, a long bar wraps around a lighted display of liquor bottles. To the right sits both the main dining room and a lounge area for sipping drinks. The lounge features comfortable couches that should promote conversation and lingering.
Another way Solea sets itself apart is with the small stage that is tucked into the far corner of the dining room. Co-owner Amin Safari is a former molecular-biologist turned professional flamenco guitarist. Safari and other acts will perform at Solea to up both the energy level and provide a classy alternative to the music at other clubs and bars on Washington. At a media dinner last week, Safari entertained the group with both his musical skills and by walking around the room while he was playing.
Turning to the food, there's definitely a something for everybody vibe to the menu, with reliable staples such as Caesar salad and fried calamari. Yet, the diversity works to Solea's benefit as well. Co-owner Mani Salahshoor has selected menu items that feature his Persian heritage, such as tenderloin kabobs and lamb chops over saffron rice. Chef Jeff Countryman, a Louisiana native, brings his own background to the menu with shrimp and grits and Natchitoches Meat Pies. The meat pies feature a flaky, empanada style dough with sauteed ground beef inside. If the reaction of the media members at last week's dinner is any indication, they'll be the most popular item on the menu.
Solea is open for lunch and dinner, Tuesday through Sunday beginning at 11 a.m. It's open until 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday. With its elegant decor, live music and diverse food offerings, Solea aims to set itself apart from the typical Washington scene. If it finds the ride audience, the plan might even work.